Gaza war prematurely ends trip for Penn State students

After rockets land near airport, school orders evacuation

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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, mnuss­baum@post-ga­, 412-263-1504 or on Twit­ter @Mat­thewNuss­baum.

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