Daniel Torchia, the communications director at the Toronto based Salt + Light Television Network – www.saltandlighttv.org (see Advancing the Kingdom article dated 2/29/10 entitled ‘With Salt and Light’) brings to our attention a documentary S + L is preparing for release this fall about Bethlehem University. Concurrent with his news come an urgent plea from Catholic Relief Services that we urge Congress to support the Holy Land peace talks and a CNN report that General David Petraeus is warning that the plans of a church community in Florida to burn copies of the Quaran could have deadly consequences.
The route lies within Palestinian territory. Yet, cars must pass through an Israeli military checkpoint along the way. Azzam was not permitted to pass.
The world is aware of the volatile tensions in the Middle East, and in particular the decade’s old impasse between the Israelis and the Palestinians, an impasse which in part at least has regrettably contributed to a broader hostility toward Islam. If the global response is to be effective in reversing this perilous crescendo of violence born of despair and ignorance, it must encompass at least two critical elements: hope to counter despair and information to challenge ignorance.
The story of Bethlehem University, the only Catholic University in the Holy Land (see Advancing the Kingdom article dated 6/23/10 entitled ‘Ground for Encounter’), offers grounds for hope. It is reasonable to expect that the Salt + Light documentary about this University, the De La Salle Christian Brothers who run it, and the students who sacrifice greatly to attend it, will be a rich and illuminating source of information.
Kris Dmytrenko, a colleague of Mr. Torchia at Salt + Light, has provided an advance of some of the material to be featured in the documentary. It is a case which has captured international attention and it portrays the extraordinary vicissitudes students at Bethlehem University experience daily. Mr. Dmytrenko writes the following. Be advised, however, any farther reading this – be he Jewish, Muslim or Christian – is bound to think: “This could be my daughter”. Mr. Dmytrenko writes:
“The world over, students harbor the same youthful concerns for social acceptance. But for some students in the West Bank, typical freshman fears coexist with the grave threat of deportation. Berlanty Azzam – Betty, to her friends – embodies these paradoxes. The 23-year-old Orthodox Christian was merely two months shy of graduation. She boarded a northbound bus for an interview in Ramallah, where, as the center of the Palestinian government, jobs are more abundant.
“The route lies within Palestinian territory. Yet, cars must pass through an Israeli military checkpoint along the way. Azzam was not permitted to pass.
“Though she had been living in Bethlehem for years, she is still registered as a resident of Gaza, where her parents remain. The Gaza Strip and the West Bank – the two Palestinian Territories – are geographically separated by the State of Israel. Unlike the West Bank, which is governed by the moderate Fatah Party, Gaza elected a Hamas government that is hostile to Israel’s existence. As such, Israel considers Azzam and all Gazans to be a security risk.
“The military blindfolded and handcuffed the terrified student. She did not know where she was being taken until she was dropped off inside the Gaza border in the middle of the night. When the case went to the Israeli Supreme Court, the military claimed that Azzam was illegally residing in Bethlehem. The De La Salle Christian Brothers who run Bethlehem University fought tirelessly for her return, so that she could complete her degree. They argued that Azzam pursued every avenue to obtain the necessary permits and, moreover, freedom to travel within sovereign Palestinian territory is protected under international law.”
Presumably, we will learn the outcome of Azzam’s ordeal when the documentary is aired. Salt + Light Television will have rendered an important service in shedding more light on the daily challenges of Bethlehem University and its community of students, faculty and staff. Let us hope that the added light will promote informed, hope-filled and clear thinking.