The on-again, off-again Gaza War of 2014 has few fatalities in the study abroad programs at U.S. colleges. In fact, there has only been one announced fatality: the International Program at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst informed students of theirs last week that Israel is no longer an acceptable option, due to the violence in the region.
Two UMass/Amherst students were enrolled in programs in Israel for this fall. One was supposed to begin in October, the other student was scheduled to start yesterday, according to Daniel Fitzgibbons, the school’s associate director for News and Media Relations.
The school’s International Risk Management team met, and they had to decide quickly, so that the students could make alternative arrangements. The vote was a thumbs down on study in Israel.
But UMass/Amherst’s experience was a little different than most schools. It had students working on an archeology project in Israel earlier this summer. Those students were there in the thick of the heaviest violence. And what really spooked the university was that the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority shut down Ben Gurion Airport to U.S. flights. The school had been looking at whether to pull out their students at the time, but once the exit was closed, people panicked. When the ban was lifted, the “six UMass/Amherst students were pulled out, just three or four days before their program ended.”
When asked why UMass/Amherst made the decision to bar its students from studying in Israel this fall when no other schools had, given that the risk assessments were based on the same information available to everyone, the school representative seemed a bit surprised.
“Penn State, Trinity College and Claremont College were all part of the same archeology program our students were on this summer,” Fitzgibbons said. “Those schools pulled their students out before we did.” However, Claremont McKenna College in California, Trinity College in Connecticut and Penn State all still have study abroad programs in Israel on the approved lists on their websites.
Michigan State University also pulled its students from summer programs in Israel when the violence escalated; it has no academic year programs in Israel.
The UMass/Amherst International Risk Management team consists of members of the school administration and faculty, who consider input provided by the U.S. Department of State, the school’s insurance carrier and the school’s security consultants.
“Syria and Egypt have been off the list of approved sites for study abroad since the beginning of the Arab Spring,” Fitzgibbons explained. When asked Colombia – which has the same threat assessment level as does “Israel, the West Bank and Gaza” – is still on the list of eligible study abroad sites, he couldn’t answer.
“What about the American University in Beirut? That is still on the approved list,” The Jewish Press asked, pointing out that the bloodthirsty terrorist group ISIS took over a city in Lebanon just last week. But so far only Syria, Egypt and Israel/Gaza/West Bank are on the forbidden list.
Several schools did not return phone calls to inquiries today about their study abroad programs. The Western New England College of Law posted a notice on its website that the planned winter 2014 program will go forward unless the State Department warns against travel to Israel. It encouraged students to get travel insurance so that they are covered in either eventuality.
We are acutely aware of the ongoing hostilities in Israel and Gaza and are hopeful about a swift, peaceful resolution of the current conflict. The safety of our students is our highest priority. This program will not run if the United States Department of State warns against travel to Israel. If this program is cancelled, students who have made tuition, registration, or application payments toward it will get full refunds. We strongly encourage students to get travel insurance to ensure that they are similarly insured against travel-related losses due to safety-related changes in the academic program.
According to a recent report in a local Washington, D.C. outlet, American University has chosen to have its fall program in Israel go forward, but also gives students the option to cancel or defer their trips if they choose at no cost to them.
About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.
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