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Palestinian priest talks path to peace during campus visit


Father Fadi Diab and Prof PB Anand

Reverend Fadi Diab, the Anglican priest from St Andrew’s, Ramallah in Palestine - who also visited the Archbishop of Canterbury as part of a UK tour - met staff and students from the University of Bradford to discuss differing perceptions of the Israel/Gaza conflict.

He delivered a short talk and answered questions on Thursday March 21, alongside the Very Rev Andy Bowerman, Dean of Bradford Cathedral, and Professor PB Anand, head of the Department for Peace Studies and International Development. 

Opening the session, Professor Udy Archibong, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion welcomed Father Fadi on behalf of the university (on what was anti-racial discrimination day). She also stressed the importance of what she called ‘the lived experience.’

She said: “We have a responsibility, as a university, to think about and discuss important issues that surround us, such as the current situation in the Middle East. When we talk about these issues, we need to remember our humanity, be open-minded, and consider the lived-experience of those affected by conflict.”

Lived experience

Father Fadi, who is also vice-chair of the board that runs the Al-Ahli Hospital, the last functioning hospital in Northern Gaza, spoke at length about the conflict and his experience of living in Palestine.

He said: “It’s a great honour to be here at the University of Bradford. One of the responsibilities of clergy is that people usually expect from them a lot; for them to be experts in many fields, to be pastors, interpreters, leaders in the community, to teach, and so on. In the diocese of Jerusalem, you are expected to do more.

Referring to the words of Prof Archibong, Father Fadi said: "If we need to understand anything in life, we need to cherish and embrace the lived experience of the victim. When we talk about peace and reconciliation, it would be unfair to do that without discussing the lived experience of those who are living in conflict and looking towards peace.

“When you talk about right and wrong, you need to look at the lived experiences of both communities.

“If I step on your foot, you feel pain. Your perspective is different to mine. There is physical pain and also psychological pain, which is beneath the surface.

“When we talk about what is going on in Israel-Palestine, we cannot understand that conflict if we do not study, learn and uncover what is beneath the surface.

“What was hidden for many years before October 7? You cannot begin with October 7 and say the narrative starts there. That’s unfair to the pain of the community that is still struggling after a long period of time. Eighty percent of the people of Gaza are refugees. For 75 years, they have lived in refugee camps, totally dependent on others to provide food, work, medicine. 

“Before we even talk about the relationship in the UK between supporters of both groups, and what is going on on the ground, we need to take into account the lived experience, because the people of Gaza see everything through the pain of living for 75 years in refugee camps - that’s something we all need to understand.

“I come from the occupied territories and speak as someone who lived all his life under occupation. I am 50, my father lived all his life under occupation, I lived all my life under occupation, now my boys are also deprived of their freedom, of feeling safe, of hope, dignity and opportunity.

“That narrative becomes part of who we are, it shapes who I am, my identity."

You cannot begin with October 7 and say the narrative starts there. That’s unfair to the pain of the community that is still struggling after a long period of time. 

He went on: “In order to understand any conflict, we need to choose what kind of lens we use, what kind of theory we use. These may reveal more truth about the nature of the issue. I read the Israel/Palestine conflict through a colonial lens. I will not be able to understand, as a Palestinian, what is happening today, what has happened in the past, without looking at this [in the context of] colonial theory and new colonial structures.

“My advice to anyone who asks about the conflict and how to respond is first of all, you need to look at this through the lived experience of the victim. Why the victim? Because the victim does not have any power to manipulate the situation.

“We are always called to stand with the weak, the oppressed, the marginalised. This is true in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. We are always called to stand with those who have no voice, no power.

“If we reverse it and ask who was the weak and the victim on October 7? It was Israelis. I stand with them, because in that particular moment, they were the weak. It’s not about nationality, it’s not about standing with Israel or with Palestine or about race or identity of the person. You stand with the weak. We do not separate people according to nationality, colour, sex… the experience of pain and powerlessness is what is most important.”

Root causes

Professor PB Anand said: “This Department has long association with people from both Israel and Palestine. We are always keen to welcome speakers from different perspectives to help us better understand the conflict and also to think about reconciliation and peace. Part of the function of any university is to expose young people to different narratives, especially as they relate to topical issues.”

Peace Studies lecturer Dr Colins Imoh added: “When we talk about resolving conflict, we have to look at the complex mix of issues that make that conflict possible. This means looking at the root causes of violence such as structural inequality,  and listening to a range of perspectives as to how we can address these to move towards peace, drawing upon the work of scholars such as Adam Curle [1916-2006] and Johan Galtung [1930-2024].”