College exchange students often visit other countries to learn of other cultures, appreciate the past, or gain valuable insight into other regions. Few go to be indoctrinated consciously for the purposes of political -- and literal -- warfare. However, the International Solidarity Movement and the Bethlehem Bible College
have put together a program that does just that.
The ISM has long sent American students to the Middle East, where they undergo training by the ISM-ally, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a known terrorist group, and then physically obstruct Israeli forces trying to nab Palestinian terrorists. Front Page Magazine’s exposure of the ISM and the much-publicized deaths of two ISM-affiliated students, American Rachel Corrie and Englishman Tom Hurndall, led to dwindling recruitment numbers. Heightened scrutiny of terrorist organizations as well as a recent Israeli crackdown on ISM leaders like Kate Raphael has forced George Rishmawi, a Canadian-Palestinian Communist who co-founded the ISM, to rethink his organization’s tactics. Now the radical group has hit upon using international student exchanges in its campaign to aid the cause of Palestinian genocidal terror.
Mindful of the setbacks suffered by his activist troops, Rishmawi has set about remaking the ISM. For starters, he has rechristened the ISM the Palestine Summer Encounter (PSE). PSE has even managed to find a shill at Bethlehem Bible College in the West Bank to offer U.S. academic credit in Arabic. That will make the “educational” program of value to Middle East study centers across the U.S., many of which have been turned into de facto lobbying and propaganda bases calling for the dismantling of Israel. Incidently, generous Saudi and PLO grants are funding these programs.
The PSE’s program will be financed by the Holy Land Trust, a California-based NGO. Already the Holy Land Trust has caused headaches for U.S. counterterrorism officials by funding Palestinian NGOs that refuse to guarantee that the U.S. Agency for International Development funds they receive won’t be used to bankroll terrorism. The trust is run by Executive Director Sami Awad, who formerly headed the Palestine Children’s Welfare Relief Fund, an outfit that routinely featured photos and praise of suicide bombers on its website. According to Arab-American Christian journalist Joseph Farah, editor of World Net Daily: “The lies this group tells in the name of Christianity are big and bold. They include the standard lines about Jews robbing the homes of Arabs, stealing their land and brutalizing them in a repressive state of military occupation. These so-called Christians even rationalize terrorism.” A further look at Holy Land Trust’s website shows it is clearly political and designed to demonize “occupier” Israel.
But if the background of the Holy Land Trust is alarming, the program it is intended to underwrite is even more so. An article on the PSE program that appeared in the leftist Israeli newspaper Haaretz states, “The PSE program includes an Arabic course at the Bethlehem Bible College, with credits going toward a U.S. college degree; volunteer work with Palestinian aid organizations as well as Israeli peace groups; and trips, mostly in the West Bank, but also within the Green Line [along Israel’s border]. The students are hosted by Palestinian families which lowers the price for participants; the hosts also receive some payment.”
In order for students to attend Bethlehem Bible College’s anti-Israel indoctrination courses for credit, they must be enrolled in schools that have granted accreditation. Yet one can be certain that students studying Arabic at this college will also be advancing the ISM’s ultimate political goal: the destruction of Israel. The Haaretz article explains that “regardless of background, after a summer in the Palestinian territories, participants come away with a clear political picture.”
The article notes that, previously, participants were reluctant to sign up for the program. “Nearly all say they shied away from visiting the area till now because of the cost and that one PSE attraction was its reasonable price,” the article explains. The “reasonable price” has to do with subsidies paid by the PLO to import their radical cheerleaders.
As for said importation, as Front Page has revealed, ISM formerly transported most of its volunteers over to the Holy Land free of charge by abusing a Birthright Israel program. This program was set up by wealthy Jewish philanthropists to encourage immigration to Israel and appreciation for the Jewish state. Rather than supporting this mission, however, the ISM’s volunteers focused their energies on denouncing Israel as an “apartheid state” while excusing terrorism and violence against Israelis as “legitimate resistance.” As a consequence of such revelations, Birthright Israel applicants have come under greater scrutiny. Funds for the ISM’s free rides have consequently dried up. In Bethlehem Bible College, the ISM seems to have discovered a new way for an even wider group to gain entrance into Israel while cheering its destruction. Indeed, the program is in some ways even more convenient than Birthright Israel. Whereas the Birthright program could only be used for free transportation by anarchists and communists of Jewish ancestry, the Bethlehem College is far more inclusive: any student radical who favors Israel’s demise is welcome.
So what exactly is the Bethlehem Bible College? According to the ISM website, “Bethlehem Bible College seeks to train and prepare Christian servants—leaders for the churches and society within an Arab context.” As to what is meant by “Arab context,” a clue comes from the views of Bethlehem Bible College President Bishara Awad. Although thousands of Christians have fled the Holy Land in recent decades due to Muslim persecution, Awad blames the Jewish State for their departure. “Israeli persecution is ‘first and foremost’ to blame for Christian (and Muslim) emigration,” he claims.
Indeed, according to Awad, Israel is the greatest force for religious oppression in the Middle East. He has claimed: “We, Muslims and Christians alike, have been on the receiving end of oppression since 1967. The occupation is the root cause of economic deterioration. Some people can’t live under constant pressure for a long time; so they emigrate when they are no longer able or willing to withstand oppression.”
Asked to comment on Israeli allegations that many Christians leave the Middle East as a result of harassment by Muslims, Awad flatly denies the charge. “This is not true,” he says. “I have not seen any attack on our churches or institutions. We are like brothers here. We share in and attend each other’s social occasions. We are one people.”
Awad’s revisionism would come as significant news to anyone who witnessed the takeover of the Church of the Nativity by Arafat’s thugs in 2002. In addition, Muslim desecration of non-Islamic shrines, both Jewish and Christian, is well documented. Indeed, Christians are considered dhimmis, or second-class citizens, in Islamic society, and as such are subject to Muslim whim. Christian businessmen and shops are frequently shaken down by PLO members in protection rackets. Small wonder, then, that the Christian population in Bethlehem has decreased from 80 percent to just five percent since the creation of the Palestinian Authority in 1994. Furthermore, the state of religious freedom in Israel cannot credibly be compared to the Palestinian territories. Where Israel boasts a longstanding respect for religious pluralism, the Palestinian territories, in accord with Article 7 of the Palestinian Authority Constitution, are subject to Shari'a or Islamic law.
That Awad is willing to ignore the troubling record of Islamic attitudes toward Christianity in order to vilify Israel says much about the educational environment at Bethlehem College. Indeed, it seems safe to conclude that through its support of ISM, the college is less likely to teach Christian reconciliation than to try to convince Christians overseas to support Islamic hegemony over the Holy Land. It certainly has considerable resources to do so: according to its website, the college boasts millions in its budget.
Additional proof that the PSE program is intended to serve as a recruitment arm for the anti-Israel cause comes from the fact that it offers students housing with a Palestinian family. In the past, ISM leaders have stayed in houses where terrorists and suicide bombers had formerly lived. This makes it probable that PSE students from the U.S. may actually be living with families implicated in anti-Israel terrorism. Finally, if the ISM’s history of anti-Israel activism is any indication, the Palestinian Summer Encounter extracurricular activities will almost certainly include interfering with the IDF’s anti-terrorist operations.
Despite the PSE’s extremist agenda, it is billed under the postcard-pleasant mantra: “Come to Palestine, Stay with Friends.” But a more accurate description of the PSE program would read like this: Come to a war zone. Learn how to promote Muslim hegemony over the Jews and Christians. And get college credit, too.