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Lasallian university promoting harmony in Bethlehem

Posted on 23 October 2015
Lasallian university promoting harmony in Bethlehem

Bethlehem University Vice Chancellor, Br Peter Bray has been at the forefront of promoting educational opportunities for Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land for the past seven years.

But the New Zealand born De La Salle Brother said his work has become a lot more challenging over recent months as tensions have escalated between the Israeli army and Palestinians in the Bethlehem region.

Classes have had to be suspended on a number of occasions at the university given the unpredictable security situation.

And at least one student from the university has been caught directly in the conflict.

First year Education Faculty student Shorouq Salah Ibrahim Dwayyat, was shot by an armed Israeli man.

It is difficult to know the full story, but it seems that Shorouq was on her way to university classes when she was confronted and harassed by a settler who tried to remove her hijab.

When she pushed him away, he shot her four times.

Many of the university's students come from Hebron and Jerusalem, but have been too anxious to cross army checkpoints to come to the Bethlehem University campus.

Br Peter says the university is preparing, among other things, to have available online classes to accommodate the needs of these students when they are unable to come to campus.

"The safety of students is our top priority", he explains.

"As Lasallians, we are called to reach out to our students as older brothers and sisters would and to provide them with the best possible education we can".

Br Peter says around 70 percent of Bethlehem University's students are Muslim with Christians making up the remaining 30 percent.

More than half of the Christian students come from Greek Orthodox backgrounds.

Around 70 percent of the university's staff are Christians and 30 percent are Muslims.

The university is unable to enrol Jewish students because Israel has forbidden Israeli citizens to go into Palestine.

Br Peter said it was challenging to run a Catholic university in a part of the world where less than two percent of the Palestinian population are Christians.

However, at Bethlehem University, Br Peter said Muslim and Christian students form strong friendships, despite their religious differences.

He said the Israeli occupation was hampering the prospects for peace in the Middle East and the broader chance of a Palestinian state.

But he said it was important to maintain a sense of optimism and past history in other areas of conflict had shown that injustice and discrimination can be overcome.

"Who would have thought back in the early 1980s that the battle against apartheid in South Africa could ever end? Or that communism would collapse in Germany within a decade? Or that peace would come to Northern Ireland? Or that East Timor would gain its independence? Yet it happened and that is the hope I hold on to that somehow beyond how I can see, peace will come." Br Peter asks.

He believes Bethlehem University is playing a critical role in educating future generations.

"When eventually peace comes what Palestine is going to need are educated, resourceful, creative Palestinians and this is why Bethlehem University is so important because it is helping to create that pool of people who are going to create whatever emerges", Br Peter said.

"As Lasallians, we are standing in solidarity with our students and this is what makes our efforts worthwhile".

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