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Studying in the Middle East

We are aware that news coverage of the Middle East frequently portrays Israel as a dangerous place to visit or live. Because prominent coverage is often given to the U.S. State Department’s travel warnings and advisories for the region, many people are genuinely discouraged from coming here, and that is unfortunate. Television and internet media frequently show pictures of soldiers and rock-throwing demonstrators, shootings and bombings, or social unrest in ways that give the inaccurate impression that such violence is countrywide, all the time.

In over 60 years of experience in Israel, we at JUC have found consistently that such news coverage does not match the routine and safe daily experiences of JUC students and staff on campus in Jerusalem or throughout Israel, the Palestinian Territories, and Jordan.

To better understand the true nature of safety in Israel and at Jerusalem University College, please consider the following:

  • During semester orientation we introduce our students to the special distinctives of the region and instruct them in how to avoid potentially troublesome situations. We stress cultural sensitivity, pointing out personal behavior and areas that students should avoid, and we clearly explain our rationale for such advice. In doing so, we equip our students to live safely in Jerusalem from the very beginning of their program.
  • Our field trip itineraries are designed to avoid areas of potential trouble. The areas that are most prone to violence are precisely the areas that are not visited by our students. We closely monitor the situation on the ground, and we can make adjustments to our trips due to safety concerns if necessary, even at a moment’s notice.
  • We use private bus transportation for our field studies. Such transportation is not, and never has been, a target for terrorist activity.
  • JUC maintains a secure campus on a quiet corner of Mount Zion that is fenced and gated.
  • The JUC president and other permanent members of staff live on campus, share the security realities of our students’ lives, and are in constant contact and conversation with our students.
  • Jerusalem University College has established a Risk Protocol that includes emergency actions and an evacuation plan. The school’s risk management team reevaluates this protocol and makes adjustments to it as needed.
  • When necessary, warnings and restrictions on travel can be sent quickly to students via social media, personal email, SMS, or over a phone call. They are also posted on campus, advising students of the situation and counseling their proper response.
  • Although Israel is a small country, events here are very localized. Disruption in one part of a city or the country does not affect other parts, even areas that are quite close by. A news report may show a violent local scene, but what it doesn’t show is that at the very same time, the vast majority of people in town (and in the rest of the country) are simply going about their daily business as usual.
  • Virtually all Israeli coffee shops, restaurants, stores, malls, post offices and similar places of business have armed security guards and metal detection equipment at all entrances.
  • The U.S. State Department issues travel advisories and travel warnings for U.S. citizens traveling to various countries in the world, including the Middle East and Israel. Such advisories are issued for legal (liability) reasons and are aimed at keeping Americans out of specific, localized areas of potential conflict. Our own university guidelines and regulations are aimed at the same goal. We closely monitor the issuing of travel warnings and incorporate them into our Risk Protocol.
  • Contrary to impressions that may be gained from news reports, North Americans, Europeans, East Asians and virtually everyone else visiting the country are not targets for violence in Israel or in the Palestinian territories.
  • JUC instructors and staff have a 60-year track record of knowing how to judge past, current and developing events. We know the country very well. We will not take students into areas of potential trouble nor advise them to go to such areas on their own.

Practical Guidelines for Student Safety

It is important that JUC students be aware and use common sense when moving about Jerusalem or traveling in Israel and neighboring countries. Jerusalem is a city of over 850,000 people and, like any city of its size, has its share of urban problems, including crime. Specific safety precautions are part of student orientation at the beginning of every semester, including all the details below and many more. JUC staff will give regular safety reminders and updates throughout the semester as needed.

As you prepare to live in Jerusalem, here are some guidelines to help ensure student safety in the city:

  • If you look lost, know that you also look vulnerable. Never accept “tours” or other offers to show you where you want to go from someone that you don’t know. The city is filled with friendly people. While some actually are friendly, others are simply trying to take advantage of you.
  • Be conscious of your personal belongings when out in the city. Pickpockets can be fast and efficient, and they often pose as innocent-looking children.
  • Student use of public busses and the light rail are generally very safe, but they may be restricted during times of unrest in Israel.
  • We recommend that students do not leave campus alone, especially at night. There is safety in numbers.
  • Because traditional Arab society takes great stock in the rights and ability of an older brother to protect the honor of his sister, our female students may want to go with one of our male students if walking in the Old City or similar areas.
  • Almost everything you would want to visit in the city is within walking distance of our campus. Taxis are plentiful and inexpensive if shared with a friend. Although it is common for Israelis to sit in the front seat of a taxi, we strongly recommend that you sit in the back seat, especially if you are a woman traveling alone.
  • Use common sense when you are out and about. Stay out of deserted alleys and dark places, especially in the Old City after dark. Know who is around you at all times, and keep your distance when passing others, especially in solitary places.
  • It is a brutal fact of life in the Middle East that the way that you are dressed will dictate how you will be treated. What may be politically correct in America (i.e., “if someone doesn’t like how I dress, that’s their problem, not mine”) isn’t correct here. See Behavior Guidelines.
  • Female students should not accept the offer of an Old City shopkeeper to go into the back room or upstairs room of his shop, out of public view. If the shopkeeper says he has something special to show you in the back of his shop, insist that he bring it out to the front of the shop.
  • Women should avoid young men or boys who wish to strike up a conversation on the street; some of them may simply be looking for an excuse to get close enough to touch you inappropriately.