Your News report “Science collaboration stymied by relentless Middle East conflict” (Nature 417, 209–210; 2002) mentioned my support for Palestinian–Israeli cooperation. I would like to expand on my views. The Palestinian–Israeli conflict is neither a scientific issue nor a personal conflict but a struggle between two peoples over the same land. Therefore neither scientific collaboration in itself nor the personal relationships developed therein can advance the cause of peace unless conflict-related issues are also addressed and resolved.
Israelis have a strong army, resources, freedom and control over the land; Palestinians have none of these. One is occupier and the other is occupied. This inequality underlies any interaction between Palestinians and Israelis, including scientific cooperation, and should be the framework for any constructive dialogue. Unfortunately, this imbalance is often replicated in the collaboration and becomes a cause of frustration and disengagement on the part of the Palestinian partner.
It requires courage and commitment to widen the partnership beyond the realm of science, to rise above the current polarization and high emotional pitch in our respective societies, to place universal humanitarian values above nationalism and to take a clear stand for justice and peace. Yet it is possible, as demonstrated by individual academics as well as organizations such as Médicins sans Frontières, Physicians for Human Rights and the Alliance of Middle Eastern Scientists and Physicians. An example of such a stand is a recent statement by 300 Israeli faculty members, which can be seen at http://www.seruv.org.il/UniversitySupportEng.asp.
The international scientific community should become more actively engaged. Foreign collaborators and funding agencies can request a commitment to basic human rights and equality, and to the principle of equal academic freedom and access to education for Palestinians and Israelis. Israeli scientists and institutions should express solidarity with Palestinian universities under siege and use their political clout to assist them. All partners should insist on a return to negotiations based on UN resolutions and international law.
A boycott of Israeli science would be relatively easy but, in the long run, counterproductive. Much more challenging and important is to use scientific interactions creatively, to promote true reconciliation.