Bethlehem was invaded by the Israeli military for the fourth time on 1 April (Bet Jala was placed under curfew from Good Friday, 29 March). This operation evolved into a protracted stand-off due to the fact that the army, in an effort to capture armed militants, made a sudden and massive advance toward the center of Bethlehem from all directions, causing the militants as well as more than 100 civilians to seek safe haven within the Church of the Nativity. Since Israel could not risk the international outcry which could result from storming the historic church, universally considered the site of the manger in which Jesus Christ was born and the most holy site for the Christian world, the army simply chose to surround the Nativity compound and await the surrender of the gunmen, meanwhile imposing a blanket curfew on the town’s entire civilian population of 80,000 residents.
Bethlehem was invaded by the Israeli military for the fourth time on 1 April (Bet Jala was placed under curfew from Good Friday, 29 March). This operation evolved into a protracted stand-off due to the fact that the army, in an effort to capture armed militants, made a sudden and massive advance toward the center of Bethlehem from all directions, causing the militants as well as more than 100 civilians to seek safe haven within the Church of the Nativity. Since Israel could not risk the international outcry which could result from storming the historic church, universally considered the site of the manger in which Jesus Christ was born and the most holy site for the Christian world, the army simply chose to surround the Nativity compound and await the surrender of the gunmen, meanwhile imposing a blanket curfew on the town’s entire civilian population of 80,000 residents. By the time this stand-off was finally resolved with a compromise involving the transfer or deportation of 39 militants (not to mention the deaths of eight additional people within the church, including an Orthodox priest, who were killed by army snipers), the town had been under round-the-clock curfew for a total of 39 days, during which the curfew was lifted on an average of four hours per week to give imprisoned residents a chance to stock up on supplies and conduct miscellaneous business. The consequence for the college of this incident, in addition to yet another four-day invasion during the final week of May, was of course that the entire latter half of the spring schedule, which had already been reorganized to make up for lost time from invasions earlier in the school year, was thrown into complete chaos and had to be extensively reworked in order to ensure the completion of classes and observation of graduation exercises, now scheduled for 8 July. An intensive schedule was set up in which groups of four instructors at a time would present all material and administer final examinations within the period of a single week, and the entire schedule, totaling twenty-six courses, was designed to be completed within seven consecutive weeks. Needless to say, this imposed a lot of pressure on instructors and students alike, and in addition it can work only on the assumption that further invasions will not take place during the month of June. Nevertheless we hope that it will enable BBC to successfully finish the semester so that instructors who have travel plans for the summer months can fulfill their teaching responsibilities and proceed with their extracurricular plans.
BBC college president Dr. Bishara Awad accepted an invitation early in the year to appear in Norway during the week of 22 April to serve as the primary guest speaker at the annual conference of the Oslo Christian Centre. Because of the 39-day stand-off at the Church of the Nativity which lasted from 1 April to 10 May, he assumed that this appearance would have to be cancelled. However, OCC intervened by making a direct appeal via the Norwegian Embassy to the civil administration, and at the last minute a travel permit was successfully issued and Dr. Bishara was allowed to fulfill his speaking obligation in Norway. From 14-21 May, immediately following the army withdrawal from Bethlehem, Dr. Bishara made a second trip to the United Kingdom in order to participate in the Christian Resources Exhibition sponsored by BBC support partner BibleLands. During this visit he also gave a number of presentations to churches and initialized contact with PalCrafts, a Scottish-based organization devoted to increasing exposure and marketing opportunities for indigenous Palestinian handcrafts. We are especially appreciative of the logistical efforts of Rev. John Angle, BBC’s funding representative in the UK (via Hope Christian Trust).
