Written by Maggie Samples // Photo provided by International Programs
Conflict broke out Oct. 7 after the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas attacked Israel, causing adjustments to be made to the Harding University in Greece (HUG) itinerary two days before their scheduled departure for Israel.
Hamas launched an attack on the Israel-Gaza border, leading to the death of around 1,400 and the injury of approximately 3,400 more, according to an article by Bill Hutchinson for ABC News. Hamas also took at least 199 people hostage, ranging from ages 9 months to 85 years old according to BBC News. Israel retaliated against the Gaza Strip, and their attacks have resulted in the deaths of around 3,000 Palestinian citizens and the injury of about 12,500. The bombings of the Gaza Strip have also left over 300,000 Palestinians displaced, according to Hutchinson.
The HUG group was scheduled to leave for Israel Oct. 9. After the events Oct. 7, the tour company the group was planning to travel with canceled the trip. Audra Pleasant, executive director of International Programs (IP), said the program constantly monitors the safety of all of its program locations.
“While we never hope to change plans mid-semester, we are always ready with a backup plan and work quickly as a team to adapt to new challenges,” Pleasant said.
Both Harding IP and the travel agency overseeing the HUG trip made the decision early Saturday morning. The HUG staff rearranged flight schedules and made arrangements for different travel plans the same day.
“Harding will continue to monitor the security of the region and adapt our plans as necessary throughout the course of this conflict,” Pleasant said.
Dr. Nathaniel Wiewora, associate professor of history and political science and director of the history graduate program, is the on-site faculty at HUG this semester. He said the student group and program directors have been flexible with the cancellation of the trip.
“After the conflict grew more widespread and information came out about the dangers facing civilians in Gaza and Israel, we were glad for our safety,” Wiewora said. “Our thoughts and prayers went out to the millions of people suffering in this conflict. It was an excellent opportunity for the group to feel more connected to the long history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and to learn about a complicated issue.”
Wiewora said he feels sorrow for the innocents suffering on both sides of the conflict. “It’s a major humanitarian crisis,” Wiewora said. “As a historian, I know this is a complicated conflict that has ancient and modern roots. It seems unsolvable, more so today than in recent memory. The Psalmist tells us to ‘pray for the peace of Jerusalem.’ I’ve prayed for that, and I hope that we can all pray for peace in the Middle East and act as peacemakers.”
HUG director Lacey Bortell said that after first hearing of the conflict, she hoped to just postpone the trip a few days but quickly realized the situation in Israel was worse than she originally thought. She commended the group for their flexibility in changing plans.
“There has been a clear spirit of thankfulness among [the students] as well — thankfulness for the freedom to make decisions about where in the world we choose to be, thankfulness that we hadn’t traveled to Israel days earlier and been in the middle of the conflict ourselves,” Bortell said.
Bortell expressed her sorrow and worries about the repercussions of the conflict.
“I am heartbroken for the people of Israel who are experiencing terror,” Bortell said. “I am so sad for the feeling of helplessness and fear that must be present among the families who have lost loved ones in such violent ways. I am sad for the many innocent Palestinians who have experienced and witnessed violence and oppression for decades, and I am concerned that they will likely experience severely limited freedoms as a result of the acts of Hamas.”