Peace will come to the Middle East but as yet it is unclear how—this from the former head of the Wellington Catholic Education Centre, Br Peter Bray, who is now vice-chancellor of Bethlehem University.
Br Peter returned to New Zealand last month after six months at his new post full of hope which he says comes from the people around him at the university.
Br Peter told a group of around 100 people at St Theresa’s, Plimmerton, on May 22, that the positive attitude of people who have lost family members and their homes has given him great hope.
‘And I look at Northern Ireland, South Africa, Berlin, Russia, and what seemed 20 years ago to be impossible happened, and it’s a hope I hold onto, that somehow it’s going to happen in the Middle East as well.’
‘Just as before I couldn’t see how Northern Ireland would ever experience peace, I can’t see how it will happen in the Middle East—I don’t have an answer, but I have a sense that there is an increasing number of people around the world and in Israel, who are saying “we can’t go on”.’
Br Peter cites a former speaker of the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, Avraham Burg, who writes in The Holocaust is Over that if Israel continues to see itself as the victim, it will implode.
Burg’s book is having a huge impact around the world though it has been criticised in Israel.
As well, Br Peter says a rapidly increasing Palestinian population—by around 2016 the Palestinian and Israeli populations are projected to be even—and a wellspring of world opinion against Israel including pockets of Israeli dissention in groups like the US-based ‘Jewish Voice For Peace’, and ‘Breaking the Silence’ will help bring about peace there.
Br Peter says the attack on Gaza in a bid to destroy Hamas was one of the Israelis’ biggest mistakes.
‘Hamas is stronger than it ever was in Gaza helped by the fact that it stood up to all the might of Israel and wasn’t defeated.’
But he says the situation is highly complex and not helped by the fact that so many Palestinian leaders who have the capacity to influence the future keep being arrested and their mission interrupted.
‘There is no wonder that something comprehensive and with depth has not developed among the Palestinians.’
Nevertheless Br Peter says Bethlehem University is punching well above its weight in training leaders for a new Palestine. It is the smallest of the 11 universities in Israel with just 3,000 students but it continues to have a highly competitive success rate.
Pope calls for global solution
Meanwhile, on a visit to Bethlehem last month, Pope Benedict strongly backed an independent Palestinian state and prayed the embargo on Gaza will soon be lifted.
The Pope challenged the reluctant Israeli leadership to find a two-state solution to the enduring conflict in the Middle East, the Times Online reports.
The town, traditionally believed to be the birthplace of Jesus, now lies within the West Bank in the shadow of the eight-metre-tall Israeli wall.
The Pope led Mass in Manger Square in front of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, and a crowd of several thousand Christians. As the crowd cheered and applauded he said his ‘heart goes out to the children’ affected by the conflict.
He said he was praying that Israel’s embargo on Gaza ‘will soon be lifted’ and noted how strange it was that Bethlehem is associated with the joy and renewal of Jesus’ birth ‘yet here in our midst how far this magnificent promise seems from being realised’.
‘The Holy See supports the right of your people to a sovereign Palestinian homeland in the land of your forefathers, secure and at peace with its neighbours, within internationally recognised borders,’ he said.
‘In particular I call on the international community to bring its influence to bear in favour of a solution.’
He said to the Palestinians gathered in the square: ‘I know how much you have suffered and continue to suffer as a result of the turmoil that has afflicted this land for decades.
‘Have the courage to resist any temptation you may feel to resort to acts of violence or terrorism. Instead, let what you have experienced renew your determination to build peace.’
Images: Dr Peter Bray
Audience at St Theresa’s, Plimmerton on May 22.
See also Living in the Crossfire