My summer at Hebrew University

Arab countries have much to gain from scientific collaboration with Israel.

Ahmed Moustafa, PhD, is a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience, Rutgers University, Newark, New Jersey.

In 2008, I was invited to spend a summer conducting neuroscience research at both the Hebrew University (Jerusalem) and Al Quds Palestinian University (East Jerusalem /West Bank).

As an Egyptian, I had grown up very cautious about interacting with Israelis; it had never occurred to me to visit Israel. Many other Egyptians and probably many people in other Arab states feel the same way.

Some of my friends in Egypt advised me not to embark on such an “unethical” trip. For many in Egypt, setting foot in Israel is unthinkable, regardless of the purpose of the visit. But the Palestinian professors whom I consulted did not voice such criticism; they encouraged me to visit Israel. My friends in the United States did not make such criticisms either, and I realized that many Americans and Europeans who visit Israel hold different views on Israeli politics, yet they discuss their opinions openly with Israelis.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that regardless of the views my friends and I might have about Israeli politics, the opportunity to gain scientific experience at a good research institution was a separate issue, and nearly at the deadline for making the decision, I decided to accept the invitation to visit Israel.

As I landed in Israel and went through Israeli customs and security, I had a few worrisome moments. But my three months in Israel were scientifically enriching and socially rewarding. I spent most of my time at the Hebrew and Al Quds Universities, but I also occasionally visited Haifa University. Both the city and the university in Haifa have large Jewish and Arab populations, and the two groups mix more often than in Jerusalem.

In the very beginning, the Hebrew University kindly helped me obtain a visa for my visit. At the Hebrew University, I learned some scientific techniques on animal models of Parkinson’s disease with the generous help of Dr. Boris Rosin. Professors at the Hebrew University were very enthusiastic to have me as a colleague. I still consult with them on many open questions and research projects in the Parkinson’s disease field, in which the neuroscientists at the Hebrew University play a key international role.

My social life in Israel and the West Bank was also rewarding and educational. I visited many parts of Israel with my Arab neighbors in Jerusalem, many of whom were students at the Hebrew University. I was also repeatedly invited to professors’ homes for shabbat dinner and social gatherings, and I was always warmly welcomed. At many of these occasions, I felt more welcomed than people visiting from European countries, perhaps because of my Egyptian background. Among Israeli and Palestinian students, I often found myself discussing political issues, including the role of Anwar Sadat ın the peace process, the Palestinian refugee problem, Jews from Arab lands, and others. I found that Israelis’ stands on political issues were not at all homogenous.

Israeli universities produce scientific research comparable to that seen in Western countries. Israeli science institutions are constantly expanding. For example, the Hebrew University is currently building a new multi-million-dollar brain science research center, and plans to recruit top-notch scientists from around the globe. World-class scientists from Italy, the United States, Germany, Canada, Japan, and many other countries are constantly visiting and lecturing at Israeli universities. Israel holds many annual science meetings that researchers from various countries attend. Students from many European countries conduct their graduate work in Israel. Many Israeli universities have shown advancement in fields ranging from biomedical research to agriculture to engineering.

It is sad that neighboring countries do not participate in these activities. There is no doubt that Israeli science institutions and Israeli researchers would welcome having Arab researchers visit and collaborate with them. It is overall a win-win game for both sides, if not more beneficial for Arab researchers. Arab countries need more scientific interaction with the outside world, including Israel.

After gaining science and research experience at world-class Israeli universities, Arab researchers could definitely be great assets to their home countries.

It is also beneficial to invite Israeli scientists and researchers to attend conferences and to lecture in Arab countries. Israeli scientists are frequently invited to lecture at large universities in Europe and the United States; and even, in recognition of their scientific achievements, to give keynote lectures at annual conferences. Israeli scientists do, however, face difficulties attending conferences in Arab states. Should not we benefit from these minds as well? The Israeli experiment in science advancement is a good example for neighboring nations to follow, given the geographical and environmental similarities.

