Israel study abroad programs unaffected by violence

Tal Axelrod, Reporter

Northwestern recently announced its new study abroad programs in Israel will begin in fall 2013. But after the renewed conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip, student safety for these future programs, or even existing trips through Fiedler Hillel, is at question.

The new options in Israel include an exchange program with Tel Aviv University, various courses in language, regional studies and special tracks with Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and Hebrew classes at Ben-Gurion University in Be’er-Sheva, according to an Oct. 24 University news release.

“We actually went through a pretty extensive process of reassessing the program risk,” said Greg Buchanan, program coordinator for International Program Development, in regards to the NU Study Abroad Office’s decision to officially take over the program. “And there was a very comprehensive review of (existing) Israel programs … and they decided at that point that it would go back to Northwestern to manage those programs instead of Hillel.”

But safety risks to students may now be much higher in light of renewed bloodshed between Israel and Hamas, the political party ruling over the Gaza Strip that is designated by the United States, the European Union and Israel as a terrorist organization.

“As far as I know, we have not addressed that at this moment,” Buchanan said. “The students would not be going until fall of 2013, so we can sort of wait on that.”

He added that Julie Friend, associate director of international safety and security in the Study Abroad Office, would most likely address the issue when she returns from a trip overseas. Friend has coordinated previous programs to Israel.

“I am not aware of any review at this point, but I’m sure that’s going to factor in at some point,” said Buchanan of security worries.

Six students are currently studying at the Hillel-run study abroad program at Tel Aviv University, and two students are at Hebrew University.

“We’re really following what’s happening to the extent that we can,” Hillel executive director Michael Simon said. “We’re trying to follow it as close as we can day to day.”

Simon said the University is communicating with students studying abroad to ensure their safety.

“First and foremost, (the students’) safety and well-being is paramount for us, just as it is on campus, and we want them to have the best information available to them,” he said.

Despite the violence, many students still feel safe studying abroad in Israel.

“I felt pretty safe coming here,” said Weinberg junior Natalie Bergner, who is currently studying at Hebrew University. “The school here has been very good about updating us about safety risks and safety procedures in terms of going to bomb shelters.”

Matthew Gliebe, also studying at Hebrew University, said the measures the school is taking make him feel safe.

“Where I live, there are armed guards at every entrance and it’s pretty safe,” the Weinberg junior said. “I’m not too concerned even in light of the recent conflict.”

However, other students feel differently. Weinberg junior Zachary Goldstein, who was studying at Tel Aviv University, decided to return to the U.S. after the violence erupted in Israel.

“The bus that exploded was about three minutes away from my apartment, and I figured the situation would only escalate from there, so I decided it was probably wise to leave Israel for a little while,” Goldstein said.

Following a ceasefire called for last Wednesday, hostilities in Israel have simmered down, and for now plans for NU’s study abroad programs there remain the same.