HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Some U.S. colleges are pulling students from overseas study programs in Israel as the Gaza war rages, though the relative calm beyond the immediate battle areas is raising questions in some quarters about why they had to leave.
Colleges say security was the top concern, citing advisories about hazardous travel from the U.S. State Department and from insurance companies that cover students for health, accidents, security and even the cost of evacuation.
"On the one hand, we want to introduce students to the dimensions of conflict," said Yehuda Lukacs, director of the Center for Global Education at George Mason University in Virginia. "But this was too much because their safety and security were challenged."
It's not the first time colleges have withdrawn — at least temporarily — from overseas study programs because of conflict. Just recently, the University of Massachusetts Amherst suspended programs in war-torn Syria, and St. Lawrence University in New York called off its program in Kenya for fall, citing a State Department travel advisory. But the United States' close ties with Israel, along with the distance of many of the programs from the central areas of conflict, are leaving colleges far from unified.
Suhaib Khan, a George Mason senior who worked in Ramallah in the West Bank in a program helping to promote Palestinian businesses, said he was "incredibly disappointed" that he was forced to leave prematurely. He arrived June 6 and left July 9, about a month early.
"As an adult, I could have made my own decisions," said Khan, 21.
George Mason was one of at least seven schools nationwide to suspend a summer study program that operates in Israel or the West Bank. Others include Claremont McKenna College in California, UMass Amherst, the University of Iowa, Trinity College in Hartford, Michigan State and Penn State. Several universities in Europe also postponed summer programs. UMass Amherst and New York University have halted fall semester programs.
When Israel launched an air offensive against Hamas on July 8 in response to rockets fired into Israel and expanded its assault with ground troops 10 days later, officials at UMass Amherst were initially unfazed.
"We agreed that the program should go on even though rockets were flying," said Jack Ahern, vice provost for international programs.
But that soon changed when the Federal Aviation Administration told U.S. airlines July 22 they were temporarily banned from flying into Tel Aviv's airport after a rocket exploded nearby. That lent an air of unpredictability as to whether students could get out if needed.
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