May 2021 Newsletter 
Scientists for Palestine (S4P) is launching a newsletter to keep you updated on pertinent news and events. Interested in pitching ideas and/or writing for the newsletter? Please contact us.

Scientists4Palestine Updates

Recap: Together to end the pandemic/ معا لإنهاء الوباء  by Islam Ismail
Nobel Laureate Dr. George Smith's Message to Palestinians on COVID19 vaccines
Committees Updates  by Somaya, Lorenzo and David 

Spotlight on Palestinian Science


Featuring: Dr. Reham Khalaf-Nazzal MD, PhD, Professor of Physiology and Medical Genetics at Arab American University.
Featuring: Shahd Idais, Senior Medical Student and S4P member. 

Dr. Imad Barghouti’s Administrative Detention by Bernardo 


Scientists for Palestine supports the global initiative to ensure rapid and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all countries (COVAX), and the United Nations Human Rights statement calling on Israel to provide Palestinians with equal access to COVID-19 vaccines.  We support a recent letter to the British Medical Journal (BMJ), authored by some of our colleagues, that underscores the critical need to account for disparities in access to health-care within the Occupied Palestinian Territories when allocating vaccinations for Palestinians. 
Recap: Together to end the pandemic/ معا لإنهاء الوباء 
by Islam Ismail 
At the end of 2019, a novel Coronavirus was identified in Wuhan, China. It rapidly spread worldwide prompting the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare COVID-19 a global pandemic in March 11,2020. Since then, many efforts to develop vaccines against the virus have evolved. However, misinformation and fears surround the vaccines and people are hesitant to receive them. Scientists for Palestine and Bisan Center for Research and Development collaborated to provide reliable information about vaccination through an educational event for the Palestinian general public. This online event, which happened on Saturday April 10th, featured three prominent speakers. Dr. Robin Abu Ghazaleh, Dr. Sabrin Albeituni, and Dr. Yousef Shahin.

Dr. Abu Ghazaleh, a Virologist and Researcher in immunogenetics, moderated the webinar, and started by explaining how the immune system fights microbes and how the vaccines mimic this process, triggering an immune response without having to go through the illness. He then introduced the different vaccines available in Palestine and explained how they work to produce immunity. He emphasized on the importance of vaccination especially in the elderly as they carry the highest mortality rate.
Dr. Shahin,Chief Disease Prevention & Control UNRWA, explained that it’s understandable that people might fear the side effects of the vaccines. However, they should be aware that the side effects are relatively rare, and the overall benefit of the vaccines outweighs the rare side effects.

Dr. Albeituni, a researcher at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, answered a burning question about the safety of these vaccines despite being developed in several months only. She reminded the viewers that knowledge is cumulative and many of the techniques used to make vaccines have been studied for over fifty years.
She also assured that the available vaccines have at least successfully completed two phases of the ongoing clinical trials with no major safety issues. She also explained the concept of herd immunity, and that it would take a very long time to develop herd immunity without vaccines accelerating this process.

The panelists then took turns to answer as many questions from the viewers’ comments. They mentioned that people should not be focusing on getting the “best” vaccine instead of getting vaccinated, because  all the available vaccines are effective. They also talked about some safety measures that should be followed. For example, anyone who gets vaccinated should wait 30 minutes after receiving the vaccine in case any anaphylactic reaction develops. Also people who were previously infected with COVID-19 can generally receive the vaccine after 90 days as their reinfection risk increases. They also emphasized that even if people get vaccinated, they still need to wear masks and practice social distancing.

They finished by emphasizing the importance of vaccination in reducing the infectivity period, alleviating the severity of symptoms if the person gets infected, decreasing the possibility of new variants formation in infected people, and reducing the morbidity and mortality rates of COVID-19.
 