Rev. Jack Sara, a part-time BBC faculty member and head pastor of the Christian Missionary Alliance Church in Jerusalem’s Old City, departs to the US in June for three weeks of on-campus study which will contribute to the completion of his PhD in Missions and Cross-Cultural Communication, conducted mostly via the internet. Jack is hoping to fund his trip with an Overseas Council International faculty development grant under BBC sponsorship. Jack continues to teach at BBC and fulfill his pasturing duties in Jerusalem, and it is hoped that both roles will be significantly enhanced as a result of this additional academic and spiritual training. In addition, BBC hopes that upon his return, Jack will assume more advanced educational responsibilities within the faculty. Jack’s wife Madleine, also a BBC faculty member, will be accompanying Jack to the US, where she too will fulfill an on-campus study requirement toward the completion of a Master’s in Counseling.
Alistair Sanders, a faculty volunteer from the UK whose teaching responsibilities at BBC during the past year included Systematic Theology I, II, and III as well as Teaching Methods, was originally scheduled to leave toward the end of May. Due to the series of invasions and the resultant schedule reconfigurations, however, he was obliged to renew his tourist visa and return for the month of June in order to complete the presentation and evaluation of all of his course material for the semester.
BBC administration met with Ministry of Higher Education representatives toward the end of May to discuss BBC’s accreditation status as a registered institution of higher learning within the Palestinian Authority. According to PA representatives, BBC’s current status looks very promising; however, more physical teaching and resource space as well as infrastructural development within the campus is required for full BA qualification. BBC hopes to satisfy this qualification by moving forward with campus development plans launched last year with the purchase of additional land. This integrated project, known as Vision 2020, provides for the construction of classrooms, resource rooms, recreational facilities, student dormitories, parking facilities, and a fully-equipped media center as well as corresponding curriculum developments including the addition of several minor programs (music, counseling, and mass media to name three) and the development of a full Christian Curriculum textbook series to be used for the teaching of religious education in elementary and secondary schools throughout the Palestinian territories.
Work continues on the sports field at the rear of the present administration building, funding for which was provided by Pat Grom’s News Service 2000. Although construction of the field was interrupted several times due to the series of military invasions into Bethlehem, work resumed immediately upon withdrawal of military forces, and as of the release of this update, the surface paving is being completed. All that remains is the purchase of netting and miscellaneous game equipment.
A faculty retreat originally scheduled for the Christmas 2001 break and then postponed for the Easter 2002 break before being delayed once again due to the situation has now been tentatively rescheduled for August of 2002. The tentative theme of the professional retreat, as agreed upon following a series of faculty brainstorming sessions, is Communicating the Message of the Bible in a Time of National Crisis. Overseas Council International has tentatively agreed to supply a special guest speaker for the event, and we are praying that circumstances will allow the retreat to take place.
Despite the ongoing disruptions caused by military invasions and curfew, head librarian Hala Doqmaq is moving ahead with plans for a children’s summer camp based on last year’s successful trial session. Like last year, undergraduate students at BBC will be recruited to work with the children and participating students will earn credits toward their practical requirements. The curriculum will include sports activities, story hour, Puppet Theater, crafts, and dance performances. Unlike last year, this year’s session has been shortened to a two-week period and will take place from the 1st through the 12th of July.
Shepherd Society News:
Due to the drastically worsening humanitarian situation in the Bethlehem area as a result of repeated military invasions, BBC and Shepherd Society are again trying to submit proposals for relief funding for Bethlehem area residents. A small grant was received for emergency relief from Open Doors, for the exclusive purchase and distribution of food and medicines. Another larger application has just been approved which will address the areas of food (coupons), utilities payments, trauma counseling, and creation of temporary jobs for the unemployed. This proposal is very similar to the project that Shepherd Society participated in last year at this time (see BBC update for March/April 2001). It is designed to cover a three-month implementation period and will begin as soon as the first installment of funds is wired. An even larger proposal designed to cover a one-year period was also submitted to the same organization which would include tuition fee payments plus all of the above with an emphasis on longer-term recovery activities such as counseling. This would address needs in both the northern and southern sectors of the West Bank. The southern sector includes the Bethlehem municipality, Hebron, and the surrounding villages and refugee camps. The northern sector consists of the areas of Ramallah, Nablus, and Tul Karm and the smaller more isolated villages toward Jenin such as Zababdeh and Taybeh. Local residents have not stopped streaming into our offices since before the April invasion was launched, and it is clear that the need has increased exponentially. We pray that BBC and Shepherd Society will be enabled to respond to the acute crisis now facing the towns and villages around us.
