By GIL HASKEL
Shalom, Kenya! And happy Jubilee! It is interesting to state that formal diplomatic relations between Israel and Kenya were established in December 1963, when Israel’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Golda Meir, met Kenya’s Prime Minister at the time, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.
Both not only laid the cornerstone for one of the first resident embassies in Nairobi, but also agreed to place emphasis on young Kenya’s training and development needs in the fields of agriculture and community medicine.
Ever since, these relations have deepened and widened, based on mutual respect, common trust and shared values. The fields of co-operation have multiplied since, and both nations have proved time and again that in time of need they are among the first to be there for one another.
Even as early as pre-independence, when Kenya was struggling to attain sovereignty, Kenyans were attending training courses in Israel under ‘Mashav’, Israel’s Agency for International Development Co-operation, and seeds for the creation of organisations such as the National Youth Service were planted, based on the Israeli “Gadna” experience of enlisting the country’s youth for national service, particularly in agriculture and community service. Through the assistance of Mashav programmes in education, agriculture, entrepreneurship, medicine and women empowerment, thousands of Kenyans have travelled, and are still travelling, for training in Israel.
These programmes have received highly positive feedback and results, creating a database of thousands of professionals who act as a solid bridge between both peoples.
Israeli-Kenyan relations have also echoed the special bond between Kenya and the Jewish faith, rooted well before Kenya gained independence. As such, in 1904, the Nairobi Hebrew Congregation was established and by 1913, 20 Jewish families were living in Nairobi and the first synagogue was built.
After the Holocaust, more Jews migrated to Kenya and by 1945, the Jewish community had grown to more than 150 families, most of which played a major role in pre-independent Kenya’s economic and socio-political development.
Israel’s transition from a recipient of foreign aid to a donor country in the face of glaring challenges such as high expenditure on security, large swathes of arid land and incessant hostility from its neighbours, not only attests to the power of hope, the strength of co-operation by mutual friends and the value of innovation and human resources, but also offers priceless lessons to developing nations like Kenya.
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Through support and encouragement from friends around the world, like so many here in Kenya, Israelis are unwaveringly hanging onto hope that peaceful coexistence shall one day be realised in its neighbourhood of the Middle East, through reasonable historical compromises in which the right of Israel to exist in security, as the homeland of the Jewish people, is recognised and respected.
Fifty years down history lane, the growing ties between the two mutual friends has been tested and proved to be unique in their intimacy and deep commitment.
From the days of pre-independence to the horrendous US Embassy bombings and Westgate attack, Israelis were always there for Kenyans and vice versa. Every Kenyan should always remember that Israel is a friend you can count on. From the holy city of Jerusalem, we wish all Kenyans a happy Jubilee!
The writer is Ambassador of Israel to Kenya.