It's a marriage of convenience that defies the lines drawn in the Arab-Israeli conflict: More than 300 Arab students attend college in one of Israel's most controversial West Bank settlements. Enticed by a powerful combination of financial incentives and proximity, they say they're not troubled that their school, the College of Judea and Samaria, sprawls over land Palestinians claim for a future state.
True, some of the students, loath to get into a discussion of political allegiances, didn't want to discuss the seeming anomaly of an Arab student attending a settlement school. And a few parents have objected to their children studying in a Jewish settlement, said Rifat Sweidan, academic adviser to the college's Arab students. But pragmatism often triumphs over ideology, Sweidan said. "The students don't come because they love the place," he said. "They were accepted, and come to get their degrees." College policy prohibits political activity on campus, said marketing manager Einat Dayan. And students say that's the case in practice, too. Alaa Fakoury is a 25-year-old electrical engineering student from east Jerusalem, the sector of the city Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast War. A Palestinian, he carries an Israel-issued identity card, but is not an Israeli citizen.
"What interests me is not that it's in a settlement," Fakoury said. "It's a good college, and they treat me very well there. And from my point of view, it's the closest place that offers my major." At first, Fakoury said, it was hard for his parents to accept his choice. They were afraid he wouldn't be treated well at the school, but that fear proved unfounded, he said.
They were also afraid Palestinians would shoot and throw stones at his car, mistaking him for a settler. Some 9,000 people, including 7,500 full-time students, are enrolled at the college, which offers pre-academic preparatory courses, two-year associate's degrees and three-year bachelor's degrees. About 15 percent of the students are settlers, and the rest come from within Israel.
The college is a jumble of spartan, low-rise buildings. A commuter school, it offers one dormitory and dozens of trailers that house some 1,500 of its students, including about 100 Arabs. The majority of the Arab students come from Israeli Arab villages near Ariel, and 30 come from east Jerusalem, Sweidan said.
Word of mouth has been the overriding factor in the growing Arab population at the school, with many students coming in clusters from the same village. Degrees that yield immediate professions, such as health sciences and engineering, are in demand. Some Arab students said they enrolled because the college's admissions requirements were less demanding than other schools. Others said they came because the school is the only one to offer free first-year tuition to high-achievement students in some departments, reports the AP. N.U.