While in Israel, I repeatedly visited the West Bank and many Arab towns in northern Israel, and they were all equally welcoming and happy with my visit. Many students and professors at Al Quds University also welcomed me as a colleague, and with them, I visited Bethlehem, Ramallah, and other Palestinian towns. Almost every Palestinian I met instantly recognized my Egyptian background once I said a word in Arabic. This is because many Palestinians, and other Arabs, have grown up watching Egyptian movies, and are very familiar with the Egyptian Arabic dialect. These were pleasing moments.

Al Quds University in the West Bank has many collaborative scientific projects with Hebrew University, although in recent years, collaboration has not been as strong. I visited a few laboratories at Al Quds University. For example, Dr. Mukhles Sowwan, a Palestinian from Jerusalem, obtained his doctorate from the Hebrew University, under the supervision of an Israeli professor, and returned to the West Bank to start a top-notch nanotechnology laboratory at Al Quds University. Dr. Sowwan’s lab is enviable by many standards, and one cannot help but hope that other scientists in the Arab world follow Dr. Sowwan’s example. Why should not Arabs learn at Israeli universities? Like Dr. Sowwan, why should not Arabs get mentored by Israeli professors and go on to become independent investigators making their own contributions to the global scientific enterprise?

For many in the Arab world, the word Israel elicits political thoughts only. However, it is important to appreciate Israel’s advanced science infrastructure and to recognize that, whatever one’s political views, scientific collaboration with Israel is not only possible but also potentially beneficial for Egypt and other Arab countries.

This article was published courtesy of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.

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300,000 views and still counting

300,000 views and still counting

The ISRAEL21c video on airport security device MagShoe has hit over 300,000 views on YouTube and the figures continue to rise.

The story by reporter Molly Livingstone, about a walk on metal detector created by IDO Security to replace the annoying shoe scans in many airports around the world, was put up on our site in December 2008, and has since attracted 305, 809 views.

The MagShoe scans the whole foot and lower leg for metal devices enabling airport travelers to keep their shoes on. The quick and easy to use device has been in use in airports all over the world for the last five years, and it can also be found at courts, cruise lines, in government agencies, and shopping malls – anywhere that you might need a walk through metal detector.

Israel excels in security devices, and MagShoe was created as a response to increased security concerns in the wake of September 11th. The company is now headquartered in the US, with R&D in Israel. Manufacturing takes place at a factory in Rishon Lezion in Israel.

Since ISRAEL21c set up its YouTube site in December 2007, our 529 movies have had 1,736 million views. We have 2,506 subscribers, and are the number one most subscribed non-profit in Israel, the number one most viewed non-profit in Israel, and the 88th most subscribed non-profit in the entire world.


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Time and again, yes to peace

Israelis don’t want peace? Of course they do!

What a great Rosh Hashanah present from Time magazine; a cover story telling whoever is willing to listen, that Israelis are not into peace. Just like that. Why? Because Israelis are making money, they got off easy with the world economic crisis, the real estate is booming even when Hamas fires rockets in the air, and above all it’s been over two years since the last mega-suicide bombing. In short we’re all having a ball and couldn’t care less about peace. Who needs it, right?

So if for some reason you imagined that you’re bummed over the unsolvable conflict with the Palestinians, if you thought the flotilla story mattered to almost every citizen here, or if you were fantasizing that you’re worried about the well-being of the IDF soldiers, and Gilad Shalit in particular, you were totally off. According to Time magazine, we are all completely indifferent. It showed a photo of three guys on the beach smoking a hookah, quoted a real estate agent who said he sells apartments even when Kassam rockets are flying, and found some old survey that “proves” only 8 percent of Israelis are worried about the conflict, because most of them find that education and security problems are more severe.

Surprised? Probably not. Is this only one step further taken in a direction we are all familiar with? Probably so. And if someone hasn’t comprehended yet – this is the way the neo-anti-Semitism works.

