While on a trip to Israel in 2002, LSA sophomore Ben Friedman was just blocks away from a shooting at a gate in Jerusalem.

But despite this encounter, Friedman said he and other students on the trip were “happy to be there (because we) wanted to do this our whole lives.”

Now Friedman is working with the student group American Movement for Israel to help give other students the opportunity to travel to Israel.

When the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning for Israel in 2001, many American universities, including the University of Michigan, suspended study abroad programs to the country. While many other universities have recently lifted their suspensions because of the perceived decrease in the level of violence, the University has not followed suit.

AMI has been trying for more than a year to convince the University to create a study-abroad program to Israel. Studying abroad in Israel is an important part of many students’ educations, LSA junior and AMI political co-chair Alana Kuhn said, because the country offers unique opportunities for research and a place to practice Hebrew.

Last spring, AMI gave a presentation to the University’s International Travel Oversight Committee on the issue, and it has not yet received a definite answer, Kuhn said. The committee, made up of nine faculty and staff members appointed by the provost, oversees the University’s study-abroad programs and makes recommendations to the Office of International Programs.

But Douglas Kennedy, a committee member, said the University will continue to stand by its policy of not sponsoring any study-abroad program to a country for which the State Department has issued a travel warning.

Carol Dickerman, director of the OIP, said the University will probably sponsor a study-abroad program to Israel once the State Department warning is lifted.

Kuhn said she believes security concerns may not be the only reason the University has refused to review the suspension of its programs to Israel.

Arranging such a program would take “a lot of effort and money to set up,” she said.

She said the University has sponsored other study-abroad programs to countries with security risks, including Egypt, where tourist areas have been bombed. Egypt is not on the State Department’s list.

Although the University does not have its own study-abroad program in Israel, students are allowed to go through non-University programs and transfer their credits, Dickerman said.

However, arranging to study abroad through another university is difficult and deters many students from going to Israel, Kuhn said. Students who study abroad through other universities do not receive financial aid, and the grades they earn in these programs do not count toward their grade-point averages.

“It’s a significant academic experience that the University is not giving (students) credit for,” she said.

Kuhn estimated that between 25 and 30 University students study abroad in Israel every year despite the difficulties.

Many universities have lifted their suspensions on travel to Israel this year because officials said they feel the security situation has improved. Among Big Ten universities, the University of Wisconsin, Indiana University and Ohio State University have approved programs or special processes by which students can get approval to study in Israel.

The University of Texas at Austin reviewed its suspension of study-abroad programs to Israel in February 2005 at the request of students and faculty. Although it did not lift the suspension, UT-Austin developed a process through which students could appeal individually to be allowed to study in Israel, said John Sunnygard, director of the Center for Global Educational Opportunities in Austin.

Sunnygard said UT-Austin decided to allow students to go to the country because of Israel’s recent disengagement from the Gaza Strip and the death of Yasir Arafat – events that the school believes have improved the security of the area. The school was also concerned that the suspension made it financially difficult for students to go abroad and that some students might not receive adequate information about safety if they had to find their own study-abroad programs, he added.

In order to appeal the suspension for Israel or any other country where there are significant security concerns, students are required to provide academic justification for the trip, sign a waiver, read the State Department warning and a security briefing from a private security firm and outline the steps they will take to stay safe while abroad, Sunnygard said.

To assess the security situation, Sunnygard traveled to Israel in March 2005.

“I was very impressed with what the Israeli universities do,” he said. “The universities have very, very, very sophisticated security personnel. – And every student is surrounded by people who are really clued in to what is going on around them.”

Friedman said although there were incidents of violence when he traveled to Israel, he still felt safe while he was there.

“(Fears of attack) are irrational fears,” he said. “The odds of you being involved in an attack are so small.”

The situation in Israel seemed much more dangerous to people at home in the United States than to the students on his trip, he added.

AMI will continue to pursue this issue and will seek the help of the Detroit Jewish community, Kuhn said. AMI will also seek to educate students about non-University-sponsored study-abroad programs to Israel, she added.

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