Unlike most media reports from Israel/Palestine, this interview relates a good news story from that strife-torn region. And the interviewee is a very unlikely advocate for the Palestinian people.
Till two years ago, De La Salle Brother Peter Bray's career consisted of teaching and education administration in Australia and New Zealand, doctoral studies in the United States, and some lecturing at university level in a number of countries around the world.
Then, because of the sudden illness of the vice-chancellor of Bethlehem University, out of the blue he was asked to fill the unexpected vacancy. He took on this role with determination and vigour, and it opened his eyes to the suffering of the Palestinians.
The idea of establishing a university in Palestine was first mooted during the 1964 visit of Paul VI to Israel. Christian Palestinian leaders were concerned about the number of young people drifting away from the area in order to pursure university education, many never returning. They asked the Pope for assistance in setting up a Catholic university in their homeland.
So, under the auspices of the Church, and partly funded by the Vatican, Bethlehem University opened its doors in 1973. It now has 3000 students from various faith backgrounds, and since its foundation has educated 12,000 graduates.
It has schools offering courses in five subject areas: Arts, Business Administration, Education, Nursing and Science. It also has three institutes specialising in hotel management, community partnership and leadership training.
Even though it has been closed down 12 times by order of the Israeli military, the longest period for three years from October 1987 till October 1990, classes have been held continuously on and off campus since the university opened.
Since then the De La Salle Brothers have administered the university, providing some of its lecturers and the vice-chancellor. Peter Bray of the latest to fill this role, and is well qualified for the job.
Born in New Zealand, he has been principal of three De La Salle schools in Australia and New Zealand, and for 11 years immediately prior to going the Bethlehem he was director of the Wellington Catholic Education Centre in New Zealand.
He has a doctorate in leadership from the University of San Diego, and has lectured in this field in universities and other tertiary educational institutions in New Zealand, Australia, the USA, Ireland, the Philippines, England, Turkey and a number of European countries.
He is well placed to lead Bethlehem University through the next phase of its story which its website outlines as 'people committed to pursuing their higher education — with perseverance and courage in the face of adversity and injustice — working together in hope of an ever widening circle of colleagues to build a better future'.
Peter Kirkwood is a freelance writer and video consultant with a master's degree from the Sydney College of Divinity.
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20 May 2011
This is indeed wonderful news from Palestine. We have , in occupied Palestine , in Peter Kirkwood's own quotation : ' people committed to pursuing their higher education — with perseverance and courage in the face of adversity and injustice — working together in hope of an ever widening circle of colleagues to build a better future'.
I recall the words of a Palestinian farmer to me in June last year : ' We resist the occupation by educating our children . Our girls as well as our boys.'
At the time it seemed significant to me that he had put the girls ahead of the boys in his sentence . Thank you for this good news Peter.
20 May 2011
Brilliant. Clear speaking and commitment to reasonable hope from Peter and Bethlehem University.
Dr Vacy Vlazna
20 May 2011
It was a privilige to meet Peter Bray at the Univrsity of Bethlehem last month while on the APHEDA study tour of Palestine..
He is hugely respected by his students. It is partly to his credit that the ambiance of the university is harmony- between Christian and Muslims students. Students living outside Bethlehem tenaciously run the humiliating gamut of obscene Israeli checkpoints.
I was most impressed by the support Peter and the university gave to Gaza student,Berlanty Azzam to ensure she was able to complete course requirements for her bachelors degree
75 days from when she was blindfolded, handcuffed, and taken from Bethlehem to Gaza by the Israeli authorities.
20 May 2011
You have to hand it to the De La Salle Brothers! Short on numbers like just about all religious orders, they volunteer one of their leaders to head to palestine. I was there last year and hoped to meet Peter in person to congratulate him on what he was doing.
Unfortunately our pilgrimage was too tightly run to give us any free time there. No one could visit Palestine and not appreciate what this man is doing
23 May 2011
Thanks Peter for this piece on Bethlehem University.
What a great example and opportunity this university presents. It is so crucial that students not only have an opportunity to pursue their own studies, but have an opportunity to study commonalities within Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
What a horrendous time the students who travel from East Jerusalem have. Not knowing if they will be able to get to university of not.
Peter Bray was clear in his condemnation of terrorism, but also clear in his condemnation of Israeli occupation, the senselessness of US $7-8 million a day to support this occupation and the daily humiliation of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers.
Good to have David Hicks commenting on this issue. David, I heard you speak yesterday at the Writer's Festival. [David spoke with Donna Mulhearn, the former human shield in Iraq.David made contact with Donna after reading her book 'Ordinary Courage'. David shared how he felt the same "stirrings in the heart" as Donna about the violence against the voiceless. For David his concern was for the plight of Kosovo and Kashmiri citizens. For Donna it was her belief in the power of nonviolence to bring about change.]