Paul Wright of Jerusalem University College brought a hardy group of JUC students for a visit to BBC on May 17 for a day of fellowship, presentations, and shopping in the BBC gift shop. It was truly a blessing to have this group among us, especially considering how few visitors we have had since the beginning of the year. Their presence was a real boost to morale and they enlivened the heavy atmosphere of the town for a day.
BBC accountant Vicki Hannoush received a fiancÃ©e visa from the American Consulate at the end of March and was scheduled to leave mid-April to join her fiancÃ© in the USA. However, because of the rapidly deteriorating situation, she was obliged to move up her departure date to the week immediately following the Easter celebrations. Then when Beit Jala was invaded on the night of Good Friday and it was clear that an invasion of Bethlehem was imminent, she made arrangements to leave the city immediately and was able to get to Amman. She is now in the US and is scheduled to be married on 28 July.
Charles and Marie Gidcumb, of Rolling Hills Covenant Church of California, will soon arrive to serve as long-term volunteer missionaries with BBC, and we look forward with great anticipation to their arrival. Charles and Marie have both served at BBC previously and so they are familiar with the campus and ministries of BBC. We are sure that their gifts and skills will contribute a lot to BBC’s growth, and we know their presence will be a tremendous source of strength and morale. At present they are working on raising the necessary funding support, and as of mid-May they had successfully secured pledges for close to 90%. Lord willing, they will arrive during the summer months and be ready to help us launch the 2002-2003 Fall semester. We praise God for their loving faithfulness!
The 40-day invasion of Bethlehem which took place in April and May was an unprecedented event in the history of the town and its residents. We asked students and staff members to describe their personal experiences during this time, and following are a few of the comments we received:
Louisa Shehadeh, 4th year: “The ministry I work with, King’s Kids, strives to bring together Jewish and Arab believers for fellowship and praise activities. The present situation has made this very hard and many activities are at a complete standstill. First of all, the extreme restrictions on movement are making it extremely difficult for believers even to physically be together in the same space. Also the dangers of random bombings in Israeli areas and military invasions in Palestinian areas make most parents hesitant to permit their children to attend meetings or participate in activities or trips. I feel that King’s Kids is one of the most important things going on now, reconciling “enemies” through the love of Jesus, and so the ministry really needs the prayers of everyone who cares about peace and salvation.” Niveen Saras, 3rd year: “Soldiers came to our house and took my father away for questioning, and it was a very bewildering and frightening experience for us waiting for him to return (which he did after one hour). They also shot our dog because she was barking like crazy at them. I was sick with a combination of allergies and influenza, and because of the curfew I couldn’t get to a doctor for treatment and couldn’t get to a pharmacy for medicine. Otherwise, we were like everyone else in Bet Jala. Stuck inside the house, with tanks and foot soldiers moving past at all hours of the day and night. Our water supply was cut for more than 20 days. And of course we missed more than a month of classes. It was difficult but, thanks to the Lord for getting us through. By making us aware of how much we depend on Him, He helps to strengthen our faith in Him.”
