GW administrators said they are checking in with GW students overseas and closely monitoring State Department advisories for Americans abroad, after violence erupted in the Middle East last week.
Seventeen sailors and officers were killed in a bombing of the American destroyer U.S.S. Cole while the ship was refueling in Aden, Yemen, on Oct. 12, in what President Bill Clinton said appears to be a terrorist attack, according to The Washington Post. American embassies in Damascus, Syria, and Brussels, Belgium, have also been recent targets of violent anti-American demonstrations, according to a Worldwide Caution released by the State Department Oct. 12.
Also, violence broke out last week between Palestinians and Israelis in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, resulting in 89 deaths.
Out of 186 GW students studying abroad this semester, 10 are studying in the Middle East. Most of them are studying in Israel, said LaTasha Malone, an adviser in the Study Abroad Office,
For the students that are currently in (the Middle East), they are probably more aware of what’s going on over there than we are, Malone said.
Students studying abroad may leave their programs but the University cannot order anyone home because none of the programs in the Middle East are affiliated with GW, Malone said. GW must comply with State Department requirements when advising students, she said.
U.S. citizens are urged to maintain a high level of vigilance and to take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness to reduce their vulnerability, according the Oct. 12 State Department caution. Americans should maintain a low profile, vary routes and times for all required travel and treat mail form unfamiliar sources as suspicious.
Gayler Adler, who graduated from GW in May after studying anthropology and Judaic studies, is now in Israel participating in Project Otzma. She and 81 other Americans live in Ibim, a center for Russian immigrants in southern Israel located about 15 minutes from the Gaza Strip. Adler said she can hear the helicopters that carry soldiers flying over the town constantly.
Am I scared? she asked in an e-mail. Personally, I have not feared for my own safety as of yet. A lot of people are scared, but I have studied here before and I know things are usually not as horrible as they sound in the media. I also have lots of friends from GW . here. They all seem to feel similar, but I think everyone shared the feeling of helplessness. That we can do nothing but sit and watching and this is frustrating for us all.
Adler and the other American students with whom she is staying registered with the U.S embassy in Tel Aviv in case of an emergency evacuation, she said.
We hear the news bits – from the little we can translate – and the rumors fly, she wrote. I won’t lie and tell you things here in Otzma are as usual. We are all trying to carry on life as usual, but it is definitely getting to me and quite understandably morale is at times low and tensions high. The truth is that the issue is not simple at all and I can only guess at understanding it. Things are not as black and white as they seem, for sure.
GW’s Study Abroad Office is trying to contact students via e-mail to find out where they are staying and if they are safe, Malone said.
Our role would be to facilitate the communication between the program and the students and the program and the parents, Malone said. They’re still our students and we want to make sure the parents know what’s going on.
Junior David Deckelbaum has traveled to Israel six times and said his friends who are studying at Hebrew University in Jerusalem said they feel safe.
I think a lot of the students that are there right now want to stay, he said. I think they think by even leaving, that’s the wrong thing to do.
Deckelbaum has about six American friends in Jerusalem, including one GW friend whom he e-mails weekly.
I spoke to a lot of my friends and it’s the same sentiment – they belong there and they don’t need to leave, he said. They don’t have a feeling of fear. They’re more alert. They’ve been told they can go home if they like but I think they’re also given a sense of security.
GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg said he felt confident students who are abroad are safe.
Ultimately, they are on the ground there and they know more . than we do, he said. They know what the circumstances are and if they feel threatened. The decision to stay or come home is a personal one that they’ve got to make with parents using the best information they can get there, as well as State Department advisories.
Trachtenberg cautioned that the GW community should not overreact about the potential of danger.
I think it’s important to keep the thing in perspective and not get overheated about it, he said. I think it’s a question of being calm and making a reasoned and informed judgement. Trouble can find you in Brussels and trouble can find you in Brooklyn.