“I’m not against anyone, but I’m against anyone who oppresses
anyone.” That statement of resistance, from an older sister who runs a school
(her story another day!), strikes a theme that we Church journalists heard again
and again on this immersion trip. We are in Bethlehem,
after all, on Israel’s West Bank, part of the Palestinian territory under
control of the Israeli government. Sentiments of absolute frustration are easy
to find in Palestine.
The place where we
heard it most clearly was later this day, at Bethlehem University,
from a panel of five bright, young students. They look no different from students
at Ohio State,
Miami University or the University of Notre Dame, where I have recent
experience with my own sons. This is a booming college campus.
(photo by John Feister)
These well-dressed Bethlehem students sit in the front of a
lecture hall and walk us through the frustration that each one suffers simply
for being Palestinian. Frankly, the whole thing reminds me of all of the complicated
methods of the racist system that plagued the southern United States for
decades before the Civil Rights Movement. There were all sorts of laws, rules
and expectations in the South designed to wear away at people of color, day in
and day out. It was repulsive there; it’s repulsive here.
The Bethlehem University students explain to us in
detail how second-class treatment at the hands of the Israeli government and
many citizens is holding them back. These pleasant students sound hurt and indignant at the treatment they endure daily.
They stay at the school dorms during
the week, because it is simply impossible to predict how long their
hour-or-less commutes might really take. People can be routinely held up at the
Israeli checkpoints for hours. Christina shared some of her own experiences
Jacoub expressed frustration at
living so close to the Mediterranean, but
being blocked by a wall from going to the beach. We’ll be posting a video of
the students’ testimony sometime next week.
New Zealander Christian Brother Peter
Ray, vice chancellor for the university, explains that these youth will be key
for Palestine’s future: “When peace comes, Palestine will need
creative, resourceful people. Bethlehem
University is going to
create that pool.”
When will that
peace come? Brother Peter explains that he is not optimistic about President Barack
Obama’s peace talks. “But 30 years ago I would have said the same thing about South Africa.”
Something unexplainable changed things. It was the work of the Holy Spirit, he says.
That is his only cause for hope.