Salt and Light documentary focuses on Bethlehem's Catholic university
By Alistair Burns
The B.C. Catholic
University students in B.C. don't have to wait hours to pass through checkpoints manned by armed soldiers. Thankfully, they don't have to put their studies on hold when a war breaks out.
By contrast, in the village where Christ was born, 3,000 students at Bethlehem University are confronted with such difficulties every day they try to get to class.
"Two days before we left, Israeli soldiers detained Berranty Azzam, a student and resident of Gaza. They claimed she didn't have proper documentation and returned her to Gaza," said Kris Dmytrenko, a co-director of the documentary Across the Divide.
The documentary was produced by Salt and Light, the Canadian Catholic television channel. "While staying on campus, we shot for five weeks in 2009."
Azzam couldn't get to class without Israeli permission. The timing could not have been worse; the business administration major was close to graduation.
The 60-minute documentary throws a spotlight on how students live, study, and survive at the Catholic institution amid the constant tension.
"Many commuting students are inconvenienced by the security measures," Dmytrenko said, but he insisted the documentary did not just champion the Palestinian point of view: "We show the Israeli side, too.
The university was founded in 1973 with 112 students. Today it has 2,900 undergraduates alone. The periodic violence between Israeli and Palestinian forces has closed the campus 12 times; one closure lasted from 1987 to 1990.
Father Thomas Rosica, CSB, the CEO of Salt and Light, believes Bethlehem U. is a model for peace, "a real bridge among many different groups of people: Arab and Israeli, Christian, Muslim, and Jew."
Students could be expected to be troubled by the constant tension, but Dmytrenko described a different scene. "They do have a sense of humour about the situation because it's what they've grown up with."
Most graduates are very positive because their university education gives hope that they can contribute to building a future Palestinian state.
The border casts a looming shadow, though. "My film crew and I went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with no problem, yet many students who live just a few kilometres away have never been," Dmytrenko pointed out.
This university gives Christians a chance to stay and give witness, to continue to tell the inspiring story of the Church.
The world premiere of Across The Divide will be at 7:15 p.m. June 3 at the SFU Centre for the Arts, 149 W. Hastings St. in downtown Vancouver, after a 6 p.m. reception. Tickets, starting at $15, are available from 1-888-302-7181 (ext. 238) and at www.saltandlighttv.org/acrossthedivide.
Salt and Light Television will air Across the Divide June 24 at 6 p.m. and again at 9 p.m.