Washington Report, January/February 2006, page 71
Middle Eastern Scientists Promote Peace at Malta Conference
PEACE in the Middle East took a giant step forward from Nov. 5 to 10. when some 67 chemical scientists from Israel, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon, Kuwait, the Palestinian territories, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Turkey met on the island of Malta. While the dialogue was between high-level scientists (including six Nobel Laureates) rather than government officials, peace was definitely on the agenda.
The brainchild of Zafra M. Lerman, an Israeli-born chemistry professor and head of the Institute for Science Education and Science Communication at Columbia College Chicago, the meeting is the second major gathering for most members of this elite group. The first was held in Malta in December 2003, and both were organized by the Subcommittee on Scientific Freedom and Human Rights of the International Activities Committee of the American Chemical Society.
Lerman believes that scientists, instead of politicians and diplomats, can lead the way to peace and cooperation in the Middle East. “Scientists care more about scientific freedom and discovery than territorial issues,” she observed. “They need the access to information and shared resources that come from collaboration, not warfare or hostility.”
From the meeting’s opening day, Lerman said, this year’s Malta conference (affectionately known as Malta II) was like a “family reunion with no hostilities or animosities—only friendship.” And since returning from Malta, Lerman, a former member of the Israeli army, has found her e-mail box overflowing with messages of congratulations and friendship from participants and other well-wishers.
Keynote addresses were presented by Nobel Laureates Aaron Ciechanover, Israel Institute of Technology, Israel; Richard R. Ernst, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland; Roald Hoffmann, Cornell University, USA; Yuan T. Lee, Academia Sinica, Taiwan; Jean-Marie Lehn, Université Louis Pasteur, France; and F. Sherwood Rowland, University of California, USA.
The program included workshops on science education; water and environment; bio- and chemical sensing; medicinal and natural products; nanotechnology; and solar energy.
A number of new initiatives were developed at the conference. Participants in the education workshop plan to develop Middle East standards for science education, while nanotechnology workshop participants will conduct three workshops in three different countries before the next conference.
The scientists also continued to make progress on last year’s initiatives, including a joint water purification project by Israeli and Palestinian participants. Dr. Y.T. Lee will continue to offer fellowships for Middle East scientists to train with him at the synchrotron in Taiwan; the Israel Institute of Technology will grant three more full scholarships to students from Arab countries; Hoffmann will organize more workshops in the Middle East for graduate students and young faculty members; and for the first time the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel will begin accepting Palestinian students into its advanced degree programs.
While the group unanimously approved a proposal to hold Malta III in approximately two years, many of the participants made plans to meet before then to continue the scientific exchange.