Since the UC Education Abroad Program (EAP) in Israel was suspended in 2002, student attempts to study in Israel have been frustrated. But hopefully, this will soon be over.
John Marcum, the UC-wide director of EAP, explained that the suspension was the result of the U.S. State Dept. warning U.S. citizens against traveling to “Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.”
But on April 7, the travel warning was finally relaxed. The State Dept. now “urges U.S. citizens to carefully weigh the necessity of their travel to Israel.” Any student, like the six UCSB students currently studying in Israel, would do so prior to travel. The warning also advises “U.S. citizens to defer unnecessary travel to the West Bank and avoid all travel to Gaza.” This makes a distinction between Israel and the territories — instead of lumping them together as the previous warning had done.
The State Dept.’s policy change reflects two major developments: the progress to a different Middle East and a new way of thinking about the region.
Momentous events have occurred since the launch of the Palestinian intifada in 2000: the death of Yasser Arafat, the liberation of Iraq, the efforts by the post-Arafat Palestinian leadership to subdue terrorist organizations and fight corruption, and the construction of a critical security barrier. In March 2002 alone, 64 attacks — more than two per day — were carried out. That month, suicide bombers killed 109 Israelis and wounded 633. Since the completion of the fence in Gaza and in part of the West Bank, only two bombers have made it into Israel.
The region has a democratic momentum due in large part to the policies of the Bush administration. We have seen the first free elections in the Palestinian territories and Iraq, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak moving away from 20 years of dictatorship by allowing rival candidates to run, and the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, where hundreds of thousands flooded the streets demanding the withdrawal of Syrian troops and free elections.
The question is whether the Middle East is more like 1989 Berlin, as autocrats fell and rotting governments collapsed, or 1989 Beijing — where autocrats crushed democratic stirrings. More and more, the picture resembles the former. Newspapers and satellite television programs in the Arab world now speak of human rights and journalistic and intellectual freedom. The United Nations’ 3rd Arab Human Development Report — written by Arab social scientists — made clear that the status quo is no longer acceptable and pointed to the need for ending discrimination and establishing independent judiciaries, while criticizing extremists’ bloody calls for violence.
The case for restoring the EAP in Israel is overwhelming. The security situation in Israel is improved. The prospects for peace are becoming more real as disengagement from Gaza — the policy of Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip — enjoys the support of Europe, much of the Middle East and 70 percent of the Israeli public.
If the UC aims to be at the forefront of academic enrichment, why are we dragging our feet, soon to become one of the last universities in the world not to have a study abroad program in Israel?
The EAP and UC administrations should acknowledge the attempts for peace and reform in the Middle East, the strength of the U.S.-Israel relationship and the potential for a great exchange of culture, scholarship and students, and finally reinstate the Education Abroad Program in Israel.
Adam Tartakovsky is a junior political science and environmental studies major.