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Palestinian and Israeli scientists unite to help the region

Posted By Karin Kloosterman On January 6, 2009 @ 12:35 pm In | No Comments

The team of Palestinian, Israeli and American scientists at the BSF-funded workshop on water, which took place recently at Haifa University.Israelis and Americans have been longtime friends and partners in scientific research. It’s pretty much a given, that a newly awarded young doctorate will head to America to cut his or her teeth in a research fellowship, before launching a career in medicine, biology, or biotech.

Hoping to broaden the scientific horizons for Palestinian scientists too, despite the current war with Gaza, is a new science workshop that connects Israelis to their Palestinian neighbors, with a bigger purpose. It’s a humanitarian effort, proposed by the US-Israel Binational Science Foundation (BSF), the organization which last year awarded $15 million in research grants to joint projects in science between Israelis and Americans.

“These are not supposed to be conventional workshops where people talk about advances in science in their specialty,” says Yair Rotstein, the executive director of the BSF. “We designed them around a topic of regional importance.”

Water under the bridge

And what could be more important than water in a region where water is a limited resource? The first BSF-funded workshop took place recently in Haifa, where about 20 researchers, Palestinians, Israeli Arabs, Israeli Jews, and Americans — tackled the problem of water scarcity and discussed new science that could address the growing lack of water in Israel, and the Middle East in general.

For four days in Haifa, the scientists met and discussed ways they could apply chemistry and their know-how to create a new solution for a joint research grant. Travel permits for the Palestinians were arranged by the BSF-appointed organizer, Uri Zoller, professor of chemistry, from the University of Haifa.

Since meeting, the scientists have drafted a proposal for funding from an international aid agency, Rotstein, who was at the workshop, is happy to report. The crisis with Gaza has not affected progress. “These are the first ever workshops of this kind,” he says. “It’s part of the general tendency to get people closer together to work in science.”

Since Palestinian scientists are not eligible for grant money through the BSF, he says, the organization is giving them the know-how and Israeli partners instead, so that together they can co-apply for research grants to other agencies, such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

“It’s not just for science in general. We are aiming that the people will sit together and start to talk and prepare proposals for jointly submitted proposals on one of these [workshop] topics,” Rotstein tells ISRAEL21c.

Tackling medical problems in Palestinian populations, together

Next up is a workshop in April, to deal with genetic diseases in the Palestinian communities, a problem given the high rate of intermarriage among Arabs in the region.

So far two additional proposals for workshops between the Palestinian and Israeli researchers are in the works, but there is no word yet if they will be funded, or what the topics will be. The estimated cost is about $50,000 per workshop.

Proposals will be evaluated on the basis of their scientific excellence, as well as on their broader significance. These workshops will focus on areas such as the environment, ecology, water, alternative sustainable energy, genetic diseases and infectious diseases.

What did he think of the last workshop? “It was very interesting, because the science is interesting for me,” says Rotstein. And of course, the chance to get to meet Palestinians scientists, people with whom he rarely networks, was also significant.

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