Weeping and crying with the young age pensioner of 65

By Matthew Gould, April 12, 2013
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I still find it hard to believe that Israel is considerably younger than my father and that, in our short time living here, Celia and I have already been in the country for one 30th of its entire existence. As we explore the country, get to know Israel's people, and talk to Israel's leaders, it seems extraordinary that it is only 65 years since Israel's creation.

Yet Israel has done more in that time than many countries have managed in centuries. More drama, more science, more invention, more emotion. Israelis live life at an extraordinary pace, doing several jobs, taking risks, driving badly. One Israeli commentator told my predecessor that every British ambassador gets to see at least one war, one election and one failed peace initiative. And I remember a former American ambassador saying that what Israel really needed was a good night's sleep.

This Israeli characteristic of squeezing so much life into such a small country and such a short history will also be on display next week. Monday is Remembrance Day for Israel's fallen, followed immediately by Independence Day on Tuesday. On one day, the sirens and the silence. On the next, the dancing in the streets. The full span of emotions in 48 hours

And this is what makes Israel so extraordinary - its unique ability to occupy the whole spectrum of emotion all at once. On the one hand, Israel is a scientific powerhouse, the Start-Up Nation, a cultural jewel and a free-wheeling democracy. On the other, Israel is a country repeatedly attacked by all its neighbours, a victim of vast waves of terror and thousands of rocket attacks, a country all too accustomed to calls for its destruction, a country whose military is always on guard and whose prime minister must always sleep with one eye open.

Israel is where we were proud to start a family

Britain's policy towards Israel matches this span of opportunity and threat. We are working hard to build links between our two countries in science, in tech, and between our universities. We are increasing trade, promoting co-production in film, and inserting Britain firmly into the story of Israel's success - because we want to be a part of that success, and because we want our relationship to be built on the positives rather than just the differences.

We are also establishing an ever-stronger security partnership, so that Israel knows it can rely on Britain. We are working particularly closely on Iran, where we share an understanding of the threat, a determination to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons, and a close partnership in achieving that goal.

As Israel looks to its future, Britain is determined to help realise the vision of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, based on the creation of the Palestinian state that two thirds of Israelis say they would support. They know that for Israel to remain both Jewish and democratic there is no alternative. Getting there will not be easy. Ariel Sharon said it would require "painful compromises". And the Israeli people will need to know that it will make them genuinely safe - that the West Bank will not become a base for terrorism and a launch-pad for rockets.

President Obama's administration has made clear that they are going to lead a renewed effort to find peace. Secretary John Kerry has been in Israel this week to that end. Britain will do everything it can to support those efforts.

Israel is not a country about which it is possible to be ambivalent. It arouses stronger passions more than any other country I have dealt with. Last year, it accounted for almost 20 per cent of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's postbag. It is the subject of more media coverage, the topic of more debate and the focus of more attention than almost anywhere else in the world.

I am not ambivalent about Israel. It is the country to which I wanted to be posted, the one where we were proud to start a family, a country whose language I am laboriously learning - not just to reconnect to its people but to my own roots. We love being here, and I am proud to be Britain's ambassador to the state of Israel.

Britain is not ambivalent about Israel. David Cameron has said that his belief in Israel is unbreakable. William Hague has said that Israel is a strategic partner and friend, that Britain will not compromise on Israel's security and legitimacy, and that there is no more urgent foreign policy priority for this year than making progress towards peace.

Matthew Gould is the UK ambassador to Israel

    Last updated: 8:45am, April 12 2013