John Hart
BYU Jerusalem Center
Jerusalem is likely to be among the safest areas in the Middle East if there are retaliatory actions against Israel, and the safest area is East Jerusalem where the Center is located. —BYU update

Eric Moulton, Ellen Brotherson and 80 other students studying at BYU's Jerusalem Center hurried to bomb shelters Friday evening after Hamas fired a missile in the direction of Jerusalem for the first time.

Students at the Center spent 15 minutes in a shelter there, while those who were in West Jerusalem at the time had to go to shelters in the city. Other students in another part of the city went to the U.S. Consulate's shelter.

All students, faculty and staff at the Center are safe after the missile strike occurred at around 5 p.m. Jerusalem time, according to security updates on the Center's website.

"They are safe. They are all accounted for," said Carri Jenkins, BYU spokeswoman. "They are leaving for Galilee on Monday and are still on the same academic schedule as the students here in Provo."

The missiles didn't reach the city but landed in fields several miles south of Bethlehem.

Brotherson sent a note to her family soon after the students left the shelters, indicating she and the others were safe, said her father Sean Brotherson.

"The program takes the safety of the students, faculty and staff most seriously," said Sean Brotherson, who spent a semester at the BYU Jerusalem Center himself in 1990, "and they have extensive protocols in place both to protect those participating in the program, as well as to remove them from any dangerous circumstances that may emerge in the region.

"The program operates on a real-time basis ... so that if any particular security concerns emerge, they remain aware of those, they monitor those and they adjust their plans if needed, to err on the side of well-being and safety," he said. "As a parent that gives me great reassurance."

In a post on Facebook, one of the students studying at the Center, Moulton, gave this context to family and friends, lending to the safety of the Center's location: "The Jerusalem Center is located smack dab in the middle of an Arab neighborhood and less than a kilometer away from the Dome of the Rock — the second most holy site in Islam."

"Jerusalem is a holy city. It's an untouchable city in the sense that, in these types of conflicts, it's a site that is holy for Muslims as well as Jews and Chrisitians," Josh Gubler, an assistant professor of political science at BYU, said. "Having the Center there makes it a nice location in that regard."

The massive political shift in the Middle East over the last few years has emboldened Hamas, Gubler said. When Hamas won elections in 2006 is when the conflict began; however, Wednesday's missile strike and assassination of the top Hamas military commander Ahmed Jabari by Israel truly is "when the escalation really (happened)," Gubler said.

This is the first time in 40 years that Jerusalem has been a direct target for rockets, which makes the strike even more unprecedented, he said. "That dynamic captures the feel of this conflict," he said.

During the 1967 war when Israel and Jordan fought over control of Jerusalem, rockets were never aimed at the city, but flew in as the two sides battled, Gubler said.

BYU made it clear in the security update that Jerusalem is one of the safest places in the area, to give even more piece of mind regarding the students and their potential safety.

"Jerusalem is likely to be among the safest areas in the Middle East if there are retaliatory actions against Israel, and the safest area is East Jerusalem where the Center is located," read the update. "No Muslim country or group is going to endanger the Dome of the Rock or Al Asqa mosques, the Old City or the Arab neighborhoods in the vicinity of the Old City."

Throughout all the turmoil the missiles have created in the Middle East among those involved and directly affected, much of what has gone on in Jerusalem has gone on with everyday normality.

"The streets of Jerusalem seem relatively normal. Some Palestinians in East Jerusalem have been particularly loud tonight with their celebrations and fireworks but Jews were at the West Wall welcoming in the Shabbat," Moulton said in his post. "We here at the (Jerusalem Center) have handled the situation in stride — going on with our plans and held our Jerusalem Center Prom."

East Jerusalem is off limits to students because of tensions with the Gaza conflict, but the rest of Jerusalem "seems as quiet and peaceful as ever," the update said.

Mandy Morgan is an enterprise intern for the Deseret News, reporting on values in the media. She is a true-blue Aggie, studying Journalism and Political Science at Utah State University, and hails from Highland, Utah.