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Palestinian lives upended, says Anglican priest

22 March 2024

Fr Fadi Diab uses UK visit to focus minds on West Bank and Gaza

The Rector of St Andrew’s, Ramallah, the Revd Fadi Diab

The Rector of St Andrew’s, Ramallah, the Revd Fadi Diab

“LIFE in the West Bank has turned upside down since the first week of October,” the Rector of St Andrew’s, Ramallah, the Revd Fadi Diab, said on Wednesday morning.

“But we need also to remember that Palestinians in the West Bank have been under military occupation for more than 55 years now,” he continued. The situation in the West Bank could “not in any way be compared to the amount of pain in Gaza”, he emphasised.

The United Nations and other aid agencies have this week warned that famine in Gaza is imminent.

“Since October, there has been an intensification of restrictions and Israeli troop incursions into cities and towns in the West Bank,” Fr Diab said. More than 500 people had been killed, and 7000 had been arrested, he said.

The war began on 7 October, after Hamas attacks on southern Israel, which killed more than 1000 people.

Travel had become even more difficult for Palestinians than before, he said, owing to violence and harassment from Israeli settlers, and this had had knock-on economic effects: the travel permits of many who had travelled into Israel to work had been cancelled, and they had lost their jobs without compensation.

On Monday, 27 EU foreign ministers agreed in principle to impose sanctions on Israeli settlers, as well as to further sanction Hamas. In February, the Foreign Secretary, Lord Cameron, announced sanctions in response to “unprecedented levels of violence by extremist settlers in the West Bank” (News, 23 February).

Fr Diab’s church, in Ramallah, helps to organise summer camps for young Palestinian Christians (News, 11 August 2023).

The situation for young people in the West Bank was especially challenging, he said on Wednesday. “Many young people have lost hope that there’s going to be peace one day in the future, especially with the rise of violence in Israeli society and the far Right.”

The difficulties that young people, in particular, faced in moving around in the West Bank, or in applying for permits to enter Israel, fuelled frustration and a desire to move abroad, he said — and, of those who left, “most of them won’t come back.”

Fr Diab’s visit to the UK is being organised by Friends of the Holy Land, an ecumenical organisation whose volunteer committee he chairs. He preached in Southwark Cathedral on Sunday, and has been visiting congregations, church leaders, and supporters around the country.

Speaking about the London marches calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, Fr Diab said: “It’s very virtuous to march on the streets for a just cause — to stop a war. No one should in any way support a war. Wars are against God’s will; killing the other is against God’s will.”

Friends of the Holy Land “continues to work hard in the UK, to raise awareness, to educate people about the Christian community and Christian mission, but also to raise funds to support Christians and Christian institutions in Palestine”.


IN OCTOBER, some members of Fr Diab’s congregation, writing to the Archbishop of Canterbury, criticised some of the Archbishop’s public statements about the war (News, 27 October 2023).

Fr Diab was not involved in writing the letter, but said on Wednesday that he thought that many Palestinians had “expected a more strong support for the cessation of all hostilities”.

Fr Diab met Archbishop Welby last Friday. “I really see a commitment from the Archbishop’s side to work for a stronger position with the Government, and to push forward to solving not only this war, but also this conflict.”

Archbishop Welby, he said, was “very much concerned, very much upset and angry about the loss of lives, and he stands firm in solidarity with the Christian community in the Holy Land”.

After meeting Fr Diab, Archbishop Welby said that, “in listening to him, I heard again how the war in Gaza has upended life in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and created untold misery and suffering to thousands of families.”

The Archbishop highlighted the death of Rami Hamdan Al-Halhouli, a 12-year-old Palestinian boy who was killed in Jerusalem on Tuesday of last week. It was reported that he had been playing with a firework in Shuafat, a refugee camp in occupied East Jerusalem, when he was shot by Israeli border police.

Lambeth PalaceFr Diab with the Archbishop of Canterbury in Lambeth Palace last Friday

Archbishop Welby described the incident as a “senseless killing”. It “underlines all that is wrong with this cruel and horrific war. . . A 12-year-old holding a firework is not a terrorist but simply an innocent child holding a firework. There is no justification for his death.

“This war and its killing needs to end, and it needs to end now. All hostages need to be released. Immediate and unrestricted aid must be secured to address the famine-like conditions in Gaza.”

On Tuesday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, said that the “projected imminent famine in Gaza can and must be prevented”.

The situation was “a result of Israel’s extensive restrictions on the entry and distribution of humanitarian aid and commercial goods, displacement of most of the population, as well as the destruction of crucial civilian infrastructure”.

For months, the UN and other aid agencies working in Gaza have been saying that they are unable to get enough food into the Gaza Strip by overland aid convoy. Other methods of delivering food parcels, by sea and air, are not yet able to meet the needs of the population.

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) — which is used by the World Food Programme and World Health Organization — indicates that, between March and July, the food insecurity of half of the 2.2 million inhabitants of Gaza will be classified as “catastrophe/famine”.

Currently, just under one third of the population (670,000) are in famine conditions, the IPC says; 875,000 are living with “emergency”-level food insecurity; and almost 578,000 are in “crisis”.

“The clock is ticking,” Mr Türk said. “Everyone, especially those with influence, must insist that Israel acts to facilitate the unimpeded entry and distribution of needed humanitarian assistance and commercial goods to end starvation and avert all risk of famine.

“There needs to be full restoration of essential services, including the supply of food, water, electricity, and fuel. And there needs to be an immediate ceasefire, as well as the unconditional release of hostages still held in Gaza.”

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