All Israelis – Jews and Arabs – should have applauded the news that a sixth medical school is going to be opened – Ariel University in Samaria. It joins the ranks of the medical schools of Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University, the Technion, Ben-Gurion University and Bar-Ilan University.
The existing medical schools accept about 750 students each year, while about 600 applicants, most of them highly qualified, are rejected and therefore study abroad at their parents’ expense, some not returning to Israel. Six out of 10 Israeli physicians have received their medical education abroad, a phenomenon unknown in any advanced country in the world.
The new medical school will allow another 100 Israeli students, Jews and Arabs, to pursue their medical studies in Israel – an important step for Israel’s talented students wanting to enter the medical profession.
What does it take to establish another medical school in Israel? An academic institution prepared academically and administratively to accept the challenge, and a great deal of money.
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Of the two universities in Israel that do not, at present, have a medical school – the University of Haifa and Ariel University – Ariel was eager to accept the challenge. It was Israel’s good fortune that two mega-donors to Israeli and Jewish causes, Sheldon and Miri Adelson, were prepared to provide very substantial financial support for a medical school at Ariel. Who could object?
To my surprise, I learned in Haaretz that there were objections. This minority of objectors at the Council of Higher Education, which voted to approve the medical school at Ariel, believed that all aspects of implementing the decision to launch the school had not been sufficiently examined, and that some questions remained unanswered.
After all, what’s the rush? Let the parents of Israeli students continue to pay for their children’s studies abroad while these issues are being examined.
And what else needs to be examined? A committee of highly reputed medical professionals headed by Prof. Arnon Afek, the associate director of Sheba Medical Center, examined in detail Ariel University’s plans for establishing a medical school and gave its approval.
And no less important, financial support to launch the school was being made available by the Adelsons. The plan had the backing of Education Minister Naftali Benett and Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman. Prof. Shai Ashkenazi of Schneider Children’s Medical Center will head the new school. Why not move full speed ahead? That was the decision of the Council of Higher Education.
Possibly some of the objections are based on the new school’s location beyond the 1949 armistice lines with Jordan, an armistice concluded after Jordan’s aggression against Israel in May 1948 and the occupation by the Jordanian army of Judea and Samaria. Such objections were raised over the years while the university was still a college, and at the time it was upgraded to a university by the Council of Higher Education when Gideon Sa’ar was education minister in the previous Netanyahu government.
Actually, the students who will be pursuing their medical education at Ariel University won’t be the only beneficiaries of the program. Palestinians in Samaria will have access to the school’s clinical facilities; those needing health care will be able to obtain it close to home. The medical school at Ariel should be able to make a substantial contribution to relations between Israelis and Palestinians. That should be seen as a positive development regardless of your political point of view.
Moshe Arens is the outgoing chairman of Ariel University in Samaria.