I was asked by the CEO of the St John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital Group to consider creating a piece of sculpture to go in the hospital's garden in Muristan. The garden is situated in the very centre of the Old City of Jerusalem where the four Quarters meet and beside where the Order of St John was planning to open an eye clinic that would serve all people of all nations and all religions within the city.
The commission was not a simple one as the work needed to tell the history of Jerusalem from its beginning, through to the present day and indeed into the future. It had to tell of the passage of people, from those that occupied the city, to the many pilgrims from all corners of the Earth. It had to be all inclusive; it had in effect to fly over and above the historic issues of Jerusalem itself and spread, as it does so, a message of hope for the
The City of Jerusalem is the Holy City, the centre of the world to the Abrahamic Faiths. As Sebag Montefiore so aptly describes in his book, JERUSALEM, this is a city that exists twice - in heaven and on earth, a city that is as important to the Jewish faith as it is to the Christian and the Islamic faiths. From the time of King David up to today, the city has seen beauty and turmoil. The walls have been built only to be destroyed and then rebuilt
by its numerous invaders and defenders.
So how could I symbolise this turmoil and beauty, the bustle of people trading, living and visiting, in an eye catching way? It was this dilemma that made the sculpture so difficult to conceive, but in equal measure such a fantastic challenge and a challenge, when complete, to be placed in the centre of a uniquely dramatic city.
I visited Jerusalem for the first time in February 2016. I was taken on a tour of the Holy Land. We drove down to Jericho, saw the Dead Sea, the Sea of Galilee, Nazareth, Caesarea and down via Bethlehem back to Jerusalem. By the end of the day I knew that I had the core element of the sculpture in mind. Wherever you go you see the olive tree is central in the lives of all people in the Holy Land. It is mentioned in all the great texts, where the olive branch is the symbol of peace. But when you look upon an old olive tree you see a tired, battle worn trunk; age is evident in its form. The trunk is dead in places and yet as a whole is full of life, new leaves and fruit! What have we got? We have got the perfect description of the city walls and the extraordinary symbol of the history of
Jerusalem… But did it fully tell of the dynamic movement of the people? I felt that it did not.
Should you visit the Holy Land between March and June, you will witness the migration of the Common Swift. The swift flies from Sub Saharan Africa through the Holy Land and onto both Europe and Asia. They have done so from times before religious and political borders were ever formed. Swifts nest and breed in the Western Wall of the Temple and have done so since the days of the first Temple as well as all the Holy sites. It is for this reason that I decided to make the canopy of my olive tree not out of leaves but out of swifts. The sculpture was now to be a tree full of life and a symbol of HOPE.
Circumstance took me to a garden just outside of Bethlehem called Tantur. It is a garden that belongs to the Order of Malta. There I found a tree that gave me the balance of age and beauty. I approached a foundry in Netania, who agreed to mould and cast a copy of this tree in bronze. I then made and cast one hundred and fifty swifts which I placed on ‘flight lines’ and formed those into the canopy of the tree. The trunk talks of the history of Jerusalem and the swifts, the movement of all people over the years, simple symbology. There were Palestinian Muslims and Christians working with Jews and with me, a Catholic, all in harmony. This work was sponsored by a Canadian Jew, for a Christian Order that works for ALL people even though their patients are predominantly Palestinian.
I have placed around the walls of Muristan and through the St John Eye Hospital in East Jerusalem several flights of swifts, in groupings of three: a prayer flag that Abrahamic faiths may fly together in unity and mutual respect. These groups of swifts are ALL part of the sculpture in Muristan. I hope to spread them much further afield in the future. Every swift that migrates to the far reaches of the world will stretch this message of hope for the Holy Land, understanding, tolerance and mutual respect between the Abrahamic faiths.
Furthermore, we have placed nesting boxes around the Muristan garden, enough for 15 pairs of swifts. The birds themselves will become a visible part of the sculpture and help spread that vital message of HOPE.
I was asked to talk at the International Swifts Conference in Tel Aviv about the ‘Tree of Hope’. Inspired by the journey of the swifts and still furthering the theme of the sculpture, I suggested to the Chairman of the conference, Professor Yossi Leshem, that we should migrate into Jerusalem alongside the swifts. In attendance at the conference were a number of notable people including General Baruch Spiegel from Israel and also General Mansour Abu Rashid from Jordan, both retired and both instrumental in the 1994 Peace Accord between Israel and Jordan. Flight2Hope was born. Our aim was to fly with nature over religious and political borders, alongside the swifts and all migratory birds. Birds have migrated enormous distances in the delicate balance of life for thousands upon thousands of years, and long before religious and political borders ever existed. Crucially, however, I wanted to do this flight with crews from across the Abrahamic Faiths.
