President Rivlin salutes ‘heroes’ who took part in inaugural Veteran Games
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President Rivlin salutes ‘heroes’ who took part in inaugural Veteran Games

Head of state told the group that Britain and Israel faced common enemies of terrorism but were united by shares values like freedom and democracy

Israel's president Reuven Rivlin saltes members the Veteran Games teams.
Israel's president Reuven Rivlin saltes members the Veteran Games teams.

Israel’s President has praised the “heroes” taking part in the first ever Veteran Games bringing together wounded British and Israel veterans and their families.

Reuven Rivlin was hosting the UK delegation at his residence on the final day of the inaugural Veteran Games and mental health conference, which was conceived and developed by Beit Halochem UK’s Andrew Wolfson with the Israeli Embassy. Over five days, more than 100 veterans from both countries competed in a range of sports at the charity’s state-of-the-art centres, while having plenty of time to see the country and talk about their experiences in battle and rehabilitation.

“I see true true heroes here who served their country’s cause and went to war to preserve our values and protect us all. I would like to say: I salute you’

“I’m proud and honoured to see our own IDF veterans who took part in the Games. I salute you too. You all returned from battle. But there were those – your comrades and friends – who did not. Let’s pay tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice.”

Israel’s president Reuven Rivlin with a member of the British Veteran Games team.

Rivlin spoke fondly of hosting Prince William at Beit HaNassi last year, adding: “He and Prince Harry are great supporters of sports for injured veterans and talking more about mental health.”

He told the group that Britain faced common enemies with Israel in terrorism as well as shares values like freedom and democracy. As a life-long football fan, he thanked the British for bringing the beautiful game.

The Duke of Cambridge presents Israeli President Reuven Rivlin with a Liverpool FC shirt, signed by Steven Gerrard, during an audience at his official residence in Jerusalem, Israel.
Photo credit: Chris Jackson/PA Wire

The delegation was led by Michael Freeman, counsellor for civil society affairs at the Israeli Embassy. He announced the presentation to the president of artwork created by a veteran and featuring the national birds of both nations.

The event was also attended by new Middle East minister and former navy officer Andrew Murrison, who said he was “humbled” to be in such company. “I would like to congratulate Israel for hosting this,” he said. “They are truly inspirational and I hope the start of something that has a great future.”

Murrison, who has previously written two reports on the treatment of veterans, said: “The mark of a decent society is the way it treats its veterans – that’s the essence of the military covenant. The armed forces in Israel and United Kingdom are the very best of us.

“Whilst the state can clearly never resolve entirely the suffering of those who have taken part in those conflicts it is our duty to do what we can. Inevitably I’m left with a sense of failure it’s a politician that sometimes we don’t do enough.”

The minister, who is making his first visit to the region in his new role, said the bilateral relationship “couldn’t be closer and I look forward in the years ahead to the comradeship being cemented even further”.

Speaking on behalf of the participants, Matt Tomlinson, one of the most decorated Marines with 28 years service before his retirement in 2017, said: “I can honestly say we will never forget this truly amazing experience.”

A member of the Israeli Veteran Games team speaking at the president’s residence

The Games, he suggested, united “strangers that meet but already know each other very well” through their military backgrounds.

And he drew on a famous Royal Marines slang term, hoofing, meaning “beyond amazing”. To the delight of the vets, he told Rivlin: “Your veterans are hoofing. Your armed forces personnel are hoofing. This week has been hoofing. And that we have had a proper hoofing time.” Multiple Paralympic swimming medalist Hanoch Budin captivates the veterans with his inspirational story of reaching the highest levels of his sport after the deepest low of losing an arm in the First Lebanon War.

The programme was funded by donations from The Patron Charitable Initiatives, The Pears Foundation, Rachel Charitable Trust, The Wolfson Family Charitable Trust, The Exilarch’s Foundation, The Maurice Wohl Charitable Foundation and The Charles Wolfson Charitable Trust. Chelsea Foundation was also a significant contributor.

President Rivlin recognising a member of the British Veteran Games team.

Many veterans have spoken about the huge impact of the Games on their rehabilitation and on providing valuable quality time with their families. From low expectations and skewed perspectives on Israel before they came, a number are already hoping to return on holiday. By the time the group said farewell to each other on Thursday night, it was clear many did so as friends and confidants.

He told Jewish News: “The first Israel/UK Veteran Games has surpassed all my expectations. The camaraderie between the participating veterans, their families and the academics will hopefully go on to forge an even closer relationship between our two countries.”

The Embassy’s Michael Freeman, a key player in shaping the event, suggested at the event’s closing dinner that another Games could be held as soon as next year.

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