Oasis of peace behind the Wall

A university offers a haven of safety and security for young students in the Holy Land, a Uniting Church congregation in North Melbourne heard last month.

Bethlehem University is the only Catholic University in the West Bank where Palestinians of all faiths or none can study.

In late February the university’s Vice-Chancellor Brother Peter Bray shared the institution’s remarkable story at Mark the Evangelist Uniting Church.

Amidst the daily uncertainty and anxiety, Brother Peter said Bethlehem University strives to “do what we can with what we have, where we are”.

Approximately 46 per cent of students come from Jerusalem. Every day they face numerous obstacles on their way to study, including travel restrictions and harassment at military checkpoints as they pass through the Israel West Bank barrier, a 708km-long security wall.

Brother Peter spoke of a student who routinely kept her bus fare in her hand. If she opened her bag near a checkpoint, she risked being shot by an Israeli soldier on the suspicion of pulling out a weapon from her bag.

The campus provides a safe learning environment for students and also offers a sense of predictability absent from the chaotic surrounds. Brother Peter believes establishing a stable routine for students fosters peaceful hearts and minds.

Academic staff members act as mentors to the young men and women studying at Bethlehem University so that students learn how they can use their minds, not weapons, to challenge the injustice they experience in their daily lives.

Quoting from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Brother Peter said “silence in the face of evil is itself evil”. It is Brother Peter’s hope that the university will equip young Palestinians with the leadership skills and confidence to look forward to a new era of peace in a troubled land.

Brother Peter’s visit was organised by the congregation in collaboration with the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Network.



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