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We are seeking to create an environment, develop an atmosphere, provide opportunities for our students to acquire the knowledge, gain the skills and develop the attitudes and values that are going to enable them to do what Jesus wanted — that is, to live life as fully as they possibly can, despite the military occupation with its various restrictions and confinement within the concrete wall and other barriers surrounding the West Bank.

One of the opportunities offered by the university is a place for Christians and Muslims to come together. For a significant number of the Muslim students, coming to Bethlehem University is the first time they have met a Christian. Many speak about it as an enlightening experience for them.

There are many challenges facing us as we seek to provide quality higher education for our students. The most obvious are the restrictions on movement. At present, 46 percent of our students come from East Jerusalem. To attend class they must pass through a military checkpoint at the wall each day — an unpredictable and humiliating experience. What these students face on their way to and from the university is the possibility that their bus may be stopped once or twice or even three times by different groups of Israeli soldiers. They can be questioned, interrogated, arrested; they could have a gun held to their face without any warning. You can imagine how they might feel by the time they arrive at school.

I am deeply concerned about our undergraduates and the potentially disheartening lives they face. We need to keep them aware of and committed to their dreams. Yet every day, they live with the possibility of their homes being raided in the middle of the night and some member of their family being taken away. The question that arises: What can we do to help them deal with this unpredictability, this injustice?

I focus on three things:

First, when students step onto our campus, I want them to know they are safe. No one is going to interrogate them or arrest them here. No one is going to point a gun at them on our campus.

Secondly, we are a Lasallian institution and so I keep emphasizing something that was key for our founder, St. Jean Baptiste de La Salle: I keep reminding the faculty and staff here that they need to be brothers and sisters to one another — and older brothers and sisters to the young people entrusted to them. This means when our young men and women come here, I want them to know that the adults they are engaging with are their older brothers and sisters who are really looking out for them and want the best for them.

Thirdly, when they step onto campus, students are walking into a predictable environment. There are classes at set times. There are expectations of them in class. There are assignments they have to do and exams they have to take. They know what to expect.

My hope is that all of this will develop peaceful minds and hearts, forming young people who are able to keep hope alive. At Bethlehem University, we are seeking to develop a community that is an oasis of peace in the midst of the uncertainty and adversity that characterizes so much of their lives. In this community, we work in solidarity with the students to educate for justice as we help them recognize and develop their gifts.

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