Discovering new academic and research relationships in Israel and Palestine

Forging new partnerships, finding unexpected opportunites

- November 10, 2011

John Batt (second from left) takes Aaron Ben Ze’ev (middle) and his team of scientists on a tour of Dalhousie's Aquatron. (Nick Pearce photo)
John Batt (second from left) takes Aaron Ben Ze’ev (middle) and his team of scientists on a tour of Dalhousie's Aquatron. (Nick Pearce photo)

Whether you’re halfway across campus or halfway around the world, you never quite know what connections you’ll find just by asking someone what their interests are.

Take, for example, the recent Nova Scotia trade mission to Israel, which Dalhousie Vice-President Research Martha Crago was a part of. She was sitting beside Premier Darrell Dexter at a meeting with the Israeli minister of science and technology when she learned, surprisingly, that the department’s latest strategic area of focus is marine science.

“The premier and I practically leaped at being able to discuss what we’re doing here in Nova Scotia with Dalhousie and the Halifax Marine Research Institute,” she says. “That they’re also working to bring together a consortium of federal labs and universities to strengthen their capacity in marine meant that we had a touchpoint there that I don’t think any of us had expected.”

Based on that discovery, Dr. Crago rearranged her travel plans and made the trip to the University of Haifa, where she met with its president, Aaron Ben Ze’ev. In addition to sharing ideas about marine consortia, they discussed the possibility of Prof. Ben Ze'ev coming to Halifax.

And less than two weeks after their first meeting, Prof. Ben Ze’ev’s did, indeed, arrive in Canada. Last week, he and two of his accomplished junior research scientists visited Dalhousie to meet with marine scientists and university staff. While at Dal they discussed arranging for a professor and some graduate students to travel to Haifa in the spring, as well as the idea of setting up a field course at the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Biology in Eliat on the Red Sea. It’s hopefully the start of a longer relationship between the two schools.

“All universities can contribute to each other,” said Prof. Ben Ze’ev as he toured the Aquatron. “Anytime global, research-intensive universities come together and collaborate, there’s opportunity to learn.”

Learning from Israeli’s commercialization leadership

It’s that opportunity to learn that brought Dr. Crago, Assistant Vice-President Industry Liaison Stephen Hartlen and several other university leaders, business people and provincial representatives to Israel last month.

Why Israel? Because, according to Mr. Hartlen, Israel has been one of the world’s most innovative countries in the world in terms of taking technology from university to industry. Without many natural resources to call their own, they’ve built an economy heavily dependent on knowledge and technology.

“If you’re driving down between Haifa and Tel Aviv, you’re going to pass a business park with Google, Facebook, Microsoft,’s like driving through Silicon Valley,” he explains. “And they’re all there because their universities do great R&D and commercialize a lot of it with large multinational companies. And they create a lot of spin-off companies themselves.”

The trip was organized by Nova Scotia Business Inc. Others on the trip with Dalhousie connections were Ivar Mendez and Lorne Ferguson of the university’s Brain Repair Centre, and Jim Spatz, who is presently chair of Dalhousie’s Board of Governors.

“I think it’s extremely important that universities go on these sorts of trade missions,” says Dr. Crago. “They’re a moment where universities, industry and government can explore the potential that can come from crafting new relationships together, as a team.”

While in Israel Dr. Crago, on behalf of Dalhousie, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The delegation also visited the Naval Yard in Haifa—timely, considering that the trip’s departure coincided with the Halifax Shipyards announcement— as well as the headquarters of Elbit, one of the country’s largest defence companies (and one which, it turns out, has 20 employees in Halifax as part of Lockheed Martin’s frigate retrofit program).

Read also: "Dalhousie talks partnership with Hebrew University of Jerusalem"

“These things aren’t vacations - they’re a lot of work,” says Mr. Hartlen. “The trick is that you’re in the country for a very short period of time, you have to talk to as many people as you possibly can and seize where the connections might be.”

That said, the delegation still was able to take in some of Israel’s culture and heritage, including visits to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum and the John F. Kennedy Memorial Park for a tree planting by the premier.

Forging new relationships in Palestine

And they also spent time building new relationships in the Palestinian territories. In the city of Ramallah in the West Bank, the delegation visited with business leaders before meeting the president, VP academic and faculty members at Berzeit University.

“This is a unversity that doesn’t have a lot of graduate studies just yet, so we discussed how Dalhousie could help in providing opportunities for postdoc or PhD studies for their academic staff,” explains Dr. Crago. “We’ll be following up to see if we can put together some arrangements that suit them and are of interest to Dalhousie professors, for example, in law and in government relations and foreign policy."  

They also visited St. Augustine Hospital, set up by the Lutheran Foundation to treat people who live in the Palestinian territories. Dr. Mendez and Mr. Ferguson were along for this part of the visit, and a good deal of the discussion was about how telemedicine might work there, considering the difficulty in getting patients through military checkpoints.

“You go on these trips and realize that, all of a sudden, there’s a connection that nobody had been aware of,” says Dr. Crago. “That’s what makes them so exciting.”


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