“Let us work together to replace despair with HOPE, fear with human SECURITY and humiliation with DIGNITY”

A Holy Land connection with the Archdiocese of Cincinnati / Beit Jala students relish relationship w

Father Majhdi al Siryani explained earlier to our group the challenges to everyone in the West Bank, accentuating the difficulties that youths in Palestine face every day.

Father Majhdi al Siryani, director general of schools for the Latin Partriarchate – the diocese for Israel – explained earlier to our group that was traveling courtesy of the Catholic Press Association and the Israel Ministry of Tourism the challenges to everyone in the West Bank, accentuating the difficulties that youths in Palestine face every day.

But it wasn’t until we got to sit down face-to-face with the group of students I called the Beit Jala kids that we learned just how frustrating life was for them. In 2003, the youths traveled to the United States and stayed with families in Milford courtesy of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation in a unique exchange program that has been growing every year since. Led by Father Rob Waller, St. Andrew/St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish laid the foundation for the program that brings Palestinian Christian children to the United States.

“I’ve been to the States three times. I love it there,” said 16-year-old Ranim Hanania, a bright young woman who someday wants to become a doctor. “It is really eye-opening to travel to the United States. I learned that teen-agers there are just like us, but they are very different in the freedoms they have that we don’t.”

Although Hanania was able to travel to the United States, the rest of the students in the group, all of whom had been to Ohio, had never been to Jerusalem, reflecting the crackdown the Israeli government has enacted over recent years to control the influx of Palestinians in response to suicide bombings and other conflicts. The security wall, a barrier that segregates Israel from Palestine’s West Bank, snaking along the hilltops in and around East Jerusalem, has become more than a security barrier. For these Palestinian youths, the wall was the boundary for the prison that, they say, keeps them from enjoying the ability to move about like their friends in Milford.

Issa Hafiri, a lanky, outspoken young man, underscored the feeling of being in a prison, noting that he pretty much spends his days going to school, then heading home and working on his computer, “emailing friends” and surfing the internet.

All of the Beit Jala children said they would like to let everyone throughout the world know that just because they are Palestinian, they are not terrorists.

“There is that perception,” Hafiri said. “But, come on, look at us. Do we look like terrorists? We’re just kids.”

Tamara Abdel Nour noted that in spite of the difficulties the kids face, they bury themselves in their work at the school that specializes in science, math and language arts, hoping to better themselves by becoming doctors, nurses and computer programmers.

When asked if they had the choice to leave or stay in Beit Jala, all but one of the youths said they would leave. Mary Abu Ghattas noted that she “would never leave. Never.” But the rest said they would like to seek opportunities in the United States, although a couple said they might come back some day after “making it” in the land of opportunity.

The one thing that helps keep the kids sane is the relationship they had developed with their “families” back in the states, Hafiri said. “Without that relationship, we wouldn’t have hope. And if we didn’t have hope, we couldn’t survive.”

2007-03-27T00:00:00+00:00 March 27th, 2007|Categories: News|