This blog has caused quite a ruckus during the past week. At this point, I’m a little hesitant to update it at all because of the level of censorship that I feel I now have to maintain, but I’d rather write a modified blog than none at all.
Basically, my post about my visit to Ramallah ended up incriminating me and my friends, much to my surprise. Somebody (who I believe subscribes to my blog) read the post and immediately forwarded it to the University of California Education Abroad Program, who then contacted Hebrew University. Literally the day after I posted it, I received a call from one of my friends who had also visited Ramallah with me, who told me to come to Yoni’s office as soon as possible. He had also been asked to contact everyone else listed in that post. I had a midterm at 12:30 PM, but had no choice but to meet with Yoni at noon that day.
I didn’t understand why I was in trouble- I assume that I’m allowed to write what I wish, and had no idea how Hebrew University got ahold of this blog. I thought that we were going to get another security talk about how we need to be careful in the West Bank. Instead, Yoni sat us down, with a printed and highlighted copy of my Ramallah post on his desk, and informed us that EAP completely forbids all of its students from visiting the West Bank altogether. I honestly had absolutely no idea, which I know sounds ridiculous, but is the truth. We had never been told outrightly not to visit that area. Never. Yoni had given us a security briefing within our first few days in Israel, but he’s our advisor for Hebrew University, not for EAP. Hebrew U has completely different guidelines than EAP does on this subject- they only “recommend” that students avoid the West Bank and urge caution during visits. It’s not illegal to do so, so they can’t prohibit it. Visits to Ramallah and Bethlehem are pretty common amongst students here.
We visited Ramallah during our first weekend here, which was also before we had a chance to meet with our EAP advisor, Jonathan. (This ended up being a major point which helped get us off the hook.) Even so, when we did meet with Jonathan a week or two later, he never explicitly told us to avoid the West Bank, either- only to “read the guidelines,” which he gave us a link to online. The “guidelines” consist of a 30 page PDF file. The West Bank restrictions are listed on page 19. Jonathan reviewed the information regarding insurance and grades- Yoni even stated that they chose to review the insurance information for the sole reason that they realize that students usually do not actually read the guidelines- but nothing was said about the fact that a popular trip to the West Bank can get you kicked out of the program.
So, I obviously didn’t read them before or after the EAP orientation, which was my mistake, but given my situation, not too shocking. Before the orientation, I was being evacuated from Egypt, living out of a suitcase in Barcelona, and frantically trying to complete paperwork for Hebrew University. All of the evacuees basically had to piece their lives back together. It’s not a surprise that I didn’t take the time to meticulously read through 30 pages of rules, most of which were identical to those stated by EAP Egypt and Hebrew University. I had no idea that the two programs differed so greatly on this one point. This eventually resulted in the visit to Ramallah, as well as my blog post about it last week. I’d also like to point out the fact that if I had known that visits to the West Bank were banned, there’s no way that I would have blogged about it so openly. I knew that my EAP advisor at UCSB had the link to this site, and I have no idea of knowing who’s reading this- it’s not the greatest blog in the world, so I assume it’s mostly friends and family, but who knows?
Long story short, Yoni supported us during this whole fiasco, and laid out the situation for the EAP directors. He told us that we were at risk of being kicked out of the EAP Israel program altogether, and at this point it was just a matter of proving that our situation warranted an exception. I wrote a letter of apology to EAP basically stating that I meant no disrespect towards the security regulations (which I understand are in place for our own good), that this was an honest mistake, and that I appreciate all that they’ve done to accommodate us at Hebrew University. My opinion of the complete ban on visits to the West Bank is an entirely different story, but I’m going to chose to not write about that here. I do understand that EAP Israel was only re-started last year after its suspension following the Second Intifada, and that the West Bank ban was probably a stipulation to get the program re-started. Regardless, I still don’t really understand why the regulations weren’t made clear. Is there any legitimate reason why this wasn’t stated explicitly?
The whole situation was basically up in the air for a few days. EAP didn’t immediately provide a response in the midst of dealing with the Jerusalem bus center bombing. I removed my Ramallah post in the meantime, while the ‘view count’ on my blog spiked. Last night, I finally received an e-mail from EAP which basically consisted of an image scan of an official UCSB letter, stating that I will be allowed to stay in the Israel program “at this time” and that this warning will be added to my EAP file. We were off the hook this time, albeit after a good amount of convincing. Throughout this whole dilemma, I mostly felt bad for Yoni- he’s ridiculously busy to begin with as a professor and academic director, not to mention the fact that he was dealing with the bombing simultaneously. This was the last thing that he needed on his plate.
So, life goes on in Israel. I’ll keep blogging, albeit at a slightly more censored level. I’ve re-posted my account of Ramallah- I have nothing to hide, but there will be no more posts about (…or visits to) the West Bank. No more names will be included in posts. And for future reference, if there are issues with what I’m writing, please contact me directly. I’d like to assume that my blog readers are here to share my experience with me, not to use my content in malicious ways. I’m not writing with an agenda, and I hope that nobody is reading with one. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.