This was a week that no one in the British Embassy in Israel will forget. As we assembled on the tarmac at Ben Gurion airport on Monday evening, there was a palpable sense that this would be a visit like no other.
Our instructions from Kensington Palace were clear. The Duke of Cambridge did not want to do what most visitors do. He wanted to get a real sense of Israel, of what makes the country tick and what drives its extraordinary successes in tech and innovation. And he wanted to meet the young people who represent Israel’s future.
Israel responded to the Duke’s interest with great affection and enthusiasm. Children from different communities cheered his penalties on a Jaffa football field. Young Israeli tech entrepreneurs demonstrated the best of Start-Up Nation. Crowds on Tel Aviv beach were delighted to see the Duke of Cambridge cooling off with some watermelon while chatting to surfers. And people gathered hours in advance to see the Duke stroll down iconic Rothschild Boulevard with Netta.
There were solemn, powerful moments too. The Duke of Cambridge was determined to pay his respects to the memory of those who had died in the Holocaust. It was profoundly moving at Yad Vashem as he laid his wreath in the Hall of Remembrance and the Chief Rabbi sang the memorial prayer.
On the 80th anniversary of the Kindertransport, the Duke of Cambridge heard from two survivors how they had escaped Nazi Germany and built new lives in the UK and Israel. It was another special moment at Prime Minister Netanyahu’s residence when the Duke of Cambridge met the descendants of the family saved by his great-grandmother Princess Alice.
In a warm meeting with President Rivlin, the President expressed his delight at the first ever official royal visit to Israel.
I said before the visit that I hoped it would be a celebration of the contemporary relationship between our two countries. The Duke of Cambridge said in his speech at my residence that the relationship between the UK and Israel has never been stronger. He also noted how much the UK and Israel have in common, as two open, dynamic societies.
I hope that the guest list for that party gave the Duke of Cambridge a sense of Israel’s diversity and creativity: from the Prime Minister and Mrs Netanyahu to the Chief Justice to top model Bar Refaeli and singer Ivri Lider; brilliant scientists and start-up pioneers; and the businesspeople who are driving our record trade and investment numbers.
This was not a political visit, but no one who heard Prince William’s words will doubt his desire to see the region make progress toward peace.
Israel’s diversity was evident again when the Duke of Cambridge met youth leaders on the rooftop of the beautiful old city hall in Tel Aviv. It was inspiring – and perhaps also a little nerve-wracking – for those young people to have the opportunity to tell the Duke of Cambridge about the fantastic work they do on the environment, in mental health, in empowering LGBT young people and in supporting the less fortunate.
So Prince William’s visit saw moments of joy and moments of solemnity. There was both profound remembrance and also great optimism for the future represented by those young people.
When I spoke to the Chief Rabbi after he had accompanied the Duke of Cambridge to the Western Wall, we agreed that it had indeed been a visit like no other.
For me and my team at the Embassy, it was a privilege to have played our part in making it happen.