He started his time in front of the Kiwanians with a brief history lesson on Bethlehem.
“One hundred years ago the city of Bethlehem and the surrounding areas would have been virtually 100 percent Christian,” Creel said. “In 1948, when war broke out between the newly born Jewish state and its surrounding Arab states, then a lot of the Arab Muslims living today in what is Israel proper fled.”
The Palestinian refugees scattered all over the Middle East. Creel said many of the refugees ended up on the West Bank when it was still a part of Jordan. The leaders of Bethlehem allowed the refugees to set up camp with the understanding they would return home at the end of the war.
Creel explained Israel did not allow the refugees to return at the end of the conflict. The camps turned into ghettos and are still present today.
“So you had an infusion of Muslim population, and not just Muslim, but a more radicalized angsty version of Islam than is the general [norm],” Creel said. “They were all upset about fleeing from home.”
He jumped his history lesson to 2000 and the Second Intifada. Bus and cafe bombings were prevalent during this three- to four-year period. Creel said several of the acts of violence in Jerusalem were perpetrated by the Muslim inhabitants in the refugee camps. Israel’s response was to build a 30-foot-high wall around the city of Bethlehem.
A part of the security measures maintain the residents inside cannot easily leave.
“It is very normal to walk up to a kid [around] 20-years-old and say, ‘Hey, when was the last time you left Bethlehem,’ and they say, ‘I think maybe when I was eight I went somewhere, but I’m not sure,’” Creel said. “You are talking about a generation of kids who have literally lived their whole lives in about a two-by-three, two-by-four mile block.”
The Jerusalem School at Bethlehem was established out of a desire in Creel to make a difference in the city. He noted it did not matter how hard the kids were working. Most would not be able to pursue education outside of the city or region.
The K-12 school provides an education to 440 students. Approximately 85 percent of the students are Christian. The remaining 15 percent are Muslim. Creel explained the balance allows the school to be unabashedly Christian without having to teach Muslim principals. The students wear shirts with “Blessed are the peacemakers” from the Sermon on the Mount.
“Our basic concept is these kids have a need for education and hope that doesn’t really exist here,” Creel said. “They just respond to that.”
All classes from Kindergarten through 12th grade are taught in English. A lot of American teachers are imported to meet the course needs. Creel explained learning English provides ample opportunities for students to pursue more jobs and educational pursuits abroad.
A Kiwanian asked how the Arab populace responded to the American teachers.
Creel said the locals treat the teachers like royalty because of the help offered to their children.
“Christian Arab communities certainly love and embrace us, but the Muslims do, too. In the end, what are we there for? We are there to educate [their] kids and help them have more hope in life,” Creel said. “While we are there, we are going to spend money in your stores and restaurants and shops.
“We are not there to exert our will in the form of leadership. We are there to live under [them] in help.”
He claimed he had received only one aggressive comment about his American citizenship during the 17 years he has been in Jerusalem. The one comment was far outweighed by the thousands of thanks he has received over the years.