Good news from Palestine

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'. 

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Peter KirkwoodPeter Kirkwood is a freelance writer and video consultant with a master's degree from the Sydney College of Divinity. 

Topic tags: Peter Kirkwood, Peter Bray, De La Salle, Bethlehem University, Israel, Palestine



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