Seeking peace. Striving for justice. Together.
by Max Hill
On 1 July 2014, I attended a meeting with four students from Bethlehem University (BU), a Catholic university founded in 1973, in Palestine. Our partner NGO Caritas Internationalis arranged the meeting for members of the Israel-Palestine NGO Working Group.
The four students were all very personable and had many positive things to say about their experiences both at the university and their time here in the United States. All four are here as a part of BU’s ambassador program and are participating in 6-week internships arranged through Caritas and its partners
To kick off the meeting the students were simply asked to tell us what they wanted us to know about their situation being from Palestine and what living there is like. Largely their answers centered on the lack of freedom that they are forced to live with. One student told her story and that she lives in Palestine, but her mother lives in Israel. She expressed that this meant that she is only able to legally see her mother for around one week every three months. In telling her story she provided a lot of information about the different types of identification people have and what those can bring. We were told that those with Israeli IDs have more freedom and rights than those with Palestinian IDs. They are also able to take advantage of the fact that, as the interns expressed to us, income in Israel is about two to three times what it is in the West Bank.
Next the students described their lives as students at Bethlehem University. Everything said about studying at the university was very positive, anything negative in this regard dealt with difficulties suffered due to their lack of rights. One example of this was given when they told about many students having to be late to class because the difficulties they face when going through checkpoints.
The students described BU as an “oasis of peace.” Each student agreed that Bethlehem University has provided that with many opportunities they would not have had otherwise. BU and their experiences there will continue to do so as they look toward the future.
The student population of BU is mostly women and a mix of Muslims and Christians – around 80% and 20% respectively. One student mentioned that the students never ask about religion, but instead said “we live together as brothers and sisters.” The students also expressed that their school situation provides the opportunity to learn about other religions in a welcoming community, which, they said also allows them to go the extra mile to support each other, gain a mutual respect for one another and become a small family.
The students described what they have planned for the future, qualifying this with the fact that planning for the future is difficult. One student said “because I am Palestinian you can’t guarantee a plan for the future because it is so difficult.” All of the students expressed their desire to pursue master’s degrees because this is needed for them to find good opportunities.
Finally the students were asked what they want us to tell people about what we learned from them. The answer that was given was for us to “be our media” - to help tell our stories so people know us and know we are not terrorists.