Palestine: Broadening My Perspective

A personal viewpoint by Pax Christi Scotland ‘s Anne Dobbing

I have never visited the Holy Land, but we all know the significance of the land at the Eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea to people of the Jewish, Christian and Moslem faiths. I was once given an old book called Yahweh’s Land, with photos of the Holy Land that helped me to visualise the countryside and the people who lived there. Joseph M Raya, the Archbishop of Accra, Haifa and All Galilee, wrote in his foreword to the book:

‘Blessed soil of Nazareth!

The One who had no mother in heaven chose a young girl from his own land, and made her the admiration of the universe. A girl from Yahweh’s Land became a temple of beauty…it is true that the Father gave humanity his Son. But Yahweh’s Land, Galilee, gave him a mother.’

The photos are rather stylised and romanticised, but they breathe peace and tranquility and looking at them now I am staggered by the contrast they present compared with the recent history of the Holy Land over the past five decades.

Jesus valued peace so fundamentally that his first words of greeting to the group of disciples after his Resurrection were ‘Peace be with you.’ It is recorded that he used these words three times to still the minds of his followers and to ease their anxiety about the danger of arrest and punishment. But they are also a prelude to action when Jesus commissions the disciples to continue his work of evangelisation and healing. The efficacy of their mission will be enhanced and increased if they begin it with the blessing of a peaceful frame of mind.

These pictures are of these places as they used to be…

The Dome of the Rock
A Shepherd near Bethlehem

In August of this year, with support from Pax Christi Scotland, I started reading and listening to information about Israel and Palestine. I asked Pax Christi colleagues for suggestions for contacts: people who would give me insight into the lives of the people who live in Israel and Palestine.

For background history for the Middle East I listened to an excellent radio podcast by Jeremy Bowen, who was the BBC Middle East editor for more than 20 years. His BBC Sounds series of twenty-five 15-minute episodes gave me a first hand insight into the origins and causes of the problems of the region. I highly recommend these programmes. This is the link for the first of the 25 short episodes:

Our Man in the Middle East – Part 1: The Giant Awakens – BBC Sounds:

I spoke with my Pax Christi Scotland colleague, Anne-Marie Clements, who has spent time in the Middle East, and knew better than I did the problems that have caused misery for so many people there. Anne-Marie and I started to collaborate and share our ideas, using her contacts. The more we found out, the more I learnt about the hardships and injustice that Palestinians endure throughout their lives.

I learnt from EAPPI, the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (WCC-EAPPI), that Palestine is now an environment where international volunteers are necessary to witness, observe and accompany Palestinian Christians as they carry out their ordinary daily lives in order to prevent them from being harassed and attacked by Security forces and by extremist Israeli individuals and groups.

Palestinian Christians and Moslems have to pass through numerous checkpoints every time they leave their homes to go to work, where they are vulnerable to physical intimidation. Palestinians are recognised as living in Israel, but are not full citizens and so have no votes in national elections.

Palestinian shepherds have suffered drone attacks on their sheep, where sheep are scattered or even deliberately wounded in order to prevent shepherds from living and working in an area. One such event was recorded by the Jerusalem-based human rights organisation B’tselem as having taken in December 2022. Their report reads:

‘On Monday morning, 12 December 2022, while Muhammad Samamrah (43) was grazing his flock of sheep and goats in pastureland near his home in Kh. E’nizan, southeast of the town of a-Dhahiriyah, settlers scattered the flock using a drone. The drone attacks continued over the course of a week, with four animals breaking their legs and nine aborting their foetuses in the panicked fleeing that ensued.’

EAPPI international volunteers have also been assigned to stay with Palestinian families so that they can witness any harassment they suffer as part of their daily lives and work.

Many Palestinian families have suffered from Israeli settlers bulldozing their homes and appropriating the land where the families have lived for generations. The situation for Palestinians deteriorated dramatically during the COVID pandemic, when accompanying was not possible. Recent plans by the Netanyahu government to sanction the building of 4,500 new settlement homes in Palestinian territory will make accompanying volunteers’ presence even more vital.

A charity called Embrace the Middle East, which operates all over the Middle East, including Egypt, Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon, recently organised a series of webinars, inviting dialogue and highlighting the lives of people living in the Middle East. In the first of these, about Palestine, the speakers were Jack Muneyer and Sally Aziz, both Christian Palestinians and a third young theologian from the University of Princeton, USA, Kevin Volrath.

