Update | Friday, October 13: The BYU Jerusalem Center released the following statement: The Jerusalem Center Fall 2023 Program is currently relocating to Greece. In addition to the 93 students and faculty, faculty families and service couples will also relocate to Greece.
Overlooking the Mount of Olives, the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies is described as “Brigham Young University’s home base for study in the Holy Land.” As violence escalates in Israel, the Center has posted regular security updates.
On Saturday, Hamas militants launched a coordinated surprise attack on Israel, but the fighting remained far from Jerusalem.
“The Jerusalem Center and surrounding area have never been threatened during these flare-ups however it is unclear whether the situation will escalate and affect Jerusalem,” the initial security update read.
A concert and field trip was canceled and the 93 students and other personnel were asked to stay at the Center.
“Jerusalem was tense Saturday night with a heavy security presence. There are reports of a few clashes between Palestinian youth and Israeli security forces. None occurred near the Jerusalem Center, which remains safe, secure, and peaceful for those living there,” an update read.
This sense of calm continued through Sunday with a largely empty city, as schools were canceled and most citizens remained indoors.
On Monday, the security update read, “Rocket attacks from militants in Gaza continue and sirens sounded in Jerusalem Monday afternoon. Everyone at the Center, including students, moved to the Center’s shelters for the short duration of the attack.”
It continued. “There have been some disturbances in Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem. However, areas around the Center and most of Jerusalem remain calm, but tense, with a heavy Israel security presence.”
“Students and others were at the Center all of Monday and have been asked to remain at the Center on Tuesday. Students were in classes much of Monday and will be in classes much of each day this week. Following classes, there are some student-organized activities and study time.”
“This afternoon the students, faculty and their spouses, and service couples met with the Center’s admin team for a full briefing on the situation. While we have tried to keep everyone at the Center well-informed, this was an opportunity to ask questions and express concerns. Academic plans for the coming weeks were also discussed.”
The Center ultimately acts as a satellite campus for the school and teaches a curriculum rooted in studies of the Holy Land, its history, and language. After some controversy, the Center opened in May of 1989.
As part of this spirit of cooperation, the Center has strict non-proselytizing rules. It’s guidelines read:
“The Center has made a firm commitment that no one associated with the Center, BYU, or Church will engage in Christian proselytizing activities while in the Holy Land. Students may not proselytize, directly or indirectly. Proselytizing is defined as any activity that could be construed as aimed at including, encouraging, or leading people in the country of Israel to investigate any religion for possible conversion. Such activities are strictly contrary to the desires of the government and people of Israel and to the commitments made by BYU, the Jerusalem Center, and the Church.”
It also has a rule that students are required to be in groups of at least three individuals when they are outside the Center.
The ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine can feel complicated as one strives to understand its history.
One of the key players of the recent attacks is Hamas, a paramilitary force which formed in the late 1980s with the goal of destroying Israel and taking over the region completely as a Palestinian state. They currently have tenuous governance over the Gaza Strip, one of two Palestinian territories. The other is the West Bank, led by the Palestinian Authority. Hamas and Israeli extremists have continued to undermine peace talks and perpetuate violence. Hamas launched their most recent terrorist campaign against Israel on October 7, leading Israel to declare a state of war.
So far, thousands of civilians have been injured, with nearly two thousand dead, and many more displaced. At least 11 United States citizens have been killed and more are unaccounted for.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a limited presence in Israel, with under 400 members and three branches.