Missed the webinar? A recording is provided here:  http://www.scientists4palestine.com/webinars/together_to_end_the_pandemic/
 
Scientists4Palestine Committee Updates 
by Lorenzo Bianchi, Somaya Albhaisi and David Kattenburg

Schools: After three successful editions of the Palestinian Advanced Physics School in 2016, 2017 and 2019, the school committee of Scientists for Palestine has decided to enlarge the academic interest of the initiative by organizing the Palestinian Advanced Learning with Machines School (PALMS) 2021. With PALMS 2021 we want to reach out to a wider audience of students by delivering lectures on Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and their application inside and outside the academia. The event was initially scheduled for July 2021, but, after careful consideration of the evoution of the pandemic, we preferred to postpone the program to winter 2021, with the hope that also the Palestinian people will be finally considered in the COVID vaccination program. Four lecturers have already agreed to be part of this school: Maurizio Pierini (CERN) will teach about AI for particle colliders, Marwa Mahmoud (King's College & Cambridge) will share her knowledge on vision-based AI, while Jürgen Van Gael (Stripe) and Hagen Triendl (GSK)will tell us about application of machine learning methods in the private sector. We believe the school will be a great opportunity for the Palestinian students to familiarize with state-of-the-art methods, which are shaping up as indispensable tools in all fields of science. - Lorenzo  

Medical: Since its comeback in Summer of 2020, the Medical Subcommittee has been engaged in various activities that aim for supporting public health in Palestine and assisting medical students, graduates and trainees with their career paths. The Committee hosted several webinars, namely, 'Career Paths 


and Opportunities for Palestinian Students in Medicine and Medical Science', 'Mentorship: A Pathway to Succeed in Medicine and Allied Health Professions', and 'معا..لإنهاء الوباء". The highlight of the Medical Subcommittee is its members who are coming from diverse backgrounds and various areas of expertise in the fields of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Allied Health Professions, in addition to having student and trainee members who are superstars, to say the least. Stay tuned for upcoming projects and activities. - Somaya
 
Outreach: S4P's Outreach Committee organized three webinars over the past year: The Impact of Israel’s Annexation Plans on Palestinian Research and Higher Education (August 2020) featured scientists from several Palestinian universities and research centers. Energizing Science in Palestine:  Building a Technology Innovation Ecosystem in the West Bank (December 2020) brought together four innovators from Palestine and the US, in a lively panel discussion. Renewable Energy in Occupied Palestine: Advances & Challenges (January 2021) featured two Palestinian renewable energy innovators, based in the West Bank city of Nablus and in Gaza, and an Israeli innovator whose group installs renewable microgrids in the south Hebron hills. Stay tuned for more events in early Fall. - David
Featuring: Dr. Reham Khalaf- Nazzal, MD, PhD
Professor of Physiology and Medical Genetics, Arab American University/Jenin
I am Dr. Reham Khalaf-Nazzal, a clinical academic of Human Physiology and Genomic Medicine at the Arab American University Medical School/Palestine, and leads the ‘Stories of Hope, Stories from Palestine’ community-based, translational genomics project with funding from The Arab American University, Zamala program, and Palestine Institute for Biodiversity and Sustainability. The primary focus of the ‘Stories of Hope, Stories from Palestine’ project is to characterize the clinical and molecular basis of rare diseases in Palestinian communities and to translate research findings into improved diagnostic provision and clinical care for affected patients, families, and their communities. My group is also working to compile a database of founder gene mutations to facilitate the development of a genotyping platform that can be used for multiple purposes including diagnostics, carrier testing and newborn screening. The overall aim of my work is to translate research findings into improvements in patient-centered clinical care. My research stands as a strong inspiration for delivering academic courses in Medical Genetics and Developmental Neurosciences, with tailored scientific content to the context of local health challenges and clinical scenarios in rare genetic diseases.

The overarching objective of my work aims at advancing scientific and medical knowledge of hereditary and neurodevelopmental disorders, through adopting a multidisciplinary approach from patient bed to laboratory bench and test tube. Initial data gathered in this project showed promising potential for novel gene discoveries and led to the identification of biomolecular disease mechanisms while providing impacting diagnostic and clinical management benefits for participating families. 
We continue our efforts to seed future focused studies to investigate the biomolecular disease mechanisms identified through developing a solid scientific platform for project expansion enabling a long-term patient and family recruitment program for continued discoveries of neurodevelopmental molecules and biological pathways. To achieve these optimistic goals, we work to cement collaborative relationship with the leading international scientists and institutions.

