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IPSO helping to improve Palestinians' lives


29 November - Today is the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. In a message to mark the occasion, UNESCO's Director-General stated today that 'Education, culture, communication and science have - I firmly believe - an immense role to play in building a vibrant, prosperous and democratic Palestinian society, where every child, woman and man can fully develop her or his intellectual abilities and live in dignity and peace'.

The Israeli-Palestinian Science Organization (IPSO) is using science to do just that. IPSO's co-founders, Sari Nusseibeh and Menahem Yaari, are respectively President of Al Quds University in East Jerusalem and Chair of the Israeli Academy of Sciences and Humanities. They were at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris on 15 November to present IPSO to the international community at a ceremony organized by UNESCO to commemorate World Science Day for Peace and Development.
The two co-founders of IPSO were accompanied by fellow members of IPSO's International Scientific Council (ISC) , seven of whom are Nobel Laureates and one an Abel Laureate (the Nobel equivalent for mathematics).

In his presentation, Menahem Yaari addressed the question of whether science can succeed where politics has failed. 'The advantage with scientists over politicians', Menahem Yaari commented, 'is that scientists tend to agree on what the issues are. Science is also free of historicity; it matters where you are and not how you got there'. 'Menahem and I believe that peace is not only possible but inevitable', Sari Nusseibeh added. 'It is only a question of how much pain both sides are prepared to bear to get there. We wish to shorten the pain'.

To an audience made up of the Israeli and Palestinian Ambassadors to UNESCO, among others, and of representatives from different scientific institutions, Sari Nusseibeh explained that IPSO was a determined effort to get peace back on the rails in a troubled part of the Middle East by using science to 'make peace happen'. He explained that, by fostering scientific co-operation, IPSO would be improving the lives of Palestinians and helping to create a more balanced relationship between the two communities. 'The lives of Palestinians and Israelis are closely entangled', he observed, '95% of the Palestinian economy is dependent on the Israeli economy'. Since 2000, the restrictions in the occupied territories on the mobility of people, but also of goods and services, have accentuated the economic gap between Palestinians and Israelis. According to the World Bank, half of the 3.4 million Palestinians today live beneath the poverty line, their average annual income having dropped by 40% over the past four years to US$925, compared to US$16,500 for the 6.7 million Israelis. Infant mortality is four times higher in the Palestinian Territories than in Israel.

'IPSO offers the promise of co-operation that will be beneficial to the Palestinians', Sari Nusseibeh said. Israel was a highly developed society, he noted, with much to offer both Palestinian science and Palestinian society. It was hoped that IPSO would create a climate whereby Palestinian scientists were able to obtain permits to circulate more easily. At present, even collaboration between Palestinian scientists was often impeded by restrictions on mobility everywhere but in Jerusalem.

These restrictions explain why 40% of the 58 projects IPSO has received since its call for proposals last August originate from Al Quds University. One of the criteria for proposals is that these must involve both Israeli and Palestinian scientists. The proposals cover research in agriculture, health - where a majority of projects involve genetics - nanotechnology, environment and political science. Several target problems common to both the Palestinians and Israelis, such as the proposed study of psychosocial problems in both communities born of the violent climate, or the study of environmental stress in the shared biome.

IPSO has undertaken to finance 30 new projects every year. To do so, it needs an annual budget of US$2.5 million, 10% of which covers overheads. At this stage, the available funds fall far short of this total. 'Our credibility is on the line', Sari Nusseibeh cautioned. 'We must not disappoint all those who are counting on us'. One of the more urgent missions of the ISC is to raise funds, a mission for which IPSO can count on UNESCO assistance. 'UNESCO stands ready to fundraise on behalf of IPSO and to serve as the channel for this support', the Director-General told the gathering.

For details: www.ipso-jerusalem.org
Director-General's speech: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0013/001374/137479e.pdf

 

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