Two University of California students were withdrawn from the Education Abroad Program in Egypt earlier this week for their involvement in the Church of the Nativity siege, though they are still able to appeal the decision.
One hundred thirty Palestinians held the church for 39 days starting in late April and emerging on May 12. UC spokesperson Hanan Eisenman said that the students did enter the church, but he could not explain the details for privacy reasons.
One of the students, Nathan Zaidi, is being held in an Israeli prison but is refusing deportation as a sign of protest, according to an official from the U.S State Dept.’s Bureau of Consular Affairs. The official could not confirm whether the other UC student is in the prison, but said that five Americans are being held in connection with the protest.
The Americans can leave at any time if they sign an expulsion form saying they will not return to Israel. The Israeli government wants them to leave, but they are “not cooperating” by abstaining from signing the form, the official said.
The UC withdrew the two students from the EAP program because they broke the safety agreements with the program by entering an area threatening to their safety, Eisenman said. The UC pulled its Israel program in April and has declared it off-limits for students involved in a UC program.
The students can continue their education at the American University in Cairo independently if they choose, Eisenman said.
Many UC Education Abroad Programs set up areas that are considered off-limits to students such as in India where EAP students are restricted from entering Kashmir.
“The University told all our students not to go there – it is a ‘no-go’ zone,” he said. “We have very practical steps. Students were informed of those steps, that this is ‘no-go’ zone, and they went anyway.”
Eisenman said the University bases its safety guidelines for the Education Abroad programs on the State Dept.’s travel warnings. As of Tuesday, the State Dept. reported that potential for further terrorist actions against U.S. citizens abroad still exists in all parts of the Middle East and that “increased security at official U.S. facilities may lead terrorists and their sympathizers to seek softer targets.”