The war in Gaza is prematurely ending an archaeological dig for 19 Penn State students.
After rockets fired from the Gaza Strip landed near Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport on Tuesday, the U.S. government prohibited American carriers from flying into or out of Israel. That prohibition led Penn State University to order the evacuation from the country of 19 students there for an archaeological dig.
The students were to travel 150 miles by bus to Jordan today, and “catch the next available international flights” back to the United States, according to Lisa Powers, a university spokeswoman.
In total, 27 Penn State-affiliated people were in the country for the dig, led by professor Ann E. Killebrew. They were working in a town called Acre, almost 70 miles north of Tel Aviv. The program began June 27 and was scheduled to end Friday.
“Waiting until Friday could mean that they will have to stay put if other means of transportation are also halted,” said Ms. Powers in an email, emphasizing that the students were not in a dangerous area. “This is a precautionary measure.”
Erin Haney, who will be a sophomore at Penn State next year, is one of the students.
“She doesn’t want to come home. Right where they are, they don’t have any safety concerns,” said her mother, Angela Haney of Blue Bell, Montgomery County. “Where they are, they have been perfectly safe.”
Another parent, who asked not to be named, said her son planned to travel around Israel until early August, but that Penn State had barred him from traveling south, and that now he was being evacuated altogether.
Penn State’s precautionary evacuation, along with the U.S. flight ban, is viewed as an overreaction by some. In a statement, Israeli transportation minister Yisrael Katz said the flight ban would “hand terror a prize,” and called on the Federal Aviation Administration to lift the ban.
Gregg Roman, community relations director for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, called Ben Gurion Airport “the most secure and safe airport in the world.” Mr. Roman, who served in the Israeli government for five years, did not think the evacuation of the Penn State students was necessary.
“There is no evacuation plan at all” for Federation-sponsored trips, he said.
Bogdan Bucur, a Duquesne University theology professor is currently in Israel for a conference and had planned to leave today. Due to the FAA prohibition, he is currently staying in Jerusalem and will return to the United States on the Israeli airline El Al next week, according to a spokeswoman for the university.
Carnegie Mellon and University of Pittsburgh officials said that no students or faculty are currently in Israel on university-sponsored trips.
Matt Nussbaum, firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1504 or on Twitter @MatthewNussbaum.