It is the region of the world that gave birth to Christianity and ultimately the Christmas story.
But ongoing tensions in the Holy Land, whether this be Syria or Palestine, mean that for millions, this is far from being the season of tidings and joy.
One man who has experienced the situation at first hand is former Dundee fire fighter Jim Malone, who recently returned from the Arab-Israeli conflict zone.
During his 30-year career as a fire fighter in Dundee, Mr Malone experienced his fair share of potential life and death situations.
He could never have imagined tackling fierce blazes without the proper fire fighting equipment.
But Mr Malone, who has recently returned from the his third trip to Palestine, says that fire fighters in the Palestinian city of Hebron are routinely having to fight fires in overalls and without breathing apparatus because donated equipment from international charities is being withheld by the Israeli state.
He told The Courier:” The city’s 35 fire fighters have no structural fire kit, no helmets, no fire gloves, no fire boots, only three fire tenders aged 10 years, 15 years and 52-years-old. They are fighting fires in overalls. Fire fighters showed us burn scars on their arms. Their plight is desperate. The Israeli embargo is stopping kit from getting through because the authorities deem it to be facilitating terrorism. We have forwarded their plea for assistance through the Fire Brigade Union to the Scottish FRS and Scottish Government.”
Mr Malone, 55, who recently retired having served as a Scottish organiser with the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), first visited Dundee’s twin city of Nablus in 2011 when he drove a donated fire engine and full fire kit the 2500 miles to the conflict zone. The Nablus fire engine emblazoned with ‘Dundee’ is still in active service.
As on his previous trips, his latest journey saw him visit Nablus and Ramallah.
However this year at the request of the municipality he also visited Hebron.
The visit was carried out on behalf of the FBU and supported by the Scottish Cross Party Parliamentary Palestinian Support Group.
He travelled with Welsh FBU member Ciaran Gibbons who was filming a documentary to complement their previous film ‘ Firefighters under Occupation ‘.
The underlying purpose of the trip was to offer quality assurance on training recently undertaken by Palestinian fire fighters in Scotland.
Mr Malone said: “In Nablus we immediately visited the Central Fire Station to meet the fire fighters we had hosted in 2009. We observed the continued use of the ‘Dundee’ fire appliance delivered by the FBU in 2011. We also visited the East Station with Nablus Fire Chief Ramiz to discuss recent attacks on fire fighters in the Nablus area by illegal Israeli settlers.
“The next day we met with the new mayor of Nablus Sameeh Tubaila. At our meeting we discussed the current violence and the effect of the continued Israeli military occupation. Mayor Tubalia thanked the people of Dundee for their support over the last 33 years.”
Mr Malone said that during their stay several Palestinians were killed by Israeli Defence Forces.
Two young men were shot dead on a motorbike while approaching one of the many check points on the outskirts of Nablus.
Mr Malone said that since October 1 around 80 Palestinians have been killed by settlers or IDF, 2,400 injured and over 1,500 arrested. By contrast 12 Israelis have been killed and 157 injured during the same period.
In the besieged city of Hebron, they experienced how Palestinians cannot drive on the motorway to Hebron as this is reserved for Israeli citizens. The detour around occupied Jerusalem adds another hour to a normal 30 minute drive of only 50km.
He had also been struck by the supportive attitude of fellow firefighters in Israel.
Mr Malone continued: “The visit to Hebron has left an indelible mark. The city of 360,000 is divided into H1 and H2. H1 is the home to 80% of the Palestinian population, H2 is controlled by the IDF (Israel Defense Force), who protect 200 illegal settler families in the centre of the once tourist centre of the old town of Hebron, home to the Ibrahimi Mosque, Tomb of the Patriarchs, 30,000 Palestinians and 6,000 IDF.
“We witnessed the occupation at first hand. This is undoubtedly an apartheid, racist arrangement.”
The Israelis view the conflict as a matter of securityy and defence. They believe in their right to the land of Israel due to their history and identity to it. Israel argues it is constantly defending itself from terrorist attacks produced by Hamas and Palestinian people.
Mr Malone said much of the trouble in the Middle East can be linked to the famous Balfour Declaration of November 1917. British imperialism in Palestine began when Lord Balfour, the then British foreign secretary and former prime minister, sent a letter to Baron Rothschild, one of the leaders of the Zionist movement, expressing Britain’s backing for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”. It started a chain of events that led to the eventual formation of the modern state of Israel in 1948.
The decision by Dundee to establish twinning links with Nablus in the early 1980s had been “progressive” and faced up to Britain’s historic responsibilities. Yet Palestine’s need for a sustainable society continued, he said.