Cambridge Bars Arabic Language Students From West Bank Amid Fears of Israeli Airport Security

The decision regarding Arabic-language students by the British university comes after five were interrogated or deported by security officials at Ben-Gurion International Airport

File photo: Ben-Gurion International Airport in August, 2012.
File photo: Ben-Gurion International Airport in August, 2012. Michaelg2588, Wiki Commons

The University of Cambridge has barred its students of the Arabic language from studying in the Palestinian authorities as part of year-abroad programs, the London Evening Standard reported on its website Sunday.

The decision by the British university reportedly comes after five students from the university were interrogated or deported by Israeli security officials at Ben-Gurion International Airport during the 2016-2017 academic year. The students are required as part of their program to spend eight months in a place where Arabic is the primary language.

Ben-Gurion airport has a reputation as one of the world's most secure airports, including intensive security questioning and searches. A Reuters report recently called its protocol "a combination of high-tech and thinly disguised profiling."

"Due to the instability of many Middle Eastern states, the choices available to Arabic students are relatively limited, with the majority opting for Egypt or Jordan," the Evening Standard said. "The [Palestinian] territories are the first place to be taken off of the list of acceptable destinations since Syria erupted into civil war in 2011, ending a long-standing partnership with Damascus University."

Most of the university's students of Arabic have reportedly chosen to study at Birzeit University in the West Bank city of Ramallah, requiring them either to reach the Palestinian city via Ben-Gurion airport or a land border crossing from Jordan, where they also must be go through an Israeli security check.

"The interrogators screamed in my face, yelling things like 'F*** you' and 'This is my country,'" one 21-year-old student, Cleodie Rickard, told the Evening Standard. "They said they had unlocked my phone and spoken to all my friends and family, saying I'd been working as a volunteer in Palestine - none of which was true. It was so surreal." 

A spokesman for the University of Cambridge told the newspaper: "Whilst we do not ban independent travel to, or study in, the Palestinian territories, students cannot choose to spend their year abroad in the West Bank for the time being due to recent difficulties faced by students in securing visa renewals from the Israeli authorities. This is regrettable but our first duty is to ensure that students are able to complete their year abroad in an Arabic-speaking region before commencing their final year of study at the University of Cambridge." 

The Independent said it had requested comment from the Israeli embassy in London but apparently had not yet received a response.