By Shoham Geva, Daily Staff Reporter
Published August 8, 2014
The University pulled out several students in Israel on University-related business late last month and are currently monitoring the situation in the area to determine whether it will impact programs in the area for the fall and beyond, the University confirmed in a statement Tuesday evening.
The decision to pull out students came after a recommendation on or about July 22 from the insurance and security firm the University contracts with for travel abroad to remove individuals from the area consistent with both the University’s own assessment and information from the U.S state department, according to the statement.
Conflict in the area between Israel and Gaza has been escalating over the past month, with rocket fire and combat occurring frequently. On July 22, a rocket landed near Israel’s Ben Gurion airport in Tel-Aviv which Israel’s anti-missile system failed to intercept, leading to the Federal Aviation Authority temporarily suspending flights on U.S carriers coming in and out of the country and also prompting concerns of increased risk for students.
According to the University, five faculty or staff and six students were in the area at that time.
Four students, all graduate students at the School of Public Health, received travel assistance to return to the U.S. A fifth graduate student in Israel on personal business has also returned. Two additional students, whom the University is aware of because they registered with the University’s travel registry or were identified through other people in the country but who are not on official University-related trips remain in the area on personal business, along with four faculty or staff, as of Tuesday.
All students, even if they are not on a University-sponsored program, can register on the travel registry when they go abroad to receive assistance and information from the University in situations such as this.
In an interview Thursday, James Holloway, vice provost for global and engaged education, said when deciding where travel is restricted the University pulls from a number of sources, including U.S. State Department warnings, recommendations from the international security firm that supports University travel abroad, and non-public State Department information from the Overseas Safety Advisory Committee, of which the University is a member.
“We really look at all of that information about what is the risk to students, what is the risk of bodily harm?” Holloway said. “And we’re trying to balance that risk against the legitimate intellectual and educational goals of students seeking education abroad. It’s really a balancing act of those considerations.”
He added that in the specific case of the students pulled out of Israel, another factor was that their educational experience had already been disrupted.
“With the Public Health students in Israel, their actual placement was in Beersheba in southern Israel, much closer to Gaza than Tel-Aviv, and the university they were working with there, Ben-Gurion University, had moved them to Tel-Aviv, so in fact their educational program was already being impacted,” he said. “They weren’t able to do the work that they were there to do.”
The presence of students on University related-business in Israel is relatively new. Until recently, there were few to no programs there at all due to a now-former policy that restricted programs in areas with State Department travel warnings such as Israel. Holloway said the growth of study abroad there has been prompted by several reasons, most notably an international push at the University in recent years.
“There’s a lot of intellectual capital in Israel,” Holloway said. “As the University has increasingly internationalized both in its scholarship research and education abroad opportunities, it’s made a lot of sense to reach out and take advantage of the opportunities that our students and faculty have to learn from Israel, and their counterparts and colleagues in Israel have to learn from us.”
University alum Tyler Mesman, one of four students awarded a Bonderman Fellowship through the University after graduating this May, which provides funding for students to travel internationally for eight months, had initially planned to start his travels in Israel later this month but changed his plans following the July 22 decision. He said after discussion with his advisor, changing his plans seemed like the best choice.
“I’m really disappointed, I really wanted to go to Israel,” Mesman said. “But my family was worried about me, my friends were worried about me, my advisor was obviously worried about me, so maybe perhaps when everything dies down again, I’ll get there eventually.”
Holloway said because there are no undergraduate programs planned for Israel for the fall, there’s not necessarily an immediate need to levy further restrictions. Rather, the University plans to continue to monitor the situation. The restrictions for graduate students as opposed to undergraduate students in the University’s travel policies can be slightly different for situations like this — per University approval of a safety travel plan, they may be able to travel to the area.
“It’s a very fluid situation right now; we’re extremely hopeful that the ongoing ceasefire will continue and that things will stabilize so we can see less hostilities in the area,” Holloway said. “That’s what we hope to see happen over the next few weeks, and I think that would make it possible for us to encourage students again to engage in the opportunities that Israel and the Palestinian territories can offer.”
Holloway added that the decision did not include Gaza because there were no students in the area, but said it was at similar levels of warning for the University.
Several other universities have also recently evacuated students from Israel, including Michigan State University and George Mason University.
Daily Staff Reporter Emma Kerr contributed to this report.