New UK Mideast minister on first visit to Israel with British veterans

"The armed forces of Israel and the UK are the best of us and I salute you."

 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Less than three weeks after his appointment as British State Minister for the Middle East, Dr. Andrew Murrison came to Israel together with a contingent of 60 disabled British army veterans and their families to participate in a conference, workshops, sporting events and tours of the country with 40 of their Israeli counterparts.
This was an appropriate introduction to Israel for Murrison, who, before entering the political arena, had spent 18 years with the Royal Navy reaching the rank of surgeon commander prior to his retirement.
He was recalled to service in 2003 as a naval reserve officer and did a six months tour of duty in Iraq. In 2008, he spent two months in Cyprus updating himself on how to deal with combat casualties.
While in Israel, Murrison also took the opportunity to visit Gaza where he announced a £1.6 million aid package for a new limb construction center and an emergency and trauma unit that will serve close to 400,000 people.
Toward the end of their week-long stay in Israel, the members of the British contingent visited the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, where Murrison said he was humbled by seeing so many friends and colleagues who represented the friendship and comradeship between the two countries.
“The mark of a decent society is the way in which it treats its veterans – those who have given the most,” he said. “The armed forces of Israel and the UK are the best of us and I salute you.”
Murrison noted that a number of those present suffered the traumas of Iraq and Afghanistan. “Many have suffered on both sides,” he said, adding, “We are now dealing with the geo-political results.”
He stated that he was impressed by the conference, which brings together Israeli and British ex-servicemen and women. “At the end of the day, what’s important is people-to-people contact,” he said.
He found it “inspirational” that Israel was hosting such an event.
Matt Tomlinson, currently an emergency care assistant after having spent 28 years in the Royal Marines, where his final rank was that of regimental sergeant major, is one of Britain’s most highly decorated soldiers. He earned loud and sustained applause from fellow ex-service personnel as he mounted the podium to say what an honor it was to represent the great British Marines and how unique it was to come together with family and link up with Israeli veterans.
He said they were all lucky to have overcome their difficulties and to represent their country.
“This trip has contributed to our personal growth, interaction and empathy with each other, with respect on both sides,” he said.
He said he was also impressed with the manner in which all the veterans helped each other pushing wheelchairs and in other ways. He described the tours of Israel as “fantastic,” with many breathtaking sights and the visits to the (military) cemeteries as “humbling.”
He was certain that many happy memories of “a truly amazing country” would be taken home by the British veterans, and he was sure that many would return to Israel in the near future.
ISRAELI VETERAN Hanoch Budin, whose right arm was blown off in a land mine explosion in Lebanon in 1982, related how he thought his life was over. During the long period that he spent in hospital, other veterans with disabilities incurred while on active duty came to see him and asked him to come swimming with them at the Beit Halochem rehabilitation center for soldiers. He’d never been an athlete, and initially he was reluctant, but they persevered and finally persuaded him to join them. The upshot was that he became a champion swimmer, winning gold medals for Israel in the Paralympic Games and in other international competitions.
“Once you recognize your disability and move forward, you are winning the battle,” he said.
With regard to the effort he puts into competitive swimming, Budin said, “you represent yourself, but also represent your country.”
His watchword is a saying of Winston Churchill’s: “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity and an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
Budin has learned to treat his disability as a joke, and holding out his prosthetic arm, tells children who are nail biters that this is one way to stop. Budin has also written a book called Single Handed.
The applause after his presentation was deafening, because almost everyone in the room could identify with the need to get past the loss of a body part or function and to learn to take the new reality with a dose of humor.
President Reuven Rivlin was effusive in his greeting to the veterans, holding his arms out wide as if to gather them all into an embrace. He said it was a great privilege to host injured British and Israeli soldiers who had met together in friendship to learn from each other and to forge lasting bonds.
Rivlin mentioned that last year he had hosted Prince William, and that he was aware that both William and Prince Harry are great supporters of injured veterans.
Rivlin said that he saluted injured veterans who went to war to defend the values of their respective countries. He also spared a thought for those who had not returned.