Saturday, February 27, 2016

Hossam Haick: Giving a local historical rooting to a celebrity

As a Palestinian citizen of Israel I want to claim Prof. Haick as ‘mine’ on all kinds of levels. It is difficult to believe this super-scientist is one of us. To appreciate why, I wish you would first read the laudatory Associated Press report in the New York Times:

First of all Prof. Haick is my neighbor. He was born and grew up in Nazareth and attended the same school, St. Joseph High School, that my daughter attended briefly, though she did that a couple of years before him. And I attended high school in Nazareth as well but in a different school and in an altogether different epoch. Need I remind the reader who else grew up in that town? Or who St. Joseph was? So Hossam and I have a lot of proud connections.

There are many Palestinian Haick families, I am sure. But in the vicinity of Nazareth most of the Haicks I know are originally from the village of Eilaboun, which makes Hossam my next-door neighbor. Here is something from my book of memoirs about the special relationship between our two villages in 1948, provided, that is, my hunch about his Eilaboun roots is proven correct; it is an account from an old man I meet on the road one day:

“Your good father must have told you about how the farmers of Arrabeh and Sakhnin worked the land of Eilaboun in the Battouf when its Christian residents were driven out to Lebanon [in 1948 by the Jewish forces].  Their priest, al-Khouri Murqus al-Mualem, may his soul rest in peace, an honorable man if there ever was one in these parts, sent out an SOS message asking for help.  Every farmer in your and my village took their work animals and equipment to the abandoned land of Eilaboun in the valley and in no time had it plowed and planted with wheat.  By the time al-Khouri Murqus managed to use his influence with the Pope to bring his people back, they returned to find their crops ready for harvest.  We helped them bring it in as well.  That is how honorable neighbors care for each other, not by selling the land to the Jews for paper money.”

‘Haick’ as in Hossam or ‘Hayek’ as in Selma is Arabic for Weaver or one who nets or crochets or does needlework on cloth. From there, I am tempted to believe, the distance to nanotechnology is short. So, you see, Professor Hossam Haick is part and parcel of our daily rural Palestinian lifestyle, not some distant intellectual or scientific prodigy orbiting in the mysterious academic space of scientific institutions whether in Israel or California. As I said, I am trying hard to believe he is one of us.

In my eagerness to claim a share in the good professor/researcher/inventor, I am happy to discover that we agree on several points of principle. Take the opening statement in the above-mentioned report that I hope you have already read by now:

“Hossam Haick, whose breakthrough work in nanotechnology has garnered global accolades, says his success as an Arab citizen of Israel proves that education knows no boundaries and is key to improving his community's lot.”

Of course, I agree with my good neighbor’s assessment! Notice though while reading the article that its author takes the cautious stand of using the politically accepted practice in official Israeli circles, and hence in America as well, of referring to us, the Palestinian citizens of Israel, as ‘Israel’s Arabs’ except later on when speaking of “Palestinian-Israeli violence”, the one single time that the un-kosher term is used. Here is my take on the subject, this time from the introduction to my collection of short stories, Chief Complaint: A Country Doctor’s Tales of Life in Galilee, (Just World Books, 2015.)

“Yes, in the ‘state of the Jews’ education is the Palestinians’ strong card: We are proud sumud and education freaks. Entire families pool their combined labor wages to support a student through college. Young professionals are hard at work to guarantee their community a future and measure up to the high expectations of their hard slugging artisan fathers and mothers, descendants of land-stripped subsistence farmers. The practice and the tradition should be enough to sustain us in the face of the gathering storm.”

The head of the Technion, the oldest Israeli university and the home research and teaching institute of Prof. Haick, sees the same factual situation and reaches the same conclusion. Except that he puts the onus of their relative regressive state, by implication, on the Arab students:

"He is an extraordinary talent," said Peretz Lavie, the president of the Technion. "He shows ... there is no glass ceiling and no discrimination in science. He serves as a role model to youth in the (Arab) sector, that if they invest in education they can go far."

I am not accusing the Associated Press or the NYT of open enmity to Palestinians in this report but rather of abiding by the self-imposed Israeli and AIPAC rules of discourse in which positive terminology is reserved for Jewish Israel and negative associations for Palestine and Palestinians. The latter are best not mentioned at all by specific name so as not to grant them linguistic recognition that may well lead to them agitating for political recognition. For more on the charged topic of partiality in reporting please see the article at the following link:

And here is one last connection I want to claim: quite early on, in 2013 I registered for Prof. Haick’s online course on nanotechnology and nanosensors . Unfortunately, I wasn’t persistent enough to gain all the potential benefits. In my own defense I will say this: I registered in the course more as a vote of confidence in and a gesture of seeking to associate with the rising star even if only intellectually and at a distance. It was that rather than gaining new knowledge that drove me subconsciously, I now admit in retrospect. Contrary to the classic saying, it is never too late to learn ‘new tricks.’ But, starting with the premise based on which I registered for the course, I faced a wide array of choices. As a physician I am impressed daily by the names and achievements of so many young physicians right in my neck of the woods. In 1970 when I returned to my home village of Arrabeh I was the only western-trained physician in an area of Galilee of over 50 thousand people, including Eilaboun. In a recent survey Arrabeh alone boasts having 280 physicians. There are too many stars for me to gaze at, you understand, Prof. Haick. I guess I blinked and missed out on all the benefits of your full course. I know you will forgive me this once.

You know what! I almost forgot! I also was knighted by the French. Except that my armor never shined because I don’t speak their language.


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