The largest Jewish community in Samaria, Ariel, has a population of 20,000 – but this number increased by about 50% Sunday as 12,000 students from all over Israel began their studies for the fall and winter term at the Ariel University Center (AUC). The university center is very well known for its engineering, communications, and architecture schools, among others.
Students were busy finding their classrooms, learning about their schedules and chatting with friends whom they had not seen for a while. The atmosphere was alive with excitement and expectation.
The majority of students at AUC are Jewish but there are also 600 Arab Muslim students enrolled. A third year Muslim student, Naka Sarsur, said that she is attending AUC largely because of how highly it was recommended to her by friends. She said that the teachers are all very helpful and the students are extremely friendly. She says that she relates to the Jewish students as people she likes and not on the basis of religion.
One wonders how anti-Israeli propgandists would spin these facts. If Judea and Samaria are under "Apartheid" regime, what are Arabs doing at a university populated largely by "settlers" in the heart of "disputed territory"?
Eldad Halachmi, Vice President of Resource Development at AUC, said that at the end of this school year AUC will have full university status, making it the eighth university in Israel. Colleges only provide undergraduate studies while universities focus on graduate degrees and research.
He said that since AUC already offers graduate degrees and has a number of research projects it will be easy for it to qualify as a university. He broke down the student population into 10,000 fulltime graduate and undergraduate students, 1,000 students in a special preparatory program to make up required prerequisites needed for various majors, and 1,000 students in a two year practical engineering course qualifying for certain types of employment.
He said that the university is famous for its programs to meet the needs of the students including physical needs. All students are required to take a certain number of courses on Jewish heritage, including Jewish History and Jewish Music, and a new Masters Degree in Jewish Heritage has been established.
A first year student, Shimon Levy, from Ma’ale Adumim is just starting a major in Criminology and Sociology. AUC was highly recommended to him. He said that he highly values the close connection that students have with the faculty and that the number of students in the classroom is much smaller than in other larger schools.
One would never guess that this university is situated on disputed land or that there is danger all around. There was no sense of fear or danger at all, but only a very pleasant and friendly atmosphere.