Violence abroad hits home

Students studying abroad or with family in Israel or Palestine are uniquely affected by recent fighting.

by Emma Nelson

Every morning, Ahmed Musallam wakes up and checks Palestinian news sources to see if the list of casualties in his native Gaza includes any family or friends.

As the only member of his family living outside the region, Musallam, a sophomore at Augsburg College, worries their names will one day appear.

“Living in war, living under siege, it’s been kind of the norm for them,” he said. “When I talk to them, they’re like, ‘Everything is fine, nothing is happening.’ … But I know what really is happening.”

Musallam, like other students in the U.S. with close ties to the Israel-Palestine region, has experienced the heightened conflict of the past two weeks in a uniquely painful way.

Overseas, American students have been staying in touch with learning abroad authorities since the conflict heated up.

Rocket attacks between Israel and Hamas — the Islamic Resistance Movement considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. — have occurred regularly in recent years.

But the conflict escalated Nov. 14 when Israel began an air campaign against Hamas targets, killing Ahmad Jabari, the head of Hamas’ military wing. Following negotiations in Cairo, a cease-fire was declared a week later.

Students overseas

The University of Minnesota has three students studying abroad in Israel this semester. Two faculty members are also in the area for academic purposes.

The University and other institutions with study abroad programs typically have emergency protocols for times like these and have been in contact with students studying in the Middle East.

The University’s Global Programs and Strategy Alliance issued a statement as the conflict heightened, saying the University was in regular contact with students and faculty members in the area.

The University’s Learning Abroad Center offers a variety of programs in the Middle East, including two in Israel, but doesn’t offer any programs in Palestine.

Israeli and Palestinian students on campus received emails from the University reminding them to take advantage of student services and to also seek out camaraderie from student groups, said Jennifer Schulz, communications director for GPSA.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison has three students studying abroad in Jordan and two in Israel this semester, said Dan Gold, director of International Academic Programs for the school.

He said the university has maintained “very close contact” with these students and is also monitoring information from the U.S. Department of State, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other government agencies.

Matt Chodosh, a University of Minnesota senior currently studying abroad in Israel, said the University immediately asked if he wanted to return to the U.S. Chodosh, an accounting major, said his travelers’ insurance provider offered to move him to a different country.

“I didn’t think I would have to leave,” said Chodosh, who is working on a kibbutz, or commune, about 40 minutes from Tel Aviv. “When I started to really get things from the [University] … I was a little worried, depending on how the situation escalated further.”

Chodosh said he feels safe in Israel and traveled to Tel Aviv after the Nov. 21 cease-fire.

The city had been the target of rocket fire earlier in the week and experienced a bus bombing on the day of the cease-fire, injuring 27 people.

‘Things we take for granted’

For students with family and friends living at the center of the conflict, the past few weeks have been difficult.

Ariel Biel, who graduated from the University in May 2011 and lived in Israel last year, said she’s been worried about friends and family living there.

“Over the past two weeks, I’ve been more vigilant about being in touch because I’ve been so worried,” she said.

Biel said she has family living in Netanya — a city in northern Israel — some of whom are currently serving in the Israeli army, as all Israeli citizens are required to do.

“One of my cousins who’s in the army, he’s stationed on the Gaza border, so if they had staged a ground operation, he would have probably had to go in,” she said. “And that’s terrifying.”

Ilan Sinelnikov, who was born in Israel and grew up near Tel Aviv, led a protest by Students Supporting Israel outside Coffman Union on Tuesday.

Sinelnikov, a kinesiology sophomore, said his aunt, uncle and their two young sons were evacuated from Ashdod in southern Israel after their apartment building was hit by a rocket.

He said one of his high school friends, who is serving in the Israeli army, was wounded by a rocket and spent a few days in the hospital.

“It’s raining rockets,” Sinelnikov said.

Allysha Salyani, vice president of Students for Justice in Palestine, said though she does not have family members living in the Middle East, she has several friends who do.

“It’s just a huge, huge influence on them,” she said. “There’s always that feeling in their hearts and in their minds — ‘Is my family okay?’”


—The Associated Press
contributed to this report.