Some 11,500 students, among them 500 Arab and Druze Israelis, began the academic year Sunday at the Ariel University Center of Samaria, which is located in the West Bank, beyond the Green Line.
"I scored high on my psychometric exam and could have enrolled in Tel Aviv University and other institutions, but here the enrollment process was quicker. This was the first place that accepted me, so I decided to go for it," said 20-year-old Tayibe resident Manar Diuani, who is studying computer science.
A group of prominent Israeli artists recently caused a public uproar when they drafted a letter declaring their refusal to perform in Ariel's new cultural hall for political reasons.
Diuani, an Arab-Israeli, told Ynet the settlement issue does not concern her. "I separate studies from politics. I don’t think where I go to school will matter to anyone – only my grades and diploma will matter."
Another Arab student, who chose to remain anonymous, said, "We did not come here because of the ideology; we came here to get an education, and we don’t want to link this to politics."
Ariel University campus (Photo: AFP)
Asad, 25, from the Druze village Hurfish, was recently discharged from the IDF after serving as an officer in a secret unit. He rents a room at the university's dorms and is studying for a BA degree in civil engineering. "I didn’t take the psychometric exam, so the Technion (Israel Institute of Technology) was out of the question. Beersheba is too far, and as a family man I wanted to stay close by," said Asad, who is married with a daughter.
"Ariel is a large city that has existed for many years and will continue to exist without me. In this case, politics is pushed to the side," he told Ynet.
Joana Moussa, a 20-year-old behavioral sciences student from Abu Snan, an Arab village in the Galilee region, said politics does play a role. "All of the students in Ariel fear the day will come when they'll be told their diploma cannot be recognized because they studied in the territories. But as of today, our diploma is recognized everywhere.
"I am very pleased because the professors give us personal attention and there is no racism here. Perhaps in other places people would have commented on my name or ethnicity, but here I'm accepted for who I am," she said.
Some three years ago Ariel College was recognized as a "university center," a move that drew harsh criticism from leftist groups.
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