Riches of Clare: The Israeli President's gift

Clare Champion, Friday, February 28, 2003

The Riches of Clare exhibition at the local authority-run Clare Museum charts the county's history over 6,000 years using authentic artifacts. In this article, museum curator, John Rattigan, writes about an appropriate gift Dr Patrick Hillery received when Chaim Hertzog visited in June 1985.

Dr Patrick Hillery was the 6th President of Ireland, serving two terms from 1976-1990, and one of the functions of the President of Ireland is to receive visiting heads of state on behalf of the people of the nation.

One of the most appropriate and interesting items in the recently donated Hillery collection, is a set of ancient medical instruments, presented to Dr Hillery, a doctor of medicine, by the Irish-born President of Israel Chaim Hertzog, during his state visit to Ireland in June 1985.

These medical instruments are genuine archaeological artifacts, dating from the Herodian and Mishnaic-Talmudic Periods of ancient Israel, and are roughly contemporary with the life of Christ.

Surgical instruments came into use only in the early Roman imperial period, as far as can be ascertained by modern archaeology. They are not a common find, and most of the published finds are either from surgeons tombs, hospitals in the legionary camps or physicians houses in Pompeii, the Roman city buried by volcanic ash and perfectly preserved after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, in 79 AD.

The man who presented this remarkable gift to Dr Hillery, Chaim Hertzog, was the son of a Rabbi, born in Belfast in 1918. At age 17 he emigrated to Palestine, then under a British mandate following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War.

He obtained a degree in law, and then went on to serve in the Hagganah, a Jewish militia set up in the 1920, and as a member saw action during the Arab Revolt of 1936-1938.

Hertzog joined the British Army during the Second World War, and towards the end of the conflict was an intelligence officer in northern Germany.

His involvement in the liberation of the concentration camps was probably the defining moment of his life.

After the war, he returned to Palestine where he found the British Government were turning away ship loads of Jewish immigrants escaping post-war Europe.

Hertzog, through the Hagganah, came into conflict with British over this issue, and the Israeli War of Independece began.

When the State of Israel was founded in 1948, Hertzog was made head of the Israeli Defence Forces Military Intelligence Branch from 1948-1950, and in the 1950s he spent some time as the military attaché to Washington.

After the 1967 Six-Day War, Hertzog became the first military governor of the West Bank, territory captured from neighbouring Jordan.

Between 1975-1978, Hertzog served as Israeli Ambassador to the UN, where he defended Zionism, against charges that the philosophy was rascist.

Zionism was a term coined in 1893 by Nathan Birnbaun as a name for the ideals of a movement seeking the return of Jewish people to their homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty in Israel.

By 1981, he had entered politics and became a member of the Israeli parliament, or Knesset, but resigned his seat in 1983 when he was elected President of Israel.

The visit of Chaim Hertzog was the first step in the establishment of full diplomatic relations between Ireland and Israel.

In 1978, Israel had briefly invaded southern Lebanon, on its northern border, provoked by attacks by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation based in that country. Following an Israeli withdrawal, a UN peacekeeping force, which included a battalion of Irish troops, was deployed there, leading to increased diplomatic contacts between Ireland and Israel.

In 1982, the Israeli Defence Forces again invaded Lebanon, and became bogged down in a bloody conflict.

This led to a period tension between the Irish UN battalion there, and the Israeli military, which, according to journalist Robert Fisk's book on the subject "Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War", was the subject of a lengthy discussion between President Hertzog and Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald.

Chaim Hertzog retired from public life at the expiry of his second term in 1993, and died in 1997.

View the Chaim Hertzog Medical Instruments

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