George Heagney 05:00, Jan 27 2023
Brother Peter Bray vice-chancellor of Bethlehem University, the only Catholic university in Palestine and Israel, speaks of the challenges he faces in his job.
A Kiwi priest based in Bethlehem in the West Bank hopes to one day see the end of the conflict between Palestine and Israel.
Brother Peter Bray, who is originally from Taranaki, is the vice-chancellor of Bethlehem University in the West Bank.
At the invitation of the New Zealand Catholic bishops, he is doing a speaking tour around New Zealand, talking about Palestine and how Kiwis can help bring peace to the area. He spoke in Palmerston North on Wednesday night.
The bishops’ statement was about how there had been no move towards peace for people in Palestine and they were concerned about people suffering from oppression.
Bray is covering four points in his speeches: a brief historical overview of the conflict, the effect on Palestinians, what the Palestinians are doing – the university emphasises a non-violent response – and what New Zealanders can do to stand in solidarity with Palestinians.
The complex conflict has been lengthy, causing pain and suffering on both sides. But Bray was hopeful something could change one day.
“I did a presentation to the Pope back in 2015. I said there the longer I’m in Palestine the more difficult it is for me to see how its possible for peace to come,” Bray told Stuff.
“But then I think of other places in the world like South Africa, like Northern Ireland, like Germany, like East Timor, where at times it felt like it was impossible for peace to come and yet it did.
“And that’s the hope I hold on to that somehow beyond what I can understand, a peace will eventually come.”
New Zealand opposed apartheid during the 1981 Springbok Tour and it eventually ended.
Bray believed it would help the Israel-Palestine situation if Kiwis stood against the conflict and encouraged others to do so.
Two things he was keen on looking into were inequality and injustice, he said. He stressed he was against the injustice of the Israeli government and was not anti-Semitic.
Having been in Bethlehem since 2008, he had seen first hand the problems his students have had dealing with the Israeli military.
He knew people who had been roughed up and jailed without warning, or were afraid of being interrogated by the military.
“I don’t know what it’s like for our students to come on the bus from Jerusalem and not know whether they’re going to get there on time, not know whether they’re going to be stopped. I don’t know what that feels like.
“I don’t know what it feels like to watch my house being demolished by the Israeli military.
“I don’t know what it fees like for a farmer who has put two or three years and planted new olive trees and nurtured them and then go out one morning and find the settlers have come through and chopped them all down. I don’t know what it feels like.
“I’m not arrogant enough to be telling Palestinians what they should be doing. What I’m doing is standing in solidarity with them as they’re suffering and being with them and showing they’re not forgotten.”
Bray said in the midst of everything they were focused on providing quality education and hope for the 3200 students.
He said violence had worsened in the 15 years he had been there and he had worked to maintain the university as an oasis of peace.
“Last year there were about 160 Palestinians shot by the Israeli military.
“Already this year there are 12. Before I left there was a 15-year-old boy shot and killed and since I’ve been here another 12-year-old was shot in the head.
“Whether that’s going to become a pattern using live ammunition against Palestinians, that’s a concern.”