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John Feister meets with a group of students from Bethlehem University to discuss the issue of Palestinian rights.

Special Features
Day 5: Bethlehem University

“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 there.

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.

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Hilarion: Despite his best efforts to live in prayer and solitude, today’s saint found it difficult to achieve his deepest desire. People were naturally drawn to Hilarion as a source of spiritual wisdom and peace. He had reached such fame by the time of his death that his body had to be secretly removed so that a shrine would not be built in his honor. Instead, he was buried in his home village. 
<p>St. Hilarion the Great, as he is sometimes called, was born in Palestine. After his conversion to Christianity he spent some time with St. Anthony of Egypt, another holy man drawn to solitude. Hilarion lived a life of hardship and simplicity in the desert, where he also experienced spiritual dryness that included temptations to despair. At the same time, miracles were attributed to him. </p><p>As his fame grew, a small group of disciples wanted to follow Hilarion. He began a series of journeys to find a place where he could live away from the world. He finally settled on Cyprus, where he died in 371 at about age 80. </p><p>Hilarion is celebrated as the founder of monasticism in Palestine. Much of his fame flows from the biography of him written by St. Jerome.</p> American Catholic Blog Therefore if any thought agitates you, this agitation never comes from God, who gives you peace, being the Spirit of Peace, but from the devil.


 
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