Easter Letter from Bethlehem University 2020

17 April 2020


جامعة بیت لحم



Office of the
Vice Chancellor
مكتب نائب الرئیس الأعلى

Temporary mailing address:
PO Box 11407
92248 Jerusalem
Tel: +972-2-274-1241
Fax: +970-2-274-4440
Email: pbray@bethlehem.edu


12 April 2020

Easter greetings to you again, but this time from the isolated and locked down little town of
Bethlehem. It is the first time I have been here and not been able to follow the ceremonies in
Jerusalem, where the events we celebrate took place. In this lockdown period everyone is
required to celebrate this Easter season in isolation. In our Brothers’ community we have
had to be creative and have had some suitable services while remembering those who are
suffering in a whole variety of ways, many without the support of their local community.
It is a very difficult time at present with huge uncertainty and a great deal of pain for many
people. So many of our students come from families where there has been no money
coming into the home, either because of the loss of jobs or the family business is closed
since the lockdown began.

Bethlehem University has been closed since 5 March when the President of Palestine
imposed a state of emergency for 30 days and then another one for another 30 days on 3
April. Fortunately, before this crisis, moves had been made to get faculty to put their courses
online. There has been, therefore, a ‘relatively smooth’ transition to online learning.
However, the suddenness of the change has highlighted some significant challenges for
both teachers and students. Nevertheless, of the 3000 students here there is a relatively
small number who are struggling and the IT people and faculty members are seeking to
work with them. One issue is the access to internet. Some students are from homes where
there are no computers and others from areas where there is poor internet service. The cell
phones have been a major contact avenue, but these have severe limitations for online
learning. There are some faculty who are having difficulty making the transition and again,
support is available for them. It is a challenging time for everyone, but there are some
amazingly creative responses from both teachers and students who have found ways to
work together, especially on their final projects. We will be completing the semester online
and will bring it to a close on 15 May.

There are significant practical implications from the situation we are in and the financial one
is huge. Because of the lack of money coming into so many families, it has been virtually
impossible for Bethlehem University to insist on tuition being paid at this time. Without going
into details, we were supposed to have a surplus of some US$1.4 million at this time, but it
is estimated that by the end of the semester in August we will be some US$2.8 million short
of what we will need. We are seeking to work with the employees Union to find a way to
survive this difficult time which everyone is experiencing, but it is proving very challenging
coming up with a suitable response.

It is not at all clear when we might reopen. While the Ministry of Health may decide
institutions in Palestine can gradually reopen, we are faced with many of our faculty and
staff coming from Jerusalem and about half of our students. At present there are some 264
cases of the virus in Palestine with two deaths, whereas in Israel, with roughly the same
population, there are almost 11,000 cases and over 100 deaths. So we have to carefully
monitor what is happening in Israel before allowing people from there onto campus. What is
a big concern in the wider community is that there are some 45,000 Palestinian workers in
Israel and with Passover there, many of these have been returning to Palestine and there is
a fear they will infect many among their family and friends. To date this has been contained
and I just hope and pray their return does not cause a serious increase in cases here.

This lockdown has dominated our thinking and activities since the beginning of March and
we are seeking to reflect on how the Easter death, waiting and resurrection cycle is playing
out here in Palestine and around the world. These are unprecedented days and it behoves
us to learn from them. What arises from our reflection on the way we use of our planet and
the way this planet is reacting? It seems to me there is a growing awareness of the need to
take responsibility for our planet, but that in most cases does not transfer into action of any
significance. The current pandemic is seemingly beyond immediate control and we need to
realise that rather than simply trying to find a vaccine, we have to change our engagement
with our planet and so take great care to protect all the life forms around us. If we come to
see the importance of the equilibrium that enables life forms to thrive it will mean the whole
ecological system can survive.

It is clear that the canaries have died! The message they gave must be heard. We are in the
Easter cycle. Some things need to die (e.g. the arrogant attitudes of exploitation of the
planet’s resources) space needs to be taken to wait and then to experience the resurrection
that will bring new life. This will be painful a painful process and there will be a cost, but the
alternatives are tragic. Will people be brave enough to go through this cycle? We need to
find the wisdom and courage to discover ways to capture the possibilities that this pandemic
puts before us to make the change to allow resurrection and a sustainable world to emerge.
Here at Bethlehem University we have an Institute of Biodiversity and Sustainability where
we are actively engaged in preserving the native plants and animals of this region and
teaching our students, as well as local school children, the importance of respecting and
taking responsibility for nature around them and therefore themselves and others. Helping
young people, and their elders, to see the way everything on this planet are interlinked is
crucial if there is going to be an ongoing presence of humans on this planet – something
that is not absolutely guaranteed. (You might be interested in this link:

This pandemic is a wake-up call to all of us and links us in a way that was unthinkable just
months ago. While some Israeli settlers are taking advantage of the lockdown to expand
their settlements and take more Palestinian land, there is a significant cooperation in the
medical field in responding to the needs of people. Who knows what might emerge when we
return to something we will call “normal,’ which will be different to what it was before March.
Even though I am not able to be in Jerusalem this year, nor take part in the usual
ceremonies, I still pray that you may experience God’s peace and joy as you celebrate
Easter and Jesus’ resurrection under whatever circumstances you are existing in at present.

Please keep us in your prayers as we transition through these uncertain times into a future
that is far from clear. He is risen!

Best wishes

Brother Peter Bray FSC, EdD
Vice Chancellor