MSU to pull students studying in Israel as conflicts continues

Two days before comparative cultures and politics junior Nate Strauss arrived in Jerusalem  on July 2 for his month-long study abroad program, three Israeli teenagers' bodies were reportedly found after they had been kidnapped earlier in June.  

Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly vowed a harsh response to Hamas, a Palestinian Islamist group that the United States has labeled as terrorists, believed to be responsible for the killings.

Then the rocket fire began.

As of Wednesday, Hamas had launched more than 1,100 rockets into Israel, according to The New York Times. It was then that MSU's Office of Study Abroad officially decided to pull Strauss' study abroad program because of ongoing safety concerns, although only one person in Israel has been reported killed by the rockets.

But Strauss, undeterred by the potential threat of rocket fire, said media reports made the situation seem more dire than it was. 

Multiple media outlets have reported Jerusalem, where the students are staying, is out of the range of Hamas rockets. But as of press time, it appeared the conflict was escalating, based upon a number of news reports.

Strauss, along with other students and faculty in his group, wanted to stay in Israel despite the threat of missile attacks.

"I personally felt safe the whole time even with the rocket fire, only because I know that Israel has this program called the 'Iron Dome,'" Strauss said. "It's a defense system, which shoots a counter-missile at an incoming rocket and blows it up in the sky."

Although no official date has been set for a returning flight, Strauss said MSU is doing all it can to get the study abroad group out of the area safely. Strauss said there were talks of hiring a private transportation team to get the group to the nearest airport, 45 minutes away from Jerusalem.

"But our professor, Marc Bernstein, was fighting for us and advocating that it looks bad in the media but it's not as bad on the ground," Strauss said. "He said it's important for the Office of Study Abroad to make sure the decision they were going to make was based off what was happening on the ground and not online."

Director of the MSU Jewish Studies Program Ken Waltzer said while he opposed the decision to bring the students home, he is satisfied the group still will receive the best education they can under the circumstances. Waltzer said it is his responsibility to ensure the students obtain the eight credits they signed up for, whether it be through an online or in-person summer course on campus.

"They (the students) are missing out on an additional two weeks in Israel," he said. "(Other faculty members and I) thought the university was being overly cautious, the students were in Israel at Hebrew University at the Rothberg International School and it was very safe for them. All the security precautions were being taken and we made the case that they should stay."

MSU spokesman Jason Cody said as the unrest spread, MSU and its Risk and Security Assessment Committee monitored the situation closely and kept close communication with on-site faculty.

"Due to the escalating unrest, MSU has made the decision today (July 16) to abbreviate the current programs in Israel and bring our students and faculty home," Cody said in an email. "All students will have the opportunity to complete the academic portion of the program after they return home."

Cody said MSU is working with its insurance provider and calculating travel logistics, but expects students to leave the country within the next few days. Cody said there is not yet an estimated cost to the university of pulling the program from the area early.

"Our overriding principle right now is the safety of our students, faculty and staff; not cost," Cody said.

Cody said the programs in Israel will continue once the unrest has subsided.

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