Some area schools cancel Mideast programs due to Gaza war


Some area universities are canceling study abroad programs to the Middle East, while others are continuing to send students to Israel and other countries in the region.

Georgetown University has suspended study abroad programs in Israel for the fall semester and Egypt indefinitely.

“Georgetown has made the difficult decision to suspend our undergraduate program sending students to Tel Aviv University for the fall 2014 semester due to safety and security concerns. We have one student who is impacted by this decision,” said Rachel Pugh, Georgetown’s director of media relations.

“We will evaluate the safety and security situation on a regular basis for future considerations. We take our responsibility to keep students safe extremely seriously and the university will continue to monitor the risk environment in all countries,” Pugh said.

“We are working with the student and the student’s academic dean to accommodate the student with alternative arrangements for the fall 2014 semester,” she said. The decision does not affect faculty and graduate students intending to travel to Israel.

Georgetown has not suspended programs slated for 2015 and is still accepting applicants for study in Israel programs scheduled for spring of next year.

Like Georgetown, George Washington University “is not approving study abroad in Israel or the West Bank for the fall semester of 2014,” according to a statement from Donna Scarboro, associate provost for international programs. She attributed the decision to “ongoing hostilities in the area.”

George Mason University ended its summer program early this year, but has not canceled any students’ programs this fall.

“We have a student exchange program with the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), and it is moving forward in the fall,” said Yehuda Lukacs, director of the Center for Global Education at George Mason University. He said that one student is attending the IDC this fall, and George Mason will continue this plan.

As for the summer program that was cut short, George Mason had 16 students living and working as interns in six cities in Israel and the West Bank before Operation Protective Edge began.

“The war began about halfway through the two-month study-abroad program. Given the uncertainty of the escalating situation at the time and a concern for safety and security while providing appropriate oversight with students spread across six cities, the university decided to [send] the students home early,” said Gregory Seiler, program officer for international internships with the Center for Global Education at George Mason.

The Northern Virginia university is in the midst of planning its graduate program in Israel in January 2015. A final decision about the fate of the program is expected in the coming weeks.

Not all area schools have made changes.

American University and Marymount University both have students who will be in Israel and other countries in the Middle East this fall. Mary Clark, A.U.’s interim dean of academic affairs said, “We have been monitoring closely the security situation in Israel and we have decided to go forward with programs. We will not be prohibiting any students from going on programs in Israel and other countries in the Middle East.

AU student Aaron Stein, right, and former AU student Jake Gillis pose for a snapshot during the semester at Hebrew University.
AU student Aaron Stein, right, and former AU student Jake Gillis pose for a snapshot during the semester at Hebrew University.

“Our students who are enrolled in these programs are attending well-regarded universities that have their own security measures,” Clark said. Along with being in touch with the schools and trusting their security protocols, she said the university is up to date with U.S. State Department announcements.

American University has given students the option of deferring the program for another semester or changing where they would study. “We found most students have moved forward with plans to go to Israel in the fall,” Clark said. Only one student opted to defer and another changed programs.

American University Hillel’s executive director, Jason Benkendorf, said that both the university and his agency have been in touch with students studying in Israel to support any decisions they made.

Marymount University in Arlington is continuing to plan for forensic and legal psychology graduate students to go to Israel in January 2015, according to Victor Betancourt, executive director for the university’s Center for Global Education. The program is based on students visiting cities in Israel and seeing “first-hand the problems and possibilities for healing in Israel and the West Bank today,” he said.

The program includes visiting a refugee camp and a Bedouin community, as well as   discussions with people with differing points of view from the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths.

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