As fighting continues in Israel and the Palestinian territories, a student from the Catholic Bethlehem University was shot and killed on Oct. 12.
Third-year student Khaled Al-Muhtasibb was killed in Jerusalem, and the university said details of what happened are still unclear.
Hamas, the militant Palestinian group that rules the Gaza strip, began an attack on Israel on Oct. 7, the start of what it called “Operation Al-Aqsa Flood,” stating that it had fired over 5,000 rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel within a span of 20 minutes. In addition, around 2,500 militants infiltrated Israel in various vehicles.
Israeli authorities said at least 1,300 people have been killed in the country, and the government announced it was “at war” with Hamas, beginning attacks in the Gaza Strip.
“The situation in Gaza is very bad,” said De La Salle Brother Peter Bray, a New Zealander who is Vice Chancellor of Bethlehem University.
The religious brother said in a letter he was in Gaza a few months back to discuss ways in which Bethlehem University has been supporting young people with online courses and exploring options for further such courses.
“So much has changed since then, and things have got so much worse. There are many people there who do not support Hamas, both Christians and Muslims,” he said. “Bethlehem University has some 400 graduates from Gaza and we are deeply concerned about them. It was Hamas who orchestrated the attack on Israel, not all the people in Gaza!”
Israel has ordered the evacuation of more than a million Palestinians in northern Gaza ahead of its ground offensive there against Hamas.
Israeli Defense Forces Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus went live on the internet on Friday to speak about the evacuation order.
“The Palestinian citizens in Gaza are not our enemies,” he said. “We have seen a significant movement of Palestinian civilians toward the south, we have seen people listening to our warning, understanding that they are moving out of a dangerous area.”
However, Bray in his letter complained Israel has cut off all water, power, medical, food and other essential supplies to Gaza, calling it a collective punishment of all people in the territory, adding it is “having a devastating impact.”
The religious brother said since last weekend, Israel has closed all checkpoints into Jerusalem and around Bethlehem and that 40 percent of Bethlehem University students from East Jerusalem are unable to get to campus.
In addition, there are Israeli “flying” checkpoints south of Bethlehem making it impossible for students from Hebron and villages around it to get to campus. As a result, Bethlehem University has moved to online classes.
“How long this will last is uncertain,” Bray said.
“Here on campus things are quiet without any students here and all the Brothers and other employees here are safe. However, the situation here is tense and unpredictable with a heightened Israeli military presence in and around Bethlehem,” he continued.
“The language that is being used by both sides dehumanizes people with the result that everyone on the other side is enemy. Here at Bethlehem University, we are pursuing a position that the Church in the Holy Land has consistently taken of speaking about justice, peace, reconciliation, respect and a search for equality. It is an uphill task against the dominant words of hate and revenge!”
The university was founded by the De la Salle Bothers in 1973. It was the first registered university established in the West Bank territory of Palestine and is the only Catholic university in the Holy Land, with over 3000 students.