I managed to enthuse seven fellow aviators, all friends with the same vision, to bring their aeroplanes and crews on a 2500 mile journey from the UK. This journey was to be no easy feat as apart from the distance flown, much over long stretches of water, we had to fly into a very militarily sensitive part of the Middle East as our destination. Bureaucracy alongside security was very tight.
Every aeroplane and every crew member has their own story to tell about their flights out and back. All were caught in foul weather at some point or another and yet at other times had the most glorious passages through the snowy Alps to Split and Dubrovnik, flying over the Greek Islands and the Corinth Canal. Some aeroplanes were equipped to fly ion instruments whereas others, mine as a case in point, were most certainly not. Equally, some pilots were far more qualified and a lot more experienced than others. Amongst us we had two who had circumnavigated the world and others who have experienced flying in Africa, the North Atlantic and Pakistan. Yet Flight2Hope asked all to tackle some very challenging weather, with deep low pressures causing high winds and weather fronts that grounded even the most capable pilots and aeroplanes.
To quote Bill Hall, one of the pilots ‘The best words to describe flying across Europe in a light aircraft might be: unpredictable, unexpected, beautiful. Plans are laid, routes are plotted… and then the weather gods decide you do something completely different. Though, of course, this is part of the charm, one ends up going to places one would not have planned to go to. One thing is for certain you will see beautiful skies and breathtaking views of the Earth’
To describe the flights from my own point of view, I should start with my aeroplane. G-AYLC is a Jodel D1051, made from wood and canvas in 1964. She is a basic stick and rudder aeroplane and not in anyway equipped for inclement weather . I have fuel enough for 6 hours flying at 100 kts or 110 MPH. I can carry one passenger in the tight cockpit. Over the course of Flight2Hope I flew 58 hours and almost half of which was over water, the longest leg being 5.25 hours from Crete to Corfu battling strong head winds. For my aeroplane and experience I had to ensure that I kept in sight of the ground or sea which at times meant long passages at low level and sometimes in marginal visibility. Three days were lost to weather and re-employed to much needed rest and recuperation as well as contingency planning.
The challenges above were magnified by travel through Greek airspace which is not used to catering for light aircraft and therefore often only has jet fuel but no 100LL petrol and they always have sky high landing and service charges! Often airports are closed to light aircraft on certain days or hours, but we managed to navigate all these hurdles both out bound and homebound.
That might paint a challenging picture, but we were flying through some extraordinarily beautiful country all the way from the United Kingdom, over the Massif Central to Avignon, Corsica, through the Apennines, the spine of Italy, to the olive groves in Italy’s heel. Oh the pleasure of approaching Corfu at dusk knowing that soon you would be outside with that cold beer, delicious squid dish and as it turned out the overhead scream of swifts at nightfall. Early departures, long flights over Greek Islands one after another to Rhodes, an Island so full of history and the one time home of the Knights of Malta, before flying on to Larnaka in Cyprus. Corfu to Rhodes took four hours, Rhodes to Larnaka a further three and a half, almost all over water. Others took different routes with equally beautiful but some times challenging flying.
At this stage I, along with Jonathan Elwes and his crew, was running happily ahead of the storm which we knew was following and which we knew would cause a problem to those crews following behind. Even those aeroplanes that could be flown on instruments, had auto pilots and whose crews were instrument rated were on some critical occasions stuck on the ground with 50 plus mph surface winds and pouring rain. Weather and in particular the threat of icing conditions has to be respected.
Although the team had challenging flights with inclement weather systems hounding them most of the way, everyone made it on time to Haifa, Israel’s most northerly port and subsequently to Ein Yahav in the south of the Jordan Valley, north of Eilat. We were joined by three Israeli guide pilots led by Eli Peretz from Ayit Aviation. Apart from the regulatory need to have guide pilots with us, their reassurance and local knowledge was invaluable as we flew through what amounts to very tightly controlled military airspace. But just as importantly they made for a wonderful expansion of the Flight2Hope team, as did the addition of a further Israeli aeroplane flown by Roy Ritter. Roy’s aeroplane made our flight a total nine aircraft.
