The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation*
The President of Bethlehem University in the West Bank of the Occupied Territories in Palestine, Brother Vincent Melham, spoke to members of Congress on January 28, 2003. P.D. John and Gabriel Habib of the Policy Institute for Religion and State and Robert Younes, M.D. Secretary for the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation accompanied him. Brother Vincent spoke at the HCEF's Fourth International Conference on the Christians of the Holy Land last October and graciously his offered his availability to HCEF to speak to Congressional representatives on his visit to Washington.
Brother Vincent met briefly with Senator Chuck Hegal and then spoke with Andrew Parasiliti, aide to Senator Hegal (R-NE). Brother Vincent then met with Ms. Cynthia, the Legislative Director for Congressman John Conyers (D-14th MI). Brother Vincent then had a meeting with the staff of the House Foreign Relations Committee: Mr. Hillel Weinberg of the Majority Staff, Mr. Alan Makovski of the Minority Staff, and Ms. Lara Alameh of the Full Committee. Lastly, Brother Vincent met with Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-45th CA).
At each meeting, Brother Vincent described the difficulties he encountered as he tried to administer the education of his Christian and Muslim students. Curfews and military checkpoints disrupted the lives of both the students and faculty. Israeli gunfire damaged most of the buildings in the campus. Occupation military forces were engaged in a systematic strangulation of the Palestinian people and the university was entangled in the same process that affected all Palestinians. The legitimate right of Palestinians to education has been severely impaired by the actions of the Occupation Army. The daily humiliation inflicted on everyone living in the West Bank has taken a terrible toll. A long 21 day curfew was imposed on the Bethlehem area during the month of December. Lifting of curfews was irregular and sudden thereby making planning for exams and other activities very difficult.
Brother Vincent believes that everyone he visited was aware of the situation in the Holy Land. Many were concerned about the conditions and safety for Christians in Bethlehem and how they were being treated. Senator Hegal recently returned from the West Bank as part of a tour of the Middle East. Congressman Rohrebacher is planning a visit to the Holy land and want to visit the Christian community in Bethlehem when he tours the West Bank. It was suggested that members of Congress visit the university when they visit the Middle East. Brother extended an open invitation to representatives, senators, and their staffs to visit him at the Bethlehem University.