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Berlanty Azzam: A Story of Perseverance

In 2009, Ms. Berlanty Azzam, a fourth-year Bethlehem University student, was preparing for her graduation in just a few short weeks. On her way to a job interview in Ramallah (within the West Bank), she was detained at an Israeli military checkpoint, held for hours, blindfolded and handcuffed, and then forcibly deported to Gaza in the middle of the night. Despite calls from the international community, Israeli courts ruled that Berlanty was not allowed to return to Bethlehem to finish her studies at Bethlehem University.Berlanty 2012

Despite this ruling, Bethlehem University worked with Berlanty via correspondence to allow her to finish her degree and graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Business, awarded to her in a ceremony in Gaza. (Read more about this graduation ceremony below, from January 2010.)

Impassioned after hearing Berlanty's story, Dr. Dennis Golden, President of Fontbonne University in St. Louis, Missouri, along with Mr. and Mrs. Vince and Judy Shaw and other benefactors, graciously provided Berlanty the opportunity to continue her graduate studies at Fontbonne University. Berlanty completed her Master’s degree in Business Administration from Fontbonne University in July 2012.

In spring 2012, Berlanty received the Dr. Huang Chung Jack Liu Memorial Award at the annual Honors Convocation at Fontbonne University. This award is presented to the graduating International student who demonstrates service and initiative within the International student community and who works to inspire and make positive differences on the life of other students. Dr. Golden emphasized that this award came as evidence that Berlanty Azzam has done well "academically and interpersonally."

From the Archives:
Gaza Student Completes Her Bachelors Degree from Bethlehem University

Ms. Berlanty Azzam completes course requirements for her bachelors degree 75 days from when she was blindfolded, handcuffed, and taken from Bethlehem to Gaza

Bethlehem University officials traveled to Gaza on Sunday, 10 January to mark the occasion of Ms. Berlanty Azzam completing her semester courses, to encourage other students from Gaza who seek to pursue their education at Bethlehem University or other Palestinian universities in the West Bank, and to recognize the more than 430 other graduates of Bethlehem University from Gaza.

Brother Peter Bray, Vice Chancellor, the Papal Nuncio H.E. Archbishop Antonio Franco, Chancellor, Brother Joe, Vice Chancellor Emeritus, and Trappist Abbott Thomas traveled to Gaza for the 10am Mass at the Holy Family Church where they met Ms. Berlanty Azzam and her family and friends among the parishioners, as well as some of the other Bethlehem University students who await permission from the Israeli military authorities to come to Bethlehem to pursue their education at the Vatican-sponsored Bethlehem University.

“I never imagined that my graduation ceremony would be held in a Church in Gaza with no one from my classmates attending,” said the exuberant 22-year-old Berlanty Azzam, “but I am so happy and grateful to my teachers and all of the friends of Bethlehem University who came forward to help me. I really worked hard and prayed for this moment and will do my best to help others who seek to study at my university!” Arriving in Gaza to present Berlanty with her certificate, Vice-Chancellor of the Bethlehem University Brother Peter Bray said “the University has a commitment to help Berlanty – and all our students in good academic standing – to graduate and succeed in life.”

H.E. Archbishop Antonio Franco, Papal Nuncio and the highest ranking representative of the Pope to Israeli and Palesine, also traveled all the way to Gaza to award Berlanty her degree in Business Administration and to celebrate Mass at Holy Family Church in Gaza.

Brother Joe Loewenstein, Vice-Chancellor Emeritus, and Trappist Abbott Thomas Davis accompanied Brother Peter to Gaza for meetings with some of the more than 400 graduates of Bethlehem University from Gaza as well as some of the current Bethlehem University students who continue to await for permission from the Israeli military to study at Bethlehem University.

As reported in the Washington Post, CNN, BBC, America Magazine, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Maan News and other media, Berlanty’s case drew high-level attention, including inquiries from the State Department of the United States, members of the US Congress, members of Parliaments and Ministers of Foreign Affairs from Ireland, the UK, New Zealand, the Netherlands, and Australia, as well as Vatican officials, Cardinals, and Bishops Conferences in Canada, the UK, the United States, and Germany.

The Israeli human rights legal group Gisha took on Berlanty’s case, seeking a ruling from the Israeli High Court to overturn the Israeli army’s decision to not allow Berlanty the right to return to Bethlehem for the final two months needed to complete her bachelors degree. All attempts to seek justice, however, resulted in the Israeli High Court refusing to instruct the Army to allow Berlanty to return to the West Bank. Noting that the 22-year old female student had no security or other charges against her, and that she had been living in Bethlehem and dutifully pursuing her education at Bethlehem University for nearly four years without incident, dismay was expressed by many, including the Gisha lawyers who brought her case to the Israeli High Court.

“I really wanted to be among my colleagues on such a day,” Berlanty said as she lit a candle and kneeled after the homily and the readings as peace overwhelmed the church. “I still don't know why I was taken from Bethlehem and moved to Gaza while being handcuffed and blindfolded.” She continued, “I am sad because I was not able to graduate with my colleagues in Bethlehem, but I was able to challenge the occupation and today I am graduating from Bethlehem University,” her eyes filled with tears of joy.

For more pictures of Berlanty's graduation click here

Timeline of Events for Berlanty Azzam and the Israeli military’s interference in her education: Sept 2005: Berlanty enrolls at Bethlehem University as a first year student 28 Oct 2009: Berlanty blindfolded, handcuffed, and taken from Bethlehem to Gaza by Israeli military:

  • 12 Nov 2009: Israeli High Court Hearing, Court orders Israeli Military to hold due process hearing
  • 18 Nov 2009: Israeli Military Conducts an Administrative Hearing with Berlanty at Erez Crossing
  • 30 Nov 2009: Israeli High Court Hearing, Court orders Israeli Military to submit 2005 permission
  • 9 Dec 2009: Israeli High Court issues ruling: Berlanty cannot return to Bethlehem
  • 10 Jan 2010: Berlanty Graduates in Gaza at Holy Family Church

Here are pictured some of the other students from Gaza who have been accepted at Bethlehem University and still await permission from the Israeli military to come to Bethlehem for their university education.

Pray for them and help to support our “Gaza Student Initiative” efforts. Please send your gift check made payable to “Bethlehem University” noting support for the “Gaza Student Initiative” to:

Brother Dominic Smith, FSC Bethlehem University - USA Development Office Hecker Center, Suite 330 3025 Fourth Street, NE Washington , DC 20017 - 1102. A tax receipt will be issued for all donations.
Tax ID # 22-2997011
Phone: 202-526-6097
Fax: 202-526-6096

Video of Graduation Ceremony

Bethlehem University Foundation
Phone: +1-240-241-4381
Fax: +1-240-553-7691
Beltsville, MD USA
Bethlehem University in the Holy Land
Phone: +972-2-274-1241
Fax: +972-2-274-4440
Bethlehem, Palestine