Flight2Hope, took place on 2nd April 2019. So much had mitigated against success, from all the political and military issues in the Middle East to unusual weather patterns. But determination from the whole team and a helping hand from on high ensured that we hit the start line on time and in great shape. Somewhat against the odds, the poor weather that threatened the mission broke as if by a miracle enabling us to fly up the Jordan Valley and through the Holy Land. We landed at Masada, 1280 feet below sea level, before flying north around the the Dead Sea, crossing into Jordan and on towards Amman before retracing our steps and achieving the ultimate goal of circling Jerusalem.
Seeing the golden dome of the Rock and all of Jerusalem below our wing tips was an emotional moment beyond most others. What is more, as we circled the city, I had numerous sightings of flocks of swifts flitting past my aeroplane as if to welcome us there. The flight alongside nature represented the link of nature to people, as well as highlighting the stories of people beneath and the co-operation between them. We noted, for example below our wings the Palestinian, Israeli and Jordanian farmers working together and in harmony on a number of agricultural projects such as using Barn Owls as pest control, the spin off being a remarkable project working towards peace and mutual respect between the peoples.
In short, the flight looked beyond the clichés as well as political and religious borders to nature and people. The flight ended at Muristan back with the Tree of Hope. We had flown with the swifts, my symbol of people from across the ages, and most crucially with members of the Abrahamic Faiths, Jews, Christians and Muslims. We had returned to the beating heart of the Old City of Jerusalem, the city that exists twice, in Heaven as it does on Earth, a city of equal importance to all the Abrahamic Faiths. The flight carved a message of HOPE and mutual respect in the air above the Holy Land.
There was a palpable feeling of relief and gratitude on the evening of 2nd April. Gratitude that the skies had cleared and that all plans had come to be a reality. We had flown the Abrahamic Faiths, crews, male and female, from motor bike mechanics to high ranking Generals and even an astronaut from NASA, Ricky Arnold. All will have their own feelings of an incredible journey and shall themselves spread their stories, they are all ‘swifts’ and ambassadors for the Flight2Hope message, they are all sculptors having helped to carve that message on high.
The Flight2Hope programme continued over the next days with a fascinating series of talks arranged by Professor Yossi Leshem calling for and demonstrating unity through nature, people, mutual respect and cooperation. The talks were followed by a visit to Muristan and the Tree of Hope, before going to the Western Wall to witness the extraordinary sight of the swifts’ screaming flight at dusk.
The team from the UK went on to see two outstanding hospitals, both reaching out over the divides, The St John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital in East Jerusalem and the the Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem which is run by the ancient Order of Malta. We saw also swifts nesting boxes above the school in Bethlehem, another show of co-operation through nature.
But the journey for the crews from the UK was only half done as we had a further 2500 miles to return home, again through more challenging Mediterranean weather. I was relieved on landing back at my home strip to find that all the aircraft had returned safely from an enthralling trip.
Flight2Hope was brought together by some extraordinary partners without whom it would have been impossible. Key to the mission was Professor Yossi Leshem from Tel Aviv University. Yossi makes things happen, nothing is too challenging. But alongside him and key to that success he had a remarkable team including General Mansour Abu Rashid from Jordan, Eli Peretz CEO of Ayit Aviation, Yossi’s secretary Adi and many more working behind the scenes. Yossi was supported by the Society for the protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), the Hoopoe foundation and the Amman Centre for Peace & Development (ACPD). Key to so much also was the St John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital Group whose Chairman and Hospitaler flew as crew alongside many mentioned above. They hosted the flight back in Muristan and indeed were the original commissioners of the ‘Tree of Hope’. Ricky Arnold and his wife Eloise from NASA joined Flight2Hope and are, like all, ambassadors to the energy hence forth.
The Flight2Hope message is one that rings with urgency and importance. New Zealand and now Sri Lanka to name just two places recently hit by appealing violence, graphically demonstrates the need for mutual respect and understanding between faiths and people.
The difficulties encountered in organising and actioning Flight2Hope form a perfect metaphor for the challenges that face the world, but the flight, against all adversity, was a huge success and we now HOPE that this will reflect the many issues facing the world… and that success will ultimately overcome the difficulties.
I would like to quote a remarkable peace maker, a partner in Flight2Hope and one of the crews in our Abrahamic Faiths flight, General (Ret) Mansour Abu Rashid, Chairman of ACPD:
‘Today, the Middle East remains the greatest threat to international peace and security and despite the chronic failure to resolve the central conflict in the Middle East, we believe that it is possible to settle it. Flight2Hope, resembles that; people’s genuine efforts to make it possible to construct a better future, to amplify the voices of those who are not afraid to build bridges and pave the way for peace, those who are courageous enough to reach out and reconnect the bonds of our common humanity’.