It’s not open, it is sly and sophisticated. It hides behind academic lectures that choose very specific articles for their arguments, it prospers behind movies that choose to put certain things in the spotlight and ignore others, and it slithers through everyday headlines that stretch the limits a little more, and then a little more, and a little more. The neo-anti-Semitism is so intelligent, that sometimes it even catches us at a moment of insecurity, and we ask ourselves: hey, maybe it’s true. Maybe I really don’t care.

So let me remind you how much we don’t care. Because we don’t care, we continue to raise our children on songs of peace, while the other side educates on hatred, violence, and suicide bombings as a life goal. Because we don’t care, every prime minister we have had in Israel in the past decade has tempted the Palestinian leaders with peace offers that were continuously refused, and usually the refusal included waves of Kassam rockets and suicide bombers. Because we don’t care, tens of thousands of citizens joined a walk across Israel a few weeks ago, that called for the freedom of the kidnapped soldier, Gilad Shalit, whose rights have been abused for over four years. This is what our indifference to peace looks like in our everyday lives.

The problem is, that while we know the truth, a new truth is being formed as time goes by. It doesn’t really matter if Mahmoud Abbas is the one who’s been refusing new peace negotiations for over a year while Israel was open to them. It doesn’t really matter if the Palestinian leadership includes terrorists that couldn’t care less about peace, and that Abbas knows he would never be able to restrain them if God forbid a peace agreement would be reached.

Facts do not play a role when a journalist decides on a thesis, and later finds a way to “prove” it.

This is the modern politically correct way to sell lies, just like a century ago many Europeans believed that Jews use Christian children’s blood to make matzos. The end hasn’t changed, only the means.

The encouraging thing is that the hundreds of comments on the Time website to this article, prove that we actually do care, and a lot. Usually comments to articles like these are diverse, but most of the comments tell Time magazine that this is not journalism, its racism.

But let’s stop hating Time for a moment, and look at ourselves. Is it possible that we care, but we’re just too quiet about it? Maybe we just don’t communicate it enough. Maybe it’s the same thing that happens to a couple that take each other for granted; they don’t say anything because they figure everything is known, but when one of them gets up and leaves one day, nobody is really surprised.

Maybe this is what has happened to us: we are so busy with defensive responses that we forget to say that we want peace. It begins with our Prime Minister and ministers that have to say this whenever they can, and it continues to each and every one of us. During conversations, comments or even on our Facebook page.

It may sound a bit tedious because it seems so obvious, but it is important to say it. All the time. Why? Mainly because it’s the truth.

Reprinted courtesy of Globes, Israel’s Business Arena.

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CNN features reports from ISRAEL21c

CNN features reports from ISRAEL21c

It was only last year that CNN accepted ISRAEL21c as an affiliate of its World Report program. Since then, we are proud to report an impressive 15 news features produced by ISRAEL21c that have appeared on CNN, reaching millions of viewers worldwide.

ISRAEL21c video material has appeared on the highly successful and long-running CNN World View, the thrice-weekly program hosted by Guillermo Aduino, and on the CNN website.

The latest video featured by CNN is about Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian environmentalists who have put politics aside to challenge a $15 billion World Bank plan to revive the Dead Sea (which is dropping by about three feet a year) another features that have appeared earlier in the year include a piece on Hebrew University’s new approach to learning, by treating passengers travelling on the Israel Rail Service to a series of lectures by the institution’s top scientists.

Other encouraging stories chosen by CNN this year describe amixed Jewish-Arab choir that practices its message of coexistence out loud, and a group of Palestinian and Israeli midwives working together to ensure that pregnant mothers in Israel and the Palestinian territories have safe and natural births.

Rather than portraying Israel as a place of conflict and strife, these stories have highlighted Israeli accomplishments in science and technology, arts and culture, and philanthropy.

They depict what ISRAEL21c works to reveal – the true, myriad faces of Israel, beyond the conflict.

