Bethlehem University Student Deported to Gaza

Deal W. Hudson
November 2, 2009

Berlanty (Betty) Azzam was two months away from receiving her business degree at Bethlehem University. Anticipating life beyond college, she made the two-hour trip to Ramallah for a job interview, but on the way back she was asked for her papers at the “container” checkpoint. Azzam was detained by the Israeli military for five hours, sent to the Sharon Detention Center in Netanya, and eventually blindfolded, handcuffed, put into a military vehicle, and deported to Gaza where her family resides. Lawyers from the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem, which encompasses both the West Bank and Israel, tried to intervene with the military, but with no success.

Though born in Kuwait, Azzam grew up in Gaza. Her father, Jiries Azzam, works for the YMCA; her mother, Evette, teaches for the UN Relief and Works Agency, and both her brothers live in the United Arab Emirates.

In August 2005, Azzam left Gaza with a temporary travel permit allowing her to visit the West Bank. She did not return to Gaza until the Israeli military returned her forcibly on October 28. Azzam had taken the risk of not returning to Gaza knowing it was her only way to attend Bethlehem University, the only Catholic university on the West Bank.

Writing to me from Gaza, Azzam was still quite shaken by her treatment at the checkpoint: “They didn’t tell me anything and treated me like a like criminal. They had no reason to blindfold and handcuff me.” The fact that she was carrying a university ID verifying her status at Bethlehem University made no difference.

Br. Jack Curran, F.S.C., vice president of development at Bethlehem University, told me that a petition against Azzam’s deportation has been filed in Israeli courts. Attorneys for Israel have been ordered by the courts to submit a preliminarily written reply to the petition by November 3.

Brother Curran has written to the Israeli government asking that Azzam is allowed to return to Bethlehem University “on compassionate and humanitarian grounds… She has not been accused of being a security threat and has committed no crime.”

His letter also cited the “Agreement on Movement and Access” negotiated between the Palestinian Authority and Israel in 2005 that was facilitated by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “I believe permitting her to return to Bethlehem to complete her degree also would be in the spirit of the agreement.”

Azzam’s desire to study at Bethlehem University is shared by many others. One Palestinian Liberation Organization source I spoke with told me there are 19 students already admitted to the university still waiting in Gaza to get a permit to come study on the West Bank. The man – whose family is from Beit Jala, the town adjacent to Bethlehem – is very familiar with the struggle of students at the university. “Before 2000, almost 10 percent of the students at Bethlehem University was from Gaza. Today there are just two students, both young women left.”

For Israel to allow Azzam to return to Bethlehem to receive her degree would be both humanitarian and compassionate, as Brother Curran urged. But it would also be good politics. Israel should go even further and make it possible for the 19 students from Gaza to study at Bethlehem University. This institution, founded by the Christian Brothers in 1973, is one of the keys to the future of peace in the region if peace is ever to come.

Letting Azzam return to Bethlehem is a move Israel can afford to make, and it would be a gesture of goodwill at a time when good news is in short supply on the West Bank.

♦ ♦ ♦

Brother Curran encourages all those who are concerned about Betty Azzam’s future to go to the State Department Web site and fill out this form, urging them to request Israel that Azzam is allowed to return to Bethlehem University and finish her degree.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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