BERLIN (Aug. 5)
A Berlin Protestant group is scrambling to protect its reputation and support following the news that a Jerusalem suicide bomber reportedly attended a West Bank school financed by the group.
Hashem Atta Yusuf, the 17-year-old who blew himself up at a downtown Jerusalem fast-food stand on July 30, injuring seven people, reportedly studied for a year at the elite Talitha Kumi school in Beit Jalla. The school is a project of the Lutheran group, Berliner Missionswerk, which is under the umbrella of the Protestant church of the states of Berlin and Brandenburg.
After the information was broadcast on German television news programs, angry donors called and sent e-mail messages to Berliner Missionswerk, asking if their money was supporting Palestinian terrorists. Talitha Kumi representatives here expressed anger that their school’s name was mentioned in connection with the bombing.
Soon after the story was confirmed, the mission issued a statement saying that it and the Protestant church in Jordan “flatly condemn the bomb attack.”
“We distance ourselves from this criminal deed as a barbarous and inhumane act. This does not express the spirit of our education, whose goals are peace, reconciliation and justice,” the statement said.
Wilhelm Goller, director of the school, expressed shock that one of his students would have committed such an act. He told the Jerusalem Post that he was “very surprised,” particularly because most of the students are Christian Palestinians and because, though the school supports “freedom for the Palestinians, as Christians we condemn such acts” of violence.
The statement from Berlin went on to say that the suicide bomber “was unable to internalize the school’s basic educational message in only one year. Like all other Lutheran schools, Talitha Kumi has developed an internationally recognized concept of peace education and responsibility for a future Palestinian society.”
Though the school does run some programs together with Israeli schools, this is not the first time it has been connected to terrorism, according to the report on German N-TV.
Two years ago, a trainee in the Talitha Kumi hotel training program died when a bomb exploded as he was planting it near the school grounds, located on the border between Israeli- and Palestinian-controlled areas.
In April, Israeli security agents uncovered a letter from the German representative to the Palestinian Authority, Andreas Reinecke, urging Jibril Rajoub, the chief of Palestinian security in the West Bank, to prevent armed Palestinians from forcing their way onto school grounds. Israeli officials interpreted this as evidence that the school was being used to stage attacks against Israel.
The school was founded in 1851 in Jerusalem as an orphanage for Arab girls. It was moved to Beit Jalla, near Bethlehem, after Israel’s War of Independence in 1948.
About 1,000 boys and girls, from kindergarten through high school, attend the school. Most of the students belong to various Christian groups. One-fifth are Muslims.