ISRAEL21c videos can be viewed on our YouTube channel.

Hope for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

How one Palestinian journalist found hope of peace in Israel’s health care system.

There are many reasons to be pessimistic and at times to despair about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet even when things look hopeless, hope has a way of appearing, offering a vision of what can be rather than what is. Recently, I caught a glimpse of this hope in an unlikely place – the Israeli health care system.

In December, I went for a routine checkup with my family doctor in east Jerusalem and received the news everyone fears – I had cancer. What had seemed like a small lump in my neck was in fact thyroid cancer – devastating news for someone in his late 20s. I was quickly scheduled for surgery and given a date of May 17.

I immediately called my close friend Dr. Adel Misk, a Palestinian neurologist from east Jerusalem. Misk works in both Israeli and Palestinian hospitals, treating Palestinians and Israelis alike. He referred me to his colleague, Dr. Shila Nagar, a Jewish Israeli endocrinologist.

When Misk referred me to Nagar, he was not thinking in the terms of Palestinians and Israelis, but rather in terms of which specialist could best treat me. He was not concerned about her religious practices or political opinions. He was only concerned about her track record as a doctor.

In the waiting room outside Nagar’s office, I could not help but notice how many Palestinians were there. It did not bother them that she was Jewish, just like Misk’s Jewish patients do not mind that he is Palestinian. All the stereotypes and fences of nationalist fervor were replaced with basic survival instincts.

I shared my thoughts about Israeli-Palestinian medical cooperation with Nagar, who told me a story of a Jewish friend of hers who had prostate problems. One night he was suffering from a painful blockage and went to the emergency room. The doctor on duty was an Arab woman. He was not pleased: It is doubly bad, he thought, an Arab and a woman. At first he refused to let her treat him; however, as the pain increased he changed his mind and called her in. Years later, this Arab woman is his permanent doctor and a close friend. This personal experience was Nagar’s example of how humanity (and physical necessity!) can overcome nationalism.

Fast forward to the day of my surgery. In an ironic twist of fate, here I was, a Palestinian journalist, draped in a hospital gown covered in Stars of David. I was stressed and fearful. Yet none of these emotions had to do with the nationality of my doctors or the pattern on my hospital gown. I was afraid of the surgery, and the possibility of not waking up again. However, when I was brought to the operating room, I was again given another dose of hope.

I had two surgeons, a Palestinian Arab and an Israeli Jew. The anesthesiologist was an extremely experienced and competent Russian who joked with me until I fell asleep. My life was in the hands of an ideal team.

Meanwhile, my family waited outside. My wife and mother were both in tears, and later told me that a Jewish woman waiting for news of her relative’s surgery comforted them.

In the midst of the hatred, anger and bitterness of the conflict, you can still find glimpses of goodness. Unfortunately, this light often passes unnoticed. Yet it offers a practical example of the dream we all share, of a future where we can live safe and full lives without fear of injury.

My surgery went extremely well, and I recovered quickly. Moreover, through this painful experience I caught a glimmer of hope in what seems like a hopeless environment. I have many criticisms of Israeli policies and politics, but the functioning universal health care system in Israel and its ability to separate politics from medicine earns my praise.

This is not to say that the system is perfect. Like any future Israel and Palestine might share, there is the possibility of getting distracted by issues of insurance and bureaucracy. However, when it matters most, Israeli and Palestinian doctors share a commitment to human life regardless of ethnicity, religion or nationality. Moreover, when it comes time to choose doctors, we base our choice on who is mostly likely to promote human life. If only we voted on the same basis!

Unfortunately, I had to experience the health care system personally before being able to appreciate this example of what Israelis and Palestinians can achieve. Despite the pain and suffering, I am grateful to have discovered such a hidden treasure of humanity at its best.

Aziz Abu-Sarah is director of Middle East projects at the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University, and a winner of the Eliav-Sartawi Award for Common Ground Journalism. His blog can be found at

This article was first printed in The Jerusalem Post.