Friday, 8 July 2012
By Peter Manning
Palestinian students can’t get enough tertiary level education, says Brother Peter Bray, Vice Chancellor of Bethlehem University.
They are hungry for knowledge and for world-class qualifications, Brother Bray told a dinner in his honour at Celini’s Turkish restaurant in Marrickville last night.
He was welcomed by Councillor Fiona Byrne on behalf of the Mayor of Marrickville, Clr Morris Hanna, who sent his apologies. The function was hosted by the Marrickville-based Friends of Bethlehem group.
It was the fourth time Brother Bray had been welcomed by the Council and by Friends of Bethlehem in as many years. He had been welcomed in previous years by Clr Hanna (Ind.) as Mayor, Clr Byrne (Greens) as Mayor and by Clr Sam Iskandar (Labor) as Mayor.
Bethlehem University is a Catholic University run by the De La Salle Brothers but caters for Palestinian students regardless of religion. Many Muslim students attend. Brother Bray was in Australia on leave and en route to his home in New Zealand.
He told the gathering running a university under military occupation by Israeli forces was not easy. Students and staff could not get easy access in and out of Bethlehem because of the high concrete wall Israel had built surrounding the town where Christ was born. Israeli soldiers seemed to act on whim about whether and when to let Palestinians through the military gates. This disrupted students’ lectures and study on a regular basis.
The wall also cut Bethlehem people off from their families, friends and neighbours in nearby villages, from their olive groves and farms and from access to the Holy City of Jerusalem.
In addition, illegal settlements were now being built on the hills surrounding Bethlehem and Palestinians who resisted being thrown off their land were assaulted by settlers.
Bro. Bray gave examples of students being arrested on trumped-up charges just as they were about to sit for the final exams of their last year of their degrees, thereby disrupting their time at the University.
Nevertheless, he said, it was remarkable that under such provocation, Palestinians continued to be so resilient, patient and resourceful in their determination to get a good tertiary education.
He was hoping to open new Masters courses in the coming years to meet the demand for postgraduate degrees.