In science, a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine

If, on the political level, the peace talks between Israel and Palestine have numerous obstacles to materialize, in the scientific area relationship is peaceful - or at least tries to be, in most cases. The Palestinian chemist Hasan Dweik and Israeli historian Dan Bitan run together the Israeli -Palestinian Science Organization (IPSO), founded in 2004, which focus is to develop the science and education in these two communities, promoting dialogue and diplomacy. More than professional partners, they are also friends, even disagreeing on various issues. Still, Dweik and Bitan perceive the differences with humor and respect, showing that, despite disagreements, coexistence is possible, and setting an example for their people.

"We look like a married couple, we fight all the time", laughs Dan Bitan, censored several times during the interview by colleague who claims he is talking too much. "That’s the problem of historians, they can’t focus. We scientists get to the point", Dweik provokes. Besides IPSO, they have a science education project aimed at training human resources in this area in order to improve the quality of teaching in science. "There aren’t experts in science education in Palestine", says the chemist. "Or you teach education, or you teach science, and we want to blend both." This project includes an interactive science museum that uses the "hands-on" method, installed in 2003 at the Palestinian University of Al-Quds, in Jerusalem.

The academic cooperation between Israel and Palestine has always been linked to the political situation in the region. According to Dan Bitan, it came after the 1991 peace talk, mediated by the United States. These relationships, however, were limited to political, economic and health field. Only between 1994 and 1995, after the Oslo accords, signed in 1993, the scientific cooperation began to settle. One of the leaders of this new interaction was Palestinian Professor Sari Nusseibeh, current president of the University of Al-Quds . "That’s when came up the relationship between Israel and Palestine in science for science sense, not science by politics sense", Bitan says.

Still, resistance is strong, particularly among Palestinians". They just want to work together if the Israeli occupation in Palestine ends", affirms Bitan. He supports the cause of his fellow community. Both Bitan and Dweik believe that a large proportion of academics will remain reluctant while a peace solution is not established between the two communities.

Territorial limitations

Barriers to effective scientific cooperation are also territorial. Israel restricts the entrance of Palestinians in the country, and if a scientist from Palestine wants to cross the border to go to a university in Jerusalem, for example, an Israeli must require a permission. "If he intends to stay 12 hours in Israel it’s a process, if he wants to spend the night, it’s another ", says Bitan. "The Israeli minister of Education argues that if the Palestinians have free movement, there won’t be resistance anymore", Dweik (photo at right) completes.

The complicated territorial situation in the region is one of the major points of disagreement between the two colleagues. In 1967, Israel occupied the noncontiguous territories of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, claimed by Palestine, causing divisions in the region. Dweik, for example, lives in East Jerusalem and has no limitation of movement, but does not participate in the elections for the Parliament of Israel.

The commitment to another peace negotiation, established with the United States, ends in April 2014, and Dweik and Bitan are uncertain about its conclusion. "I’m optimistic and my friend is pessimistic. Usually he’s right",says the Israeli, who alsorecognizes the complications: "Israel considers Jerusalem its capital, and Palestine considers it too. If you ask an Israeli if he trusts a Palestinian, he will say no . They want a peaceful solution with the Palestinians behind the wall. "Dweik views the situation realistically. "Oslo peace agreement was supposed to last five years, but it happened 20 years ago and we’re still trying to negotiate."

The water in the region which is already scarce, is also a problem since it is controlled by Israel. So this is a theme explored by the directors of IPS, who are now preparing a proposal for a large project on hydrology. "We are trying to raise funds - we don’t receive government resources so we don’t have any interference - but we already have half the money", says Bitan. "We have no money at all", contradicts Dweik. And while Israel and Palestine do not advance the negotiations, its two scientific representatives have reached a peace agreement - a turbulent one.

(Clarice Cudischevitch to BAS News)


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