Bethlehem University students socialize on the West Bank campus in this 2010 file photo. The Canadian documentary Across the Divide presents a profile of the university, and shows how the lives of those associated with it have been affected by the stru ggle swirling around them. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
18 Jul 2012 by John Mulderig
NEW YORK (CNS) — Few conflicts in the
modern era have proved as intractable as that pitting
Israelis against Palestinians. One institution caught up in
this clash has been the Holy Lands Bethlehem University, a Catholic establishment open to students of all faiths.
The intriguing Canadian documentary Across the
Divide (Salt + Light) presents a profile of the university, and shows how the lives of those associated with it have been affected by the struggle swirling around them.
Founded in 1973 with the direct, personal
involvement of Pope Paul VI, and staffed by the Christian
Brothers, Bethlehem University was the first seat of
higher learning to be established on the West Bank. But its
operations, we learn, have had to be suspended for long
periods of time at the behest of the Israeli government.
And the proximity of armed conflict has not only
taken its toll on the physical structures of the universitys
campus, but exacted casualties among its scholars as well.
Filmmakers Kris Dmytrenko (who also narrates)
and Richard Valenti offer insights into the larger cultural
and political situation through a handful of personal
stories. The most prominent of these concerns Bethlehem
University student, and Gaza Strip resident, Berlanty
Since Palestinians require Israeli government
permission to travel between the two separate areas of
Palestine — the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and the
Fatah-ruled West Bank — Israeli authorities arrested
Azzam, who had not obtained the necessary permit, at a
security checkpoint. They then deported her to her home
territory and forbade her return to Bethlehem. This,
despite the fact that Azzam had nearly completed her
The film follows Azzams increasingly desperate
legal battle to have this ruling overturned lest she be
deprived of her all-important degree.
Another student describes the tragic fate that
befell her family when they found themselves in the
wrong place at the wrong moment and were mistaken for
terrorists by Israeli soldiers. Her ultimate response to this wrenching misfortune, however, strikes a hopeful note and provides an uplifting example of Christian witness.
Scenes of real-life violence and potentially
upsetting subject matter preclude endorsement for
children, who are obviously unlikely to be interested
anyway. But this otherwise unobjectionable study presents
a valuable and enlightening educational opportunity for
teens and their elders.
Screenings of Across the Divide, which had its premiere in Vancouver, British Columbia, June 3, have
been scheduled for Toronto Sept. 5 and Ottawa, Ontario,
Sept. 19. The date for a showing in Windsor, Ontario, has
yet to be scheduled. U.S. screenings are planned for the
near future. For more information, go to
The Catholic News Service classification is A-II —
adults and adolescents. Not rated by the Motion Picture
Association of America.
Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.
Tags: Middle East Christians Palestine Holy Land Canada Bethlehem University