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Jerusalem Center program won't be resumed in fall after all

PROVO — The same day Hezbollah fired a new rocket that reached deeper into Israel than previous strikes in the 18-day conflict, Brigham Young University announced Friday it would not resume student programs at its Jerusalem Center this fall.

Students had responded enthusiastically to BYU's June 9 announcement that after nearly six years the university would resume its study-abroad program at the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies.

The university planned a scaled-down program with 44 students this fall, a quarter of the center's capacity. BYU spokesman Michael Smart said 132 students applied.

The school was days from announcing which students were accepted to the program.

"They were supposed to let us know by the end of this week," said Abigail Bradshaw, a senior from Elkhart, Ind., who wa looking forward to going to Israel with her sister, Jayne.

Instead, BYU sent an e-mail to applicants early Friday announcing the program was closed down again until further notice.

"They told us they couldn't make any promises about opening it again in the future," Bradshaw said.

Jerusalem is far from the fighting, and BYU's center is not in any immediate danger. It remains open to visitors and continues to offer community outreach and service programs.

BYU's decision disappointed students but didn't surprise them, given the daily reports of missile attacks in Israel.

"I was really excited to apply, but I knew in the last two weeks that things had changed drastically," Jayne Bradshaw said. "I knew I was hoping against hope, but it's still hard to get your hopes up and all of a sudden find out you can't go."

Lauren Jesperson has been riding an emotional roller coaster with each wave of news about the center.

She was excited by the announcement the program would open in the fall, then crushed when she couldn't apply because she is a sophomore and applicants had to be juniors or seniors. She still looked for a silver lining.

"I thought having to wait would just give me a year to save up money," the 19-year-old Orem native said.

Friday's news was a fresh blow, but she remained positive.

"It's really disappointing. It's a such a great opportunity. I'm thinking about minoring in ancient Near Eastern studies and I wanted to go and immerse myself in the area. I hope in another year everything will be OK and I can go."

Jayne Bradshaw felt the same way. "Things change so fast there," she said. "They can go from hot to cold just as fast as they went from cold to hot. Hopefully the program will open again while I'm still a student."

Hezbollah guerrillas conducted a raid from Lebanon into northern Israel on July 12 and captured two Israeli soldiers. Israeli retaliated with air strikes and artillery attacks on alleged Hezbollah targets in Lebanon.

Israeli troops also crossed the border into Lebanon.

The Jerusalem Center is about 90 miles from Lebanon and about 65 miles south of the deepest rocket strikes into northern Israel. The new rockets reached 25 miles into Israel on Friday, striking Upper Nazareth, next to the historical town of Nazareth, which was the boyhood home of Jesus Christ, according to the Bible.

Despite the apparent distance, the violence was a problem for the study-abroad program, which is designed to include travel around much of Israel and to surrounding countries.

The center has housed at least 18 refugees, during the fighting, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who live lived in northern Israel, during the fighting. The LDS church owns and operates BYU.

BYU shut down the Jerusalem program in November 2000 because of clashes between Israelis and Palestinians in the streets of Jerusalem. BYU sequestered 174 students in the center for a month before sending them home.

BYU officials said they hope to resume the program in the future but declined to speculate when. A press release said no decision to return will be made until "students can safely travel to the area and within the Holy Land."

BYU's Smart said the university would return application materials and deposits to student who applied for the Jerusalem program.