AN award-winning dramatic documentary to be screened in Inverness gives a first-hand account of what life is like for a firefighter operating under the world’s longest-running military occupation.
Jim Malone, a retired firefighter from Dundee, helped deliver a fire engine and other life-saving equipment to colleagues in his home city’s twin town of Nablus, on the occupied West Bank, in October 2011.
Firefighters Under Occupation – directed by South Wales firefighter Ciaran Gibbons – documents his experiences when he returned to Palestine in 2015.
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The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has a history of supporting the people of Palestine, and the Scottish FBU linked up with Nablus is 1982 – two years after Dundee’s controversial twinning with the city. “Firefighters are firefighters all over the world,” says Malone. “That fraternity will always be there.”
He told The National that the idea for the documentary came about through the Dundee-Nablus twinning link: “The FBU have been involved in supporting the Palestinian people and Palestinian firefighters for quite a while, but the impetus for me was the links between Dundee and Nablus.
“I was a political person was and involved with the Labour Party in the early 80s through my trade union work. With the internationalism you experience in that you realise that the Palestinian people were suffering under military occupation.”
Practical help came about after a 2009 STUC-sponsored visit to Nablus, when the FBU’s Scotland organiser Ken Ross, returned with an idea to bring firefighters from the West Bank here for training. “We gave them training at the Scottish Fire Service College at Gullane and brought them up to Tayside for further training,” says Malone.
As a member of the FBU’s Scottish executive, he supported a decision to buy two fire appliances for the Palestinians, from union members’ donations. But their 2,500-mile road trip did not go entirely to plan.
“We lost one of the fire engines in Greece after various problems, but we managed to pack all the equipment on the remaining vehicle,” says Malone. “That was eventually delivered to the Nablus Municipality Fire Service in December 2011 and is still serving the people of the city.”
In subsequent years, the FBU continued to bring officers and fire personnel over from Nablus for training in Scotland and it was on one of these trips Malone met Gibbons.
“He got the bug and when I was going back in 2015, he came with us. We arrived in some of the worst violence there had been for several years,” Malone says. “We saw some horrific sights and Ciaran captured some on film.”
The documentary premiered at Dundee’s Centre for Contemporary Arts (DCA) last year and has been seen around the world. Firefighting is a dangerous occupation, but Malone says his Palestinian colleagues have to put up with many hazards not experienced elsewhere: “Firefighters in Palestine face a daily ritual of humiliation and aggression, issues that firefighters around the world wouldn’t recognise. What we don’t have to be humiliated by is being stripped at checkpoints... To face a military occupation in your own country is horrendous.
“One threat came in the hills overlook Nablus where there’s a sensitive military base co-run by the Israelis. The crew were allowed in to put the fire out, but were warned ‘14 of you are going in; if 15 or 13 of you come out you’ll all be shot’.”