October 23, 2000

Israel Raises New Concerns

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As peace situations remain precarious in the Middle East, Cornell students studying abroad in Israel have been advised to take caution.

Beatrice Szekely, associate director of Cornell Abroad, has been in close contact with these Cornellians in Israel.

“We keep in touch with [these students] closely and issue recommendations on a case-by-case basis. We urge them to take every precaution that they can,” Szekely said.

Violence erupted in Israel’s West Bank late last month when Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited an East Jerusalem shrine that has been a point of Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Since the visit, fighting between Palestinians and the Israeli security forces has claimed hundreds of lives, mostly Palestinians.

The Cornell Abroad Office would not release any information about the three Cornell students currently studying abroad in Israel, except to say that they were taking courses at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Cornell Abroad is currently operating under the policy of the U.S. State Department Advisory, which recently issued a “worldwide caution” in response to the terrorist activity. This public warning advised all American travelers to be cautious due to the possibility of violent action against U.S. citizens.

“The situation changes almost on a daily basis,” Szekely said in reference to the tensions abroad.

In light of the rapidly escalating warfare between Israelis and Palestinians, other American universities have already taken strong steps to recall their students from Israel.

On Oct. 13 the University of Pennsylvania issued “a serious recommendation” to all eight undergraduates studying abroad in Israel that they return home to the United States, given “the extreme political chaos” in the Middle East.

One of these students has already returned home, according to the Daily Pennsylvanian, University of Pennsylvania’s campus newspaper.

Similarly, Union College in upstate New York has terminated its program in Israel for this semester. All students that were studying in Israel have already returned to Union to finish the semester and have been placed in a special program that enables them to continue to earn their credits.

Dan Jossen ’02, co-president of Cornell’s Hillel Club, cited Union College’s decision as a reflection of the “intensity” of the situation in the Middle East and as an example of how “cautious” universities need to be.

In response to the pro-active position that some American universities are taking, Richard Gaulton, director of Cornell Abroad, stated that Cornell had its eye on the situation and at this point did not find it necessary to take any drastic actions.

“We have been in contact with colleagues from other Universities who have students in Israel. If necessary, then we will strongly urge students to return home, but so far we have not taken that step,” said Gaulton.

The turbulence in Israel has already hit home for many Cornellians.

According to Jossen, Cornell Abroad recently telephoned all students that were planning to study in Israel next semester and encouraged them to make back-up plans.

“A considerable number of students were planning to study abroad in Israel for the spring semester, and many are now reconsidering their plans,” Gaulton added.

Umair Khan ’03, an active member of the Muslim Educational and Cultural Association (MECA) and the Arab Club, spoke about the need to recognize both sides of the conflict.

In terms of student safety, Khan said, “I don’t think that Americans in the Mideast are specifically viewed as targets — this is more an issue between the Israelis and the Palestinians.”

“Israel in itself is not so threatening, but the Palestinian pockets of control [in the West Bank and Gaza regions] are dangerous and volatile. Students should be cautious. No one should panic. [I am] hopeful for peace,” said Omer Bajwa, grad, president of MECA.

Another group that might feel effects of the fighting overseas are the 80 Cornell students selected to go on this year’s Hillel Birthright Israel Trip, a fully funded trip scheduled to take place for ten days over winter break.

Although the trip is set to take place, some individuals involved have expressed worries as to what might happen if the uprisings continue.

“Hillel International is cautiously watching the situation. They are not promising a trip at this point,” Jossen said.

Daniel Kasell ’02, President of Cornell Israel Public Affairs Committee, also a student organizer for the Birthright Trip, indicated that there is little reason for concern that the trip will be canceled due to the violence at this point.

“Israel generally is safe. It is primarily the West Bank and Gaza regions that are dangerous. The Hillel trip will not be going anywhere near these areas,” said Kasell.

Agreeing with Kasell and summarizing the mission for the trip, Rabbi Jeff Sultar added, “If the trip goes on as expected, then security for students is the highest priority. No students will be put at risk.”

Archived article by Jennifer Roberts