In light of recent debates on Jordan’s Red Sea Film School being open to everyone including Israelis as well as a recent decision by the Israeli army to ban new Palestinian students from entering Israeli universities, I thought this was an interesting article…
When Jordanian student Said Saleh Abu Ghosh chose to pursue a Master’s degree in desert studies he knew he’d have to also earn a PhD. Partially for the education and career benefits that go along with an advanced degree but also because he knew he would have to cover up his graduate study work. A native of Amman, Jordan, Abu Ghosh is currently researching the medicinal properties of algae at Ben Gurion University’s Albert Katz International School for Desert Studies – in Israel.
“We Jordanians don’t write on our CV that we studied in Israel. I did it once applying for a good job and they didn’t take me. When I deleted ‘Israel’ and applied to another job they accepted me. A PhD will cover up my Israeli Master’s. I have to be realistic,” Abu Ghosh admits.
A razor-stubbled, good natured mid-20-something, who is often decked out in lab whites and safety goggles, Abu Ghosh is one of a growing number of Jordanians who make their way to Israel each year to participate in desertification and land degradation studies despite pressure back home.
“I came here because in Jordan we’re two-thirds desert with limited resources. This school has professors who are international experts in the field of desertification and algae research,” Abu Ghosh relays. “Also, I needed to improve my English and I wanted to study with people from different backgrounds.”
Although Jordan and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1994, relations between the two countries remain largely icy, largely due to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Jordan, according to US Census Bureau figures, is at least 50 percent Palestinian.
Regardless, Jordanians and a wide range of other nationalities opt for environmental studies at the Albert Katz Institute because the school’s team of professors and researchers is renowned globally for breakthrough desertification technologies including drip irrigation, solar energy harnessing, algae cultivation and brackish water salmon farming.
Dana Rassas of Amman is already on the fast track to ambassadorship. She earned her undergrad in Utah and is currently completing her Master’s in Environmental Studies in Israel. She’ll go to the US for a PhD in law or environmental policy and will eventually return to the Middle East to work as a government lobbyist.
Regarding her Israel studies Rassas, a Palestinian with relatives in Jerusalem, adheres to caution. “I’m selective about who to tell in Jordan. I told my best friends I’m here and that’s it. Others I didn’t tell,” she admits. Rassas concurs with Abu Ghosh, saying her motives for earning a PhD include covering up the Israel leg of her education.
For Rassas, living alongside Israelis has been a learning experience that has included altering pre-existing notions. “I asked a fellow student something about God and when she said she doesn’t believe in God I was shocked. ‘You’re Jewish and you don’t believe in God?’ And she was a rabbi’s daughter! I had to differentiate between being Jewish culturally and ideologically,” she explains.
Maya Negev, an Israeli Albert Katz Master’s student, grew up in a liberal Jerusalem household. Currently mapping the country’s sixth to twelfth-graders to gauge their environmental literacy levels, she ultimately hopes to serve in an influential role fostering co-existence and environment. In working towards that goal, she volunteers at a Beersheva Arab-Israeli youth club and helps Hebron’s Palestinian farmers harvest olives.
Negev is neither surprised nor alarmed by the code of silence taken up by Jordanian colleagues regarding their studies. “With two-thirds of Jordan being Palestinian refugee, it’s hard for them to acknowledge a country where the Zionist is the enemy. But our studies together are surely influencing,” she reports.
“We have so much more in common than different. Even if I knew it before, it was emphasized when I slept and talked and ate with these people. We all have the same hopes so we’re all interested in the same things from the same angles. And the bottom line? The environment knows no borders.”