Bethlehem University vice-chancellor Br Peter Bray, FSC, said that the Palestinian people, including their students, are resisting the structures put in place by Israeli military forces in their (Palestinian) land through non-violent means.
Br Peter said that the recently elected government in Israel promises to be even more dominant in the area, making it clear that its aim is to drive out the Palestinians there.
The recently elected government, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, declared as their guiding principle that “the Jewish people have an exclusive and unquestionable right to all areas of the land of Israel”.
“How can Palestinians respond? They respond by resisting restrictions,” Br Peter said at a talk held at the Pompallier Diocesan Centre on February 8.
“Palestinians choose to build schools or hospitals, to go to school, go to university, become a mechanic, doctor or whatever, to cultivate their ancestral lands. All of these are acts of resistance,” he said.
“What it is doing is saying, ‘we are going to stay here. We are here. This is our land. We are resisting efforts to push us out of our land’,” he explained.
Br Peter said that, every day, their students face the hassle of going through checkpoints manned by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank.
One student in the video clips that Br Peter played throughout his talk said she always has her bus fare in her hand rather than her bag because the soldiers might think she has a gun in her bag and shoot her.
“We have about half of our students coming from East Jerusalem. Most of them get on the bus. But when they get on the bus in East Jerusalem, they don’t know if they can get on campus in time for class,” Br Peter said, “because any group of Israelis can actually stop a bus, herd students off the bus, they can interrogate them, they can arrest them or put a gun in their face.”
Br Peter played a clip of Dr Mazin Qumsiyeh, a professor of genetics and molecular and cellular biology at Bethlehem University, and a well-known activist, explaining how the university helps the students in their non-violent resistance.
“We do an amazing job in Bethlehem University in the form of non-violent resistance by graduating our students in the university, preparing them for the future, so that they use their minds rather than using weapons. They use their minds to challenge the occupation,” Dr Qumsiyeh said.
Br Peter further explained that the university helps their students resist the occupation by being an “oasis of peace” for them (students).
“All of the conflict that they have outside, all the hassle that they get from the Israeli soldiers, when they are in campus, this is a little oasis around them,” he said.
Br Peter’s talk was also a fundraising effort to help the university in its mission to provide education in the Holy Land, regardless of a student’s religion.
He said that they have an operating budget of US$15 million. The Vatican, which is in joint-venture with the De La Salle Brothers, provides US$7.5 million. Students’ tuition provides 60 per cent of the remaining US$7.5 million needed by the university to operate. The rest of the amount is fundraised “around the world”.
“When I’m talking about Bethlehem University and Palestine, we’re talking about certain things really. Firstly, it’s to raise awareness on what’s happening in Palestine and what’s happening in Bethlehem University, what the students are going through.
“Second one, is fundraising. What we need are people here who can take up the cause and stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people and advocate for them.”
Those who wish to support Bethlehem University can do so through Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand, stating that the money is to go to the university. See www.caritas.org.nz