Two universities, one Israeli and one Palestinian, work jointly to improve the environment.

The Technion, known as Israel’s MIT, is working along with Al Quds University, a Palestinian institution for higher learning in Abu Dis, in order to attempt to remove pharmaceutical residues from waste-water, an environmental problem that plagues both Israeli and Palestinian societies. Presently, whenever one takes any sort of medication, the residue of the medications get mixed up with the water supply whenever someone uses the bathroom. The re-used water then seeps into agricultural crops and adversely affects the environment. Both the Technion and Al Quds University are committed to collaborating to fix this health hazard that harms ecosystems within the Holy Land.

The project is sponsored by the Shimon Peres Center for Peace, which works to build peaceful relations between Israelis and Palestinians via collaboration and dialogue, and the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi. Hannah Bardin, who works for the Peres Center for Peace, stated, “We are trying to create a community of water researchers working together and visiting each other’s facilities. In this framework, we will have on-campus visits and annual meetings where they will present results.” Both Al Quds University and the Technion are expected to confront this issue differently, yet this difference when collaboration occurs will assist in finding a solution to the problem. “The idea is that there is very little monitoring. We want to find out how to treat and remove all these materials that end up in the drinking water,” Bardin stated.

The project is being coordinated by Prof. Josef Hagin of the Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Technion, who believes that projects like these work to improve the prospects for peace. Hagin asserted, “These kinds of joint projects foster good relations – both professional as well as personal. I remember during the Palestinian Jordanian Israeli Project, we met in Larnaca. The group dined at a local restaurant.” He continued, “The proprietor came over and asked where we were from. One of our Palestinian partners said, ‘I am Palestinian, and these are my friends from Jordan and from Israel.’ The restaurateur nearly fainted. He couldn’t believe that it was possible for us to all get along so well.”

Yet, in addition to working to improve the prospects for peace, this project also helps to address an issue that is very important for both Palestinian and Israeli societies, since untreated waste water is a major environmental problem. Fresh water is already in short supply in the Middle East, so having waste-water seep into the water supply and into agricultural crops is extremely problematic since both Israel and the Palestinian Authority suffer from this water crisis. This is why this project between the Technion and Al Quds University is so important, for if the pharmaceutical wastes can be removed from waste-water, then human health as well as the environment can be enhanced within both societies.

Ronnie Birboim, Sanofi-Israel general manager, is greatly interested in what Israeli innovation has to offer, hence why the company got involved with this project. “Sanofi’s interest in Israel as a source of innovation has grown in recent years,” he says. “This is mostly because of a visit to Israel by CEO Christopher Viehbacher in 2009. During the visit, he met President Shimon Peres, who involved the company in a water investment. This was a joint project by Al Quds University and the Technion to purify treated wastewater of remaining pharmaceuticals. Viehbacher opened the Biomed Conference and met with many companies, and the company’s ties with Israel have subsequently grown stronger. Since the visit, the company has kept a team of scouts at its Israeli office, and a group that visits Israel once or twice a year to meet life sciences companies.”

By Rachel Avraham