Being a woman working at the cut-edge between Medicine and Science has been challenging and lonely on several occasions. As a young medical graduate, I was unable to foresee the development of the Palestinian healthcare system without parallel advancement in biomedical and scientific research. But graduate education and research opportunities were almost absent locally. As a young married, I had to travel alone to Paris/Sorbonne University to obtain my PhD. Additionally, I have had to work hard to adapt in professional networks, to get heard and acknowledged, to find pioneering role models who could show me the way forward, and to be identified in the medical and scientific community.

On the other side, by just being committed to my ambition and doing the hard work, I hope to be a source of support and inspiration for young females in science. Establishing sustainable scientific platform for biomedical research will open the door to benefit other female students to pursue advanced postgraduate education, to develop their scientific career path towards excellence. This will make my personal achievements widespread and much more satisfying.
Featuring: Shahd Idais 
Senior Medical Student, and S4P Member

A senior medical student at Al-Quds University in Palestine, a junior researcher with an enthusiasm for research education and clinical research, an advocate for raising awareness and destigmatizing mental illnesses and disorders, and an aspiring psychiatrist. I serve as the local exchange officer at Palestinian Medial Students' Association-Jerusalem, and Vice head of the organization committee at Al-Quds Medical Research Association, and not long a go I discovered Scientists for Palestine and joined them, which is an honor !  Nowadays, I’m working with colleagues on a project about diabetic gastroparesis in the West Bank, which is first in Palestine. However, my research area of interest is psychiatry.

My goal for now is to capacitate myself enough, and find the right mentor to guide me in this field. I always try to contribute to a better Palestine from where I stand. One idea in my head recently that I would like to share is the mental health of fresh graduate doctors. I believe it is on medical schools to maintain students’ mental well-being by offering free mental health centers or services, and screen them before graduation to make sure they are mentally fit to start practice.  It is on medical schools to make adjustments on their curriculum to graduate considerate, sensitive doctors toward themselves and their patients, doctors who do not glorify burnout and put their grades over their mental health.

Dr. Imad Barghouti's Administrative Detention
 by Bernardo Zan
Imad Barghouthi, Professor of Plasma Physics at Al Quds university (West Bank), is a renowned Palestinian scientist, perhaps Palestine’s most famous astrophysicist. He has been detained since July 22nd, 2020, when he was stopped and arrested at a checkpoint on his way home from the university. It was only after being held in jail for several weeks that charges, related to the content of his Facebook posts, were moved against him. At the time of writing, Imad is still incarcerated, awaiting trial.

Already in September, a judge had agreed on releasing him on bail, a decision which sparked hopes of seeing Prof. Barghouthi reunited with his family, as well as his colleagues and students at Al Quds. However, this verdict was rapidly overturned by the Isaeli Military commander of the West Bank who, based on secret evidence which not even the defense lawyer can access, placed Prof. Barghouthi in Administrative Detention since.  Administrative detention is a system regularly employed by Israel to imprison Palestinians without any charges or trials; it can be prolonged for indefinite periods of time and is mandated top-down from Israeli military commanders. The initial three months detention order has since been renewed, and to this day Prof. Barghouthi remains in prison.
Residents of the West Bank, like Imad, are tried in Israeli military courts which are known to have astronomical conviction rates and violating basic international law. Imad’s lawyer, with the support of his family, decided then to appeal to the Israeli High Court of Justice, which is instead a civil institution. Unfortunately, the first hearing, scheduled for February 15th, was postponed and took place on February 22nd. Allegedly, after hearing both sides, the judge listened behind closed doors to the Israeli Secret Service and was convinced to reject the appeal. Thus Prof. Barghouthi, one of Palestine’s most prominent scientists charged solely on the bases of a few Facebook posts, will remain in prison for the foreseeable future.
 
Since the day after prof. Barghotuhi’s arrest, Scientists for Palestine has been involved in a campaign for his liberation, for example by launching a petition asking for his liberation; this petition has over two thousands signatories worldwide, including a Nobel prize winner and a Fields medalist. The road towards the liberation of prof. Barghouthi is long but we hope that solidarity from the scientific community can help his release.
 
If you want to get involved, or have any ideas about actions we could undertake, drop a line to admin@scientists4palestine.com.

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