Palestinian Students Build Bridge of Peace to America
CINCINNATIFive Palestinian teenagers from Beit Jala,
a city near Bethlehem, spent five weeks in Milford, Ohio, late last year trying
to establish peace and understanding between their homeland and the United
States. Issa, Mary, Tamer, Raneem and Tamara, 13-year-old students at the Latin
Patriarchate (Roman Catholic) School in Beit Jala, made fast work of their time
at St. Andrew-St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School in Milford. In those short weeks,
the students left lasting imprints on the community, as well as on the hearts
of those close to them.
The stories of the five Christian Palestinian students, their lives back home and
their brief but significant stay in Milford are featured in the May cover story
"Issa, Mary, Tamer, Raneem and Tamara: Ambassadors of Peace." Assistant Editor
Christopher Heffron interviewed the five students, their Palestinian chaperones
and people from St. Andrew Parish. After April 21, the article can be found at: AmericanCatholic.org.
The Palestinians' visit was sponsored through the "Parish Partnerships
Program" of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF)a
nonprofit organization designed to improve the lives of Christians in the Holy
Issa, Mary, Tamer, Raneem and Tamara brought with them a sense of urgency. As young
people of Beit Jala, they know firsthand the damaging effects of war,
occupation, bloodshed and turmoil. The students of St. Andrew-St. Elizabeth Ann
Seton were eager to learn.We've come here for a job," Tamara says. "Our
job is to talk about Palestinian people. Our job when we go back to Palestine
is to tell the Palestinian people about Americans."
The five students also provided the people of Milford with a taste of their homeland: its culture, spirit, heritage and, sadly, unrest. The
people of Beit Jala often endure curfews enforced by the Israeli military. Some
curfews last a few hours while others can stretch to a month. But life is no
less hazardous when curfews are lifted. Walking to the market, to church or to
school can be hazardous, sometimes deadly. It's no surprise the five
Palestinians savored their taste of freedom in America.
"American teenagers have many ways to entertain themselves," Issa says. "But for Palestinian teenagers, we have few
chances to enjoy ourselves because we can't leave the Bethlehem area."
Differences between the Milford teens and the
Palestinians are numerous, but such differences provided fertile ground for
understanding and friendship. Father Rob Waller, pastor of St. Andrew, credits
their age as the greatest teaching tool. "Since they are children, their presence lowers the
defenses," Father Rob says. "When people's defenses are down, the message gets
right to the heart. I think it's part of the beauty of being kids."
The five Palestinians have vowed to remedy the problems facing Palestine and the often
strained relationship between their country and the United States. For their
part, the people of St. Andrew are looking into hosting more Palestinian
students in the future and possibly sending a few of their own to the Holy
Land. Hopefully, this will be one step in establishing a measure of peace
within their war-ravaged country.
As Raneem has said, "We pray that the future is a little brighter. We pray that the candle at the end of the
tunnel will not be blown out, but rather shine brighter and brighter until the
tunnel is lit up and the darkness disappears."
granted to reprint this release.