First International Meeting for Science in Palestine

Professor Stephen Hawking, University of Cambridge, publicly expressed his support for the “Palestinian Advanced Physics School”, one of the projects led by the organization Scientists for Palestine”, on his official….

Professor Stephen Hawking, University of Cambridge, publicly expressed his support for the “Palestinian Advanced Physics School”, one of the projects led by the organization Scientists for Palestine”, on his official Facebook profile (see here and here) on February 13th 2017:

“I support the rights of scientists everywhere to freedom of movement, publication and collaboration. In this spirit, I would like to […] make a second Palestinian Advanced Physics School possible. Please […] support science in Palestine.”

From January 5th through 7th, 2018 Palestinian physicists, the international group “Scientists for Palestine” and many other members of the international scientific community, will gather at the University of Cambridge for a weekend-long meeting involving multiple plenary and parallel sessions. This will be Scientists for Palestine first international gathering (the meeting’s webpage is available here).

The goal of the workshop is to reaffirm the vision of Scientists for Palestine and establish new and ambitious objectives for what a scientific collaboration between the Palestinian and the international community looks like, transcending the limitations caused by 50 years of ongoing occupation. A varied selection of topics will be discussed: from strategy sessions on current status of science in Palestine, to educational discussions on the challenges of doing science under the occupation, to scientific presentations from many Palestinian and international scientists, to developing concrete opportunities for international scientists to get involved.

Science has a strong tradition in Palestine. The bi-annual “Palestinian Conference on Modern Trends in Mathematics and Physics”, organized by Palestinian academics since 2008, is just one of the many scientific events organized in Palestine.

However, higher education and research in Palestine faces many challenges, including some common to many countries, such as lack of funding and heavy teaching loads for professors, as well as unique challenges from the ongoing occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, including restrictions on mobility of students and academics, international isolation, raids and forced closures of Palestinian universities and other scientific institutions, and indictment or imprisonment without trial of individual academics. In fact for the second year multiple students from Gaza, who had applied and been accepted to the school, have been denied permit from Israel to participate to the school.

Nevertheless, interest in physics education and research in Palestine continues to grow rapidly not only within Palestine but also throughout the international scientific community. In December 2015, Palestine signed an International Cooperation Agreement with CERN, signaling Palestine’s increasing involvement in cutting-edge scientific research at one of the best laboratories in the world.

To help meet the rapidly increasing demand for high-level scientific education and collaboration in Palestine, physicists from around the world created “Scientists for Palestine,” an international group whose goals are to promote and support science in Palestine and to help integrate Palestine into the international scientific community. The group’s first action was to establish the Palestinian Advanced Physics School (PAPS) as an annual event, now at its third edition, with plans for many further schools, conferences, workshops, and other scientific activities in Palestine. The international meeting this coming January aims to advance these objectives, by expanding the organization and strengthening the ties between the Palestinian and international scientific communities.

The two previous PAPS editions were incredibly successful. Over 60 Palestinian master students in physics from several Palestinian universities (Al Quds University, Birzeit University, An Najah University, the Arab American University in Jenin (AAUJ)) have attended intensive lecture courses on Cosmology, Solid State Physics, Mathematics, Particle Physics and about the physics of SESAME, a large laboratory established in Jordan with the help of Middle Eastern countries including Palestine. And the schools have attracted internationally recognized scientists of the caliber of John Ellis, the Clerk Maxwell Professor of Theoretical Physics at King’s College London and visiting scientist at CERN in Geneva, Ann Nelson, professor of theoretical particle physics at the University of Washington in the United States and David Tong, professor of theoretical physics at the University of Cambridge.

Wafaa Khater, Birzeit University Physics Department chair, stressed how the January meeting could be transformative for the physics in Palestine:

“Unfortunately, I could not be present in person at the meeting, due to complications in obtaining a visa to enter the UK. But I hope this meeting will pave the ground for more collaboration with the international scientific community to open up more opportunities for us as academics and enable the bright young students to pursue higher studies in physics and other scientific topics. As most Palestinian universities do not offer PhD programs in Physics or other scientific topics, this collaboration is crucial to start with the infrastructure for offering such programs.”