by LAUREN SCHUSTER, Asst. Editor
On Tuesday evening in Kelly Commons, the Manhattan College Muslim Student Association (MSA) hosted a screening of the film “Across the Divide,” followed by a faculty Q&A session.
The film “Across the Divide” showcases the lives of students at Bethlehem University, a sister school of Manhattan College. The film explains Bethlehem University’s significance as the first university in the West Bank and then focuses on several individual students and the challenges they have faced due to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
One of the students in the film, Berlanty Azzam, was detained at a checkpoint due to her Gazan origin and was then not allowed to return to Bethlehem University because she was determined to be in violation of territorial restrictions.
Brother Jack Curran, vice president for mission at Manhattan College, was working at Bethlehem University at the time, and was personally involved in efforts to convince the government to allow Azzam to return to the school. He shared his experience of the situation during the faculty Q&A after the film.
“When I got the call [about Azzam] I wasn’t trained to figure out how to deal with that situation, but you do the best you can with what you got and everyone came together and supported us,” Curran said.
Despite both international support and the best efforts of the school community, Azzam was still not allowed to return to Bethlehem University. However, she was allowed to complete her degree by submitting the necessary supplementary schoolwork. With the help of Bethlehem University faculty, she later went on to travel to the United States where she earned her master’s degree in business administration.
“One of the things that Lasallian education is about is recognizing your privilege, but using it for the advantage of the students who are entrusted to you,” Curran said.
The fact that both Manhattan College and Bethlehem University are Lasallian schools is a large part of their strong connection. The schools have engaged in a number of programs together over their years as sister schools, including trips to Bethlehem University for MC students.
James Freeman, Ph.D., who will be going on the Lasallian Outreach Volunteer Experience (L.O.V.E.) trip to Palestine this spring break, also participated in the faculty Q&A session after the film. He expressed the importance to him of the Lasallian connection between the two institutions.
“The ideas of social justice and mission mean a lot to me, I know they mean a lot to the students who go to school here, and they mean a lot to the people who work at Bethlehem University and the students who go there as well,” Freeman said.
For Freeman, both the film and the L.O.V.E. trip to Palestine are about engaging with the issues that the people in the West Bank face due to the conflict there and then using that knowledge to create awareness and foster change.
“I learned a lot going [to Palestine] and I brought it back here, and so now I’m sharing it with my students in my sociology classes, and so I think it’s not just about us going over there and learning something, it’s about us going over there, learning something, and then bringing it back here and having it inform what we do here,” Freeman said.
Fatoumata Saho, secretary of the MSA, found the film to be very emotional and inspiring. One scene, where the brothers from Bethlehem University traveled all the way to Azzam’s house in Gaza to give her an individual graduation ceremony, particularly struck Saho.
“That [scene] shows how no matter where she came from, no matter where the brothers came from, no matter the connotations between those two different places, people still had the heart to go out to her and help her,” Saho said.
The MSA’s main goals for the film screening were to show the humanity behind the conflict in the West Bank and to better inform the campus community about the conflict.
“Everyone is a human being. Even though [Azzam] was in Palestine, even though she is from Gaza, she also has the same ambition as us to complete her dreams, to just make a living, and no one should be refused that,” Saho said.