Israeli universities delay start of academic year after attacks

Start of classes pushed back, with longer postponement probable, as reservist staff, academics and students called up

十月 9, 2023
Tanks in Gaza
Source: iStock

Israeli universities have delayed opening for the 2023-24 academic year by a week after hundreds of people were killed in militant attacks launched from the Gaza Strip.

The attacks began just after sunrise on 7 October, with more than 2,000 rockets launched from within Hamas-led Gaza. Militants attacked and occupied villages close to the border, as well as a music festival attended by thousands of people. Israeli jets subsequently launched retaliatory airstrikes on Gaza.

By 9 October local media reported that at least 700 Israelis had been killed and nearly 2,400 wounded since Hamas’ surprise incursion, while 560 Palestinians had been killed and more than 2,700 wounded.

In a statement, the Association of University Heads, which represents nine research universities, said the start of the academic year would be postponed from 15 October to 22 October.

“Many male and female students and faculty members were drafted into reserve service and we pray that they will return safely soon,” the universities said. The association said each university would publish further information, but most of their websites were offline at time of writing.

In a statement to Times Higher Education, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJI) said its leadership was meeting daily and that those who wished to were welcome to return to its Jerusalem campus for work before 22 October, although a site in the central city of Rehovot would remain closed for safety reasons.

“As the situation develops, our goal is to keep the community safe and to provide support as needed, while enabling vital research and teaching to continue where possible, in an atmosphere of calm and tolerance,” HUJI said, adding that some initiatives for international students and examinations were continuing as planned.

A number of academic conferences due to be held in the coming days have been cancelled, including one by the Israeli Society for RNA at the Weizmann Institute, local media reported.

“We extend our heartfelt gratitude to our friends and partners around the world who have demonstrated unwavering solidarity during these challenging times,” said HUJI in its statement.

“Our hearts extend to all those who have lost their beloved ones or have family members missing, as well as those who have endured injuries. Our deep concern goes out to those currently in captivity, and we fervently hope for their safe release,” the university added.

The violence around Gaza prompted a last-minute cancellation by Leon Botstein, the president of Bard College, of a trip to Israel for graduation ceremonies at Al-Quds Bard College, said Jonathan Becker, Bard’s vice-president for academic affairs. 

Professor Becker, who had planned to be on the trip with Professor Botstein, said Bard was also pulling out faculty from its main campus in New York state who happened to be visiting the campus in East Jerusalem. The campus’ regular teaching staff will continue to hold classes, although remotely for at least the coming week, he said. 

The Bard operation is affiliated with Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem, which is part of the Palestinian territory of the West Bank that along with Gaza has been militarily occupied by Israel since 1967. The West Bank campus has been in operation since 2008, and typically has about 300 undergraduate students, in liberal arts programmes, and 80 graduate students, mostly training to be teachers. 

“It’s not the first disruption we’ve faced,” Professor Becker said. Bard has run educational operations in several other parts of the world where it has seen a need, including Myanmar, Russia and Afghanistan. 

Meanwhile, Ilan Troen, a retired professor of Israel studies at Brandeis University, now living in Israel, told NPR that he lost his daughter and her husband in the attack by Palestinian forces.



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Reader's comments (1)

We all pray that things will settle down soon, and everyone - Palestini and Israeli alike - can settle down to important things like academic study instead of brawling like alley-cats.