Rula Rishmawi, 4th year: “Thank the Lord that we live in an area of Bet Sahour which is not so much affected by the invasions as other areas. But still, like everyone, we were under curfew most of the time and of course no one could work. The children lost a month from school, and it’s not easy for them to be stuck at home without really being able to understand why. I also lost this time from my studies at BBC and it’s especially hard for the fourth year students, who just want to finish, graduate, and start looking for a job. Also I am due to give birth on 17 June and could not have gotten to a doctor had I needed to. Thank God all is fine so far and I know He will protect me no matter what, but we never know when or for how long there will be another invasion, another curfew. Psychologically it is difficult and only our Lord can get us through.” Rana Al-Shaar, 2nd year: “My father was supposed to have an operation during this time to check for colon cancer and it had to be delayed. It still hasn’t been rescheduled because there are always rumors of new invasions, and also because of the difficulty of passing through the checkpoints (his operation is supposed to be done at the government hospital in Ramallah, which requires passage through at least five different checkpoints). Of course the longer he waits the worse it is if there really is cancer, and that makes it worse psychologically for everyone. Our only strength is from the Lord.” Fadi Zoughbi, 3rd year: “The soldiers came to our house looking for weapons, and my father told them our only weapon is the Holy Bible. They took it and threw it out the window. Our car was damaged by a tank, and the door of my uncle’s house was smashed. The first week our electricity was cut, and the curfew was lifted less in our area because we are just near the Church (of the Nativity). We prayed a lot and the Lord got us through, as always.”
It has been eight months since Rev. Hanna Massad, pastor of Gaza City’s only Baptist church and director of BBC’s Gaza extension program, has seen his wife Suhad. Suhad went to Jordan to visit relatives and was not permitted by Israeli authorities to return to her family in Gaza. The Baptist World Alliance has been trying to intervene on behalf of Hanna and Suhad, but so far has not been successful in securing a reunification permit for the couple. See details of Pastor Hanna’s situation at www.comeandsee.co.il
Nathan Musselman, a graduate of Eastern Mennonite University and a former BBC volunteer, was detained by Israelis following his participation in a nonviolent activity on 2 May in which 13 members of the International Solidarity Movement acted as decoys while 10 members entered the Church of the Nativity to deliver food and medicine to the approximately 180 militants and civilians being imprisoned inside since the first week of April. Nathan and four other international activists were detained with limited access to both legal representation and American consulate officials. In addition, the detainees were being scheduled for illegal deportation out of Israel, an action which would prevent them from returning for a minimum period of five years. For Nathan, an Arabic Studies student at Birzeit University and a committed activist for the Palestinian cause, this would constitute a serious disruption in his plans for enrollment in a graduate level Conflict Resolution program in the fall of 2002. Nathan finally arrived back in his native Roanoke Virginia on 27 May and will engage in various speaking opportunities in the US in order to share his experiences as a volunteer, student, and activist in Palestine.
Instructor Raed Al-Masih, a resident of Ramallah, lives with his elderly mother who has experienced a recurrence of cancer within the last year. In early April, Raed’s house was overtaken as a lookout by 70 soldiers, who slept for three nights on the premises and held Raed and his family members captive in a single room of the house. Arabic secretary Sania Bandak’s house was also taken over for 24 hours and the family, confined to one room, had to wave a white cloth every time they needed to use the bathroom.
Hanna Salameh, who participated in last year’s trauma counseling workshop series sponsored by the Shepherd Society and also teaches guitar and German language in our Community Center, lives just near the Church of the Nativity. In the first week of April, during the initial stages of the siege of the compound, a neighbor was shot during intense gunfire exchanges nearby and collapsed in the doorway of Hanna’s home, where he died of his wounds. The family was unable to evacuate the body for more than a day because of the restricted movement of ambulance crews in the area.
Bethlehem was invaded yet again, only 17 days after the 39-day siege of the Nativity Church, on Saturday evening 25 May. After a few hours troops withdrew, only to reenter on Sunday night 26 May, remaining until Thursday afternoon 30 May. Another week of classes was thus lost for BBC, and instructors are now having to teach on Saturday and Sunday in order to stay on schedule for graduation.
Jeanette (Imm Raja) Musleh, BBC’s faithful cook for more than twenty years, asks for prayers for her husband Simone, who has been experiencing chronic health difficulties. Since the beginning of the year, Abu Raja was scheduled on three separate occasions to be hospitalized in Jerusalem’s Mukassed hospital for a cardiac catheterization, and three times this procedure had to be delayed because of the ongoing invasions of the area and accompanying curfews. He is now taking medication therapy for low platelets before being scheduled for a fourth time to undergo the procedure.