The following press release was sent to us by Scientists for Palestine:
From July 26th to 28th Palestinian physicists and the international group “Scientists for Palestine,” are organizing the first ever “Palestinian Advanced Physics School” at the Arab American University in Jenin. At the school, advanced Palestinian master students in physics from several Palestinian universities (Al Quds University, Birzeit University, An Najah University, the Arab American University in Jenin (AAUJ), and the Islamic University in Gaza) will listen to lectures and engage in scientific discussion with internationally leading physicists in topics at the frontiers of physics research. Lecturers at the school will include Philip Argyres, professor of theoretical particle physics at the University of Cincinnati in the United States; John Ellis, the Clerk Maxwell Professor of Theoretical Physics at King’s College London and visiting scientist at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland (home of the Large Hadron Collider, where the Higgs boson was discovered in 2012); and Giorgio Paolucci, Scientific Director of SESAME (a synchrotron light-source laboratory in Jordan established by a group of Middle Eastern countries including Palestine and scheduled to begin operation in 2017). The school is organized by physicists from the universities of Amsterdam, AAUJ, Birzeit, Cambridge, CERN, Cincinnati, and Southampton.
Professor Stephen Hawking, University of Cambridge, member of the International Advisory Board for the “Palestinian Advanced Physics School”, expressed his support for the school:
I am very glad to see the first Palestinian Advanced Physics School being organised in Jenin. The school provides an opportunity for Palestinian master students to learn more about the mysteries of the universe, and perhaps some of the students will become inspired and help unravelling them in the future. Physics does not respect borders and international collaborations are the engines of rapid scientific progress. I am delighted to see that physics education and research in Palestine continues to grow and strengthen its international connections. I wish the students the best of luck!
Physics has a strong tradition in Palestine. For example, the bi-annual “Palestinian Conference on Modern Trends in Mathematics and Physics”, organized by Palestinian academics since 2008, bring together scientists, engineers, and mathematicians not only from Palestine but also from around the world. This year the conference will be held at AAUJ, immediately following the “Palestinian Advanced Physics School”.
However, physics 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.
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.
The organization of the school has benefited tremendously from the contribution of a Palestinian based organizing committee. Adli Saleh, associate Professor at the Arab American University expressed his optimism for the years to come:
“The Palestinian people, while they continue to yearn for freedom from the heavy weight of the occupation, place a very high value on education, particularly in the areas of science and technology to realize their full potential. Despite the difficult challenges Palestinians faced over the past several decades, they made great contributions throughout the region and the world. Enrollment in university education is over 10% higher than the average for the Arab region, and half the students are women, a ratio among the highest in the world”.
Wafaa Khater, Birzeit University Physics Department chair, also stressed how the school could help students to be successful in academia:
“Being one of a few female faculty members in physics in Palestine, I am so happy to see such large number of excellent female students participating in ‘the Palestinian Advanced Physics School’. I am hopeful that they will be able to pursue a career in physics either in academia or research. And this school is an excellent opportunity for all participating students to meet scientists from the international community and learn from them. This opens up new windows for our students to continue their higher education in prestigious universities and research centers around the globe.”
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 as an annual event, with plans for many further schools, conferences, workshops, and other scientific activities in Palestine in the coming years. In the words of John Ellis, “these are promising times for physicists in Palestine, I’m excited to participate in this School, and we welcome support from other members of the international physics community.”