On Sunday, Ariel University in Samaria inaugurated its new medical school. The result of years of effort by Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the new health department immediately aroused a flood of criticism from left-leaning Israelis who questioned the move to establish such a prestigious field of study in an institution located over the pre-1967 lines.
In a now-deleted tweet, the organization Peace Now alleged that Israeli Arabs are barred from enrolling in the university. "It is a school where the entrance and studies are for Jews only ... You already know why," tweeted the NGO.
Peace Now's accusations came after a number of senior university officials signed a petition in July condemning the decision to establish a medical school in what they said was "occupied territory".
The furor caught Ariel University's Israeli Arab students by surprise. Speaking with Arutz Sheva, the students talked of a welcoming academic environment, and denied that they had ever encountered any discrimination.
According to Tayibe resident and journalist Omar Rabiya, who is studying political science and Middle Eastern studies, the allegations that the institution hurts the Arab community are baseless.
"I am surprised by the things that are being said to Bennett. They are not true," Rabiya told Arutz Sheva. "I study at Ariel University and there are a lot of Arab students studying in various departments. All the Arab communities are represented, such as the Christians, Muslims, and the Druze. The statement that this is a university for Jews only is incorrect. There are hundreds of Arab students here."
"There are Israeli Arab students from all the regions of the Galilee and the Negev, Arab students in modest attire, and I have never encountered a case of racism here," continued Rabiya. "There is also an office for the Arab students, and there are wonderful people who help us if we need help in the exams."
A fellow Israeli Arab student, Hussein, wondered why "leftists who say they want to help us call for the university where so many Arabs study to be shut down". Hussein, who asked that his last name not be published for fear of blowback from his community, studies computer science. He said he would never have been accepted to any other university besides for Ariel, "but here I can pursue my goal of working in high-tech".
More than 1000 students are enrolled at the Samaria-based university, which has sustained that number since at least 2011. The Arab students make up roughly a fifth of the student body and the school has built a prayer room to accommodate its Muslim population.
Rabiya contends that the new medical school will give a major boost to his Israeli Arab brethren who are seeking to get ahead. "We in the Israeli-Arab sector are looking to work in service-oriented jobs such as accountants, lawyers, and doctors. I think there will be many Arab students in the medical school. The younger generation wants to learn and earn a living and also to contribute to Israeli society and we do not need to introduce politics into everything," he said.
"I would like to congratulate the university where I am studying with a Mazal Tov."