Jack, an EAPPI director, spoke eloquently about his family history in Palestine stretching back to the 12th century. His father is Palestinian and his mother is English, so he has a unique insight into the lives of Palestinians. He said that the number of attacks and instances violence have tripled in the last year, including attacks on clergy and churches as well as individual Palestinian families. He said that many young Palestinian Christians are leaving the country because ‘they just can’t take it any more.’

When asked what hope he had for the future he replied sadly that he couldn’t see any hope at the moment because of the current level of injustice.

Another speaker on the webinar, Sally Azar, is a young Palestinian Lutheran pastor who studied theology in Lebanon and then did her Masters Degree in Germany. Since returning to Palestine Sally has commuted between two churches, and as she has no driving licence she has to catch buses and taxis to get to work, with frustrating detours as she passes through multiple checkpoints. Sally spoke of more and more settlements being built around Bethlehem and Jerusalem and said that Christians are very wary of speaking out because of fear of reprisals. She spoke of her work supporting local hospitals and running a summer camp for children in Jericho. But even this project has become more difficult, as even the children now have to apply for permits to attend, which was not formerly necessary. These permits are not always granted.

Kevin Volrath spoke specifically of the difficulty of raising concerns about the situation in Palestine in the UK. He said that Britain is the most difficult place to approach politicians because they know they will be accused of anti-Semitism. He said that as a result it is incredibly difficult to engage with British public figures. He also referred to the current judicial overhaul that has been engineered by the latest Netanyahu government supported by right wing political groups. He said that there will be fewer legal checks and that the earliest casualties will be Palestinians.

You can listen to recordings of the whole series of these webinars on the Embrace the Middle East website at:


Recent disturbing events in Palestine have again drawn the attention of the outside world and suggest an increasingly confrontational atmosphere.

One such was the storming of the Al-Aqsa Mosque by Israeli police on 5th April, the evening before Passover and during the Muslim month of Ramadan. My peaceful photo of the Dome of the Rock from my old book, Yahweh’s Land, is in sad contrast to the photos published in newspapers that day of Muslim worshippers being dragged from the Mosque by Israeli police.

Another was the attack that began on 3rd July 2023 when Israel Defence Forces (IDF) attacked Jenin refugee camp in Northern Israel. This was a shocking event for Palestinians and for onlookers worldwide. Jenin is home to approximately 11,00 people and from the early hours that Monday, the IDF launched Operation Home and Garden, its largest offensive in the West Bank in 20 years, involving drone attacks, artillery fire, machine guns, teargas and even bulldozers which destroyed or damaged cars and buildings. Up to 2000 Israeli soldiers were involved.

Since starting this project I have listened out for news reports, trying to better understand the situation in Palestine. I have read and listened to inspiring stories of courage and selflessness by many people trying to make life just a little better for Palestinian civilians, despite the shortages of food, water, electricity, medical care and employment opportunities that they have had to endure for years.

There is the inspirational psychiatrist in Gaza, Dr Yasser Abu Jamei, who runs the biggest mental health charity in Gaza, where four out of five children live with depression, fear and grief, as reported in the Guardian newspaper on June 4th 2023.

There are the volunteers like Dr Philippa Whitford, from Scotland, who travel to Palestine on a regular basis to support cancer care facilities.

There are other humanitarian groups who monitor and publicise human rights events in Palestine, such as Rabbis for Human Rights and Breaking the Silence. And there is the wonderful Dr Abdelfattah Abusrour, Founder of Alrowwad, which in its own words,

‘…is distinguished by its philosophy of “Beautiful Resistance,” working in the spirit of social entrepreneurship, to deepen the notion of belonging, volunteering, creativity and self-expression for children, youth and women, regardless of origin or religion.’

Abdelfattah has joined us at Pax Christi Scotland for several of our zoom events, when he has deeply moved us all by his dedication to improving the young lives of the children he works with in the difficult surroundings of the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem.

At the beginning of this project I attended a big rally in Glasgow of groups campaigning for welcome and support for refugees in the UK. I was surprised and disturbed that there were people at the demonstration who told me they supported Palestinians, but said they had been accused of anti-Semitism because they criticised the Israeli Government’s treatment of Palestinians. They were emphatically not anti-Semitic, but since then I have heard of other people who have incurred a label of anti-Semitism because they have dared to call out the Israeli government as unjust.

Palestinians are living in unbearable conditions of deprivation and insecurity, which as Jack Muneyer has said, most Jewish people are simply unaware of. But if this de facto apartheid system operates in the Palestinian Territories, surely the outside world should be made aware of it and urged to speak up about it. As Jack Muneyer said, ‘When our friends and allies turn their attention away it is to the detriment of the Palestinian situation.’


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