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Arab-Israeli tech professor breaks barriers

By Associated Press in Haifa, Israel (China Daily) Updated: 2016-02-24 08:06

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.

At just 40 years old, Haick has been repeatedly recognized as a leader in his field. He also teaches a popular online course in his spare time to thousands of students across the Arab world from his lab at Israel's oldest university, the Technion.

Israel's Arab minority, which makes up 20 percent of the population, has long had strained relations with the Jewish majority, ties that have deteriorated amid a five-month wave of Palestinian-Israeli violence. Suspicions have been mounting against Arab citizens, who often identify with their Palestinian brethren in the West Bank and Gaza.

 Arab-Israeli tech professor breaks barriers

Professor Hossam Haick talks to a researcher in his lab at Technion University in Haifa, Israel. Haick said his success as an Arab citizen of Israel proves that education knows no boundaries. Dusan Vranic / Associated Press

While Israel's Jewish population has produced a number of Nobel Prize winners and developed a booming tech sector, Israel's Arabs have often been left behind. They tend to be poorer and less educated than Jews, suffer discrimination in areas like housing and employment, and are underrepresented in academia and the high-tech world.

Haick and his mound of academic degrees, his 28 patents and his 40-page resume defy the statistics. He says that's because academia judges him based on his abilities, not his ethnicity.

"I'm not treated as an Arab ... I'm treated as a special scientist, and this is nice," said Haick. "But unfortunately when I get out of the Technion to reality, things change a bit."

Haick was born in the northern Israeli city of Nazareth and was attracted to science from a young age because he was intrigued by atoms and molecules. He liked imagining what they might look like, how they move and give humans their unique properties.

He completed a post-doctorate at the California Institute of Technology, and since 2006 has taught at the Technion, a prestigious science and technology university in the mixed Arab-Jewish city of Haifa.

He has won nearly four dozen prizes, including a French Knight of the Order of Academic Palms, and has been on the MIT Technology Review's list of the world's 35 leading young scientists.

"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."

There may be no glass ceiling in academia, but outside its august halls Haick shares in the struggles of other Arab citizens of Israel.

Since the current bout of violence began, Israelis have distanced themselves from him once they hear him speaking Arabic, he says. Some have accused him of using science for militant activities.

For years, Haick would be stopped and searched at Israel's international airport, standard treatment for Arabs traveling abroad. After complaining to a senior airport security official, he received a card that allows him to travel more freely. He uses it begrudgingly, irked that he needs a document to prove he is a "good Arab."

A man proposes to his girlfriend with a bouquet of cash in Zhengzhou, Central China's Henan province on Feb 21, 2016.

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