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February 4, 2010

Expecting Radicalism, Finding Humor in the Holy Land

RadicalismBefore students from Saint Mary’s College of California visited Bethlehem University, they had ideas about the religious and cultural situation they would find. What surprised them, they said, was the sense of joy they witnessed. In a situation that might justify some gloom and doom, they were met with hospitality and humor.

This year’s visit, from 18 January through 22 January 2010, marks the fourth consecutive year that students from Saint Mary’s have come to the University. Their professor, Brother Donald Mansir, taught at BU from 1988 to 1993 and served in Jerusalem as the Vice President of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine. Part of a twenty-one day visit to the Holy Land, the students’ time in Bethlehem was an opportunity to witness the daily lives of their Palestinian peers.

Students from BU accompanied Saint Mary’s students as they visited sites like the Nativity Church, Deheisheh refugee camp and the old city of Hebron. But Saint Mary’s students said that their favorite place was the Tent of Nations, located between Bethlehem and Hebron.

Bethlehem University alumnus Daoud Nassar (’96) started the Tent of Nations on land his family purchased in 1924. Despite holding ownership documents, Daoud has waged an ongoing legal battle to remain on the land, which is surrounded by illegal Israeli settlements. It would be easy for Daoud to focus on oppression and victimization, but instead he has become a model of positive resistance. Denied access to Israeli-controlled water and electrical networks, Daoud and his family, including nephew Bishara (Bethlehem University ’10), have explored alternatives like green power technologies and a traditional water cistern.

The message that really inspired Saint Mary’s students, though, was Daoud’s refusal to be anyone’s enemy. The media often depicts Palestinians as a radicalized people, Saint Mary’s students noted. Yet they saw people who were accepting and who believed in education as a means for change.

And for one past Saint Mary’s visitor, the trip was only the beginning of his Palestinian experience. Christopher visited two years ago and has since returned to volunteer at the Holy Family Hospital down the street from Bethlehem University. His parents accompanied the Saint Mary’s group this year.

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Bethlehem University Foundation
Phone: +1-240-241-4381
Fax: +1-240-553-7691
Beltsville, MD USA
Bethlehem University in the Holy Land
Phone: +972-2-274-1241
Fax: +972-2-274-4440
Bethlehem, Palestine