Photo Credit: Abir sultan/Flash90

From Northern Ireland to Israel, Stephen Haire’s unique story shows determination, love for the land and friendship – qualities inherent in him, that he found reflected around him in Israel, and particularly among the people of Gush Katif. On March 13 Stephen will be running in the Jerusalem half-marathon to raise funds for medical supplies for Gush Katif needy.

Stephen was born in Northern Ireland, UK.

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Unfortunately, I was not born Jewish but I was taught from an early age to love and believe in the land of Israel and G-d’s covenant with the Jewish people. I stepped out of Christianity many years ago and am at the very early stages of giyur.

How did your Israel connection begin?

I first came to Israel with my brother for a week before his wedding and since then I’ve come back by myself. I believe this is my 12th visit! I went to Ulpan six years ago and volunteered twice with Sar-El and a lot with Hope for Sderot including during Operation Protective Edge. I’ve been volunteering on Kibbutz Mashabei Sadeh from October 2014 and I hope to be here for a year.

How would you summarize your Israeli experiences?

I have made some amazing friends and visited amazing places. I even worked on Shai Dromi’s farm for a few days without knowing his story!

When did you first hear of Gush Katif?

In Northern Ireland we are very interested in Israel and the situation in Middle East. I read about Gush Katif after seeing cars with orange ribbons and Gush Katif flags. I investigated more and couldn’t believe what these amazing people had produced in the sand – all the agriculture and innovation despite living in daily fear of their lives. I was studying a course in Queens University Belfast called The Battle for Palestine. The tutor was very pro-Arab and we had a lot of debates. He set me an assignment entitled ‘Is Gaza the world’s biggest open air prison, discuss?’ So I decided to put my slant on it and I told the story of the people in Gush Katif and how they were daily made to live in fear of Arab terror and their children had to have armed guards. Yet despite this, they utilized their time to become a leader in agriculture, exporting flowers and vegetables in a multibillion shekel industry.

Have you visited the Gush Katif Heritage Center in Nitzan and the museum in Jerusalem?

I have visited the three museums (there’s a branch of the Heritage Center in the Golan) on numerous occasions. I love to go and sit and reflect on the place created and the plight of the residents since its destruction. I love to see the newest Gush Katif videos in Avnei Eitan up north.

I also love to go and walk around the Gush Katif museum in Jerusalem. In fact, I believe I was the only visitor there for several days in July during Operation Protective Edge. I thank them for all the information and access to the archives which I am still working on. I also hope to use the archives from the Nitsan Heritage Center to compile some sort of report on Gush Katif and how the residents have dealt with the destruction.  My feeling is that the government of Northern Ireland, since the so called peace process, has failed its most loyal and fiercest defenders just as the government of Israel continues to fail the people from Gush Katif.”

Did you get to visit Gush Katif before its destruction?

It is my greatest disappointment that I never got to see Gush Katif before its destruction but it looks amazing, an oasis created by innovative pioneers who are the most loyal of Israeli citizens.

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