Another year of struggles has already begun at Bethlehem University. Last year it was after just one-and-a-half days of classes that the Al-Aqsa Intifada began and one month of classes at Bethlehem University was lost.
Another year of struggles has already begun at Bethlehem University. Last year it was after just one-and-a-half days of classes that the Al-Aqsa Intifada began and one month of classes at Bethlehem University was lost. This year, on Monday, August 27, just one-half day into the beginning of the Fall semester, when students and faculty learned of the assassination of Abu Ali Mustafa, General Secretary of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the University was forced to close for the remainder of the week.
As the week ensued, troubles continued to mount. On Wednesday morning, August 29, the University was once again struck by bullets fired by the Israeli army. On campus at the time were twelve De La Salle (Christian) Brothers, eight of whom are from the United States , three from England, one Palestinian, and a half-dozen workmen. A bullet crashed through the window and lodged itself in a 400-page novel in the Brothers’ library. Bullets also entered the office of the Dean of Business, a classroom in the Science Wing, and the computer lab, all of which fortunately were not occupied at the time. In addition, a dozen bullets hit the almost-completed Classroom and Faculty Office building when a university employee attempted to hoist the Vatican flag on the top floor of the structure. This 5-story building, funded in part by a $1.2 million grant from the American Schools and Hospitals Abroad program of USAID and due to be opened on November 1, has a commanding view of Beit Jala and the Israeli army positions below Gilo, flash points of confrontation and occupation in recent days. The 28-year old Vatican-sponsored university serves about 2,000 Palestinian Christian and Muslim undergraduates in arts, business, education, nursing, hotel management, and sciences.
Vincent Malham, FSC, President and Vice Chancellor, and Arkansas native, commented, “Although in comparison to the suffering of our faculty/staff living in Beit Jala we have been very lucky so far, it seems a bit ironic for the American taxpayer to be funding this new building and at the same time paying for the weapons the Israeli army is aiming at it.”
Wednesday evening, Israeli helicopters above Bethlehem fired two missiles at approximately 9:30 p.m. One struck an office building at nearby “Cinema Square,” on Pope Paul VI Street, penetrating the top three floors and damaging the offices of Ramzi Hodaly, graphic artist, alumnus and printer of the university’s newsletter. The second missile struck the front entrance of the house of Manuel Hassassian, Executive Vice-President of the University, professor of Political Science and adjunct member of the faculty of the University of Maryland. Fortunately the five members of the family in the home at the time were not injured. Professor Hassassian, a member of the PA’s team negotiating the status of Jerusalem, does not believe that he was personally targeted.
If the situation permits, Bethlehem University plans to continue the academic year on Monday, September 3, 2001. The university is committed to provide a quality education to young Palestinians and hopes it will soon be able to do so in a land free of the 34-year-old Israeli occupation, where Palestinians and Israelis, especially the young, will be allowed to pursue normal academic lives with freedom, justice, security and peace for all.