Iford Mill was the idyllic setting when 60 people came to hear the experiences of the daily life of Nicola Juha- Moussalam, a 26-year-old Christian Palestinian lawyer from Bethlehem. Newly qualified, he presently has an internship with the Attorney General in Hebron.
Following a walk to see Farleigh Hungerford Castle, Nicola took part in a question and answer session and explained how the Israeli Occupation affected him, saying: “Any journey in the West Bank is uncertain because of the checkpoints, with their associated permit regime.
“Additionally, there was a huge crackdown by the Israeli military storming homes when the three young Israelis went missing near Hebron; 350 men were arbitrarily imprisoned.
“I just could not get to work with all the ‘closed areas’ and missed vital training. It has been amazing to travel freely here in England.”
However what saddened Nicola most was the decline in the Christian population, from 20 per cent to only one-and-a-half per cent – 20,000 Christians have left, mainly due to economic decline. It was encouraging to hear from members of the Bethlehem/ Banes Link who were present, that it is actively working to increase job opportunities in the West Bank. It is not generally known that Palestine has the highest number of graduates in any Arab country.
In his spare time, Nicola works at the Icon Centre in Bethlehem, and it is through his links with this that he came to be invited to stay with a local family for two weeks.
Along with a French and Italian student, Nicola had English conversation classes and was introduced to English culture. The Friends helped to facilitate Nicola’s visit and organised the event, which ended with a delicious barbecue.
Among those attending, were pupils from St Augustine’s Catholic College and Sir Vincent Fean, our patron and, until recently, Consul General in Jerusalem, who spoke about the dire situation in Gaza, as well as the on-going human rights abuses of the Israeli Occupation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The area’s MP Duncan Hames also attended, with his young son Andrew. He had kindly arranged for Nicola to have a guided tour of the Houses of Parliament before he left the UK. “I hope one day we Palestinians will be able to enjoy the freedoms I have experienced here,” Nicola said, as he thanked all those who had made his visit a reality.