St Mary’s Kindergarten, Bethany is part of the Convent of the Comboni Sisters founded in 1966. The Convent and Kindergarten, which hosts 48 children, are surrounded on three sides by the Israeli separation wall.
The Sisters are cut off from half of the population they serve by the Israeli barrier, a series of cement slabs, barbed wire fences and security roads snaking across part of the West Bank.
A small “door” was initially opened in the wall to allow the children of the kindergarten to be passed through to the convent, but that was eventually blocked, and parents on the other side of the wall needed to take two buses, stand in line at a checkpoint, then walk 30 minutes to get to the kindergarten. It became too arduous a journey, and parents sought alternative kindergartens for their children.
The wall and military towers loom above the convent on all three sides, including over the kindergarten playground, which has been covered by a fireproof roof because of the Molotov cocktails thrown over the wall by Palestinian demonstrators during clashes with Israeli soldiers. In 2019 the Lieutenancy of Ireland donated €xx,000 towards the cost of security and fire safety works to protect the children and staff.
Bishop Alan McGuckian SJ, Diocese of Raphoe, visiting the Convent and Kintergarten with other Bishops from the Holy Land Co-odination said he was aware of the difficulties of divided societies.
“Authentic Christians always are in relations with both sides, as are the Comboni Sisters here right up against the wall to maintain relations with both Palestinians and Israelis. This may not seem like anything, but this is respecting the human, respecting the good in both,” he said. “We need to stand for the good in the other, always in truth. We are bringing a complex message, yet this must be at the heart of it.”