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Monday, August 16, 2010

Egyptian scientist spends three months in Israel. And he likes it!

From SPME (h/t Israel Matzav):
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.

...My social life in Israel and the West Bank was ...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.

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 plan 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 an 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 universitıes ın 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.

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.
It is funny that this is the first time I have seen an Arab actually use the term "win-win." Usually, the mentality is that if Israel thinks it is good, then by definition it is bad.

The sad part about this article is that it is so anomalous.