Collins urges us to cross Israeli-Palestinian divide
By Michael Swan
TORONTO (CCN) — The complexity, heartbreak and bitter politics
of the endless Palestinian-Israeli conflict are no reason for Christians
to either settle for easy answers or to throw up their hands in despair.
The situation calls for Christian charity and solidarity, Cardinal Thomas
Collins told a packed theatre in Toronto Sept. 5.
Collins was on hand for the Toronto premiere of the Salt
+ Light TV documentary Across the Divide. The full-length documentary
takes a close look at Bethlehem University — the only Catholic post-secondary institution
in the Holy Land — and the trials of fourth-year commerce student
Berlanty Azzam. Azzam was caught up in a maze of Israeli military security
procedures that saw her detained and prevented from returning to Bethlehem
to finish her degree.
Azzam’s detention by Israeli forces while she was
on her way to a job interview in Ramallah became an international incident
in 2009. The case blew up while Salt + Light producer Kris Dmytrenko
and a crew were on the Bethlehem University campus making a film about
the Christian Brothers and their 39-year-old university just outside
If the church has to pick a side, it chooses to stand with the poor and
the refugees, said Collins in a panel discussion after the screening.
Collins was a participating bishop in the Synod on the Middle East in
The whole point of Bethlehem University is that it is a
means for Palestinians — Chistians
and Muslims — to flourish where they are, said Robert Smith, the
university’s vice-chancellor. The university’s student body
is about 70 per cent Muslim and 30 per cent Christian.
Dmytrenko, co-director of Across the Divide, warned against the temptation
to name good guys and bad guys in the conflict.
“People think that all Muslims are terrorists trying to get rid
of all Christians. That’s not true,” said Catholic Near East
Welfare Association Canada director Carl Hetu.
As a Maronite Catholic from Lebanon, it was important to
Mona Dagher to be at the documentary’s premiere.
“I would hope that people will at least know what is going on there,” said
She praised the film for accurately depicting the lives of Palestinian
Ajax high school teacher Deanna Wilson said she plans to show the documentary
to her Grade 12 world religions class.
“We have an obligation to open our lens to other religions and
realities,” she said.
She hopes particularly that her comfortable, suburban teens
are moved by Azzam’s struggle to get an education.
“There are a lot of details I wasn’t aware of,” said
Danny Ferguson at the end of the evening. “It’s important
to understand the political environment.”
“This gets the word out. This gets out the truth and the fullness
of the truth,” said Smith.
“Our purpose in making this documentary was not to convince. It was simply to tell a story,” Salt + Light CEO Rev. Tom Rosica told the audience.