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Using Science to Bring Peace to the Middle East

Could “Sesame” open lines of communication between enemies?

By: David Shear
Published: December 5th, 2012 in News » World
Site of Sesame in Jordan
With the support of a number of Arab nations, as well as Turkey, Pakistan, Iran and Cyprus, and, yes, even Israel, a new and ambitious project which hopes to successfully use science in the ongoing search for peace in the Middle East, is currently being built in Jordan.

At the centre of the project is a multi-million-pound synchrotron particle accelerator, called Sesame.

Despite the ongoing hostility and threats made by both Iran and Israel, both country’s governments seem to agree on the importance of Sesame, and, as such, both have agreed to continue with its funding.

Without Sesame even having been built yet, the fact that scientists and officials from Israel and Iran have already sat at a table together discussing the project, shows its potential.

Like a huge microscope, the synchrotron – which is already being used by 60 countries across the globe but not in the Middle East yet - will help researchers – adversaries and friends alike - to study everything from viruses to new drugs, and, just as importantly, will open the lines of communication and collaboration across the Middle East.

The governing council of Sesame is headed by British physicist Prof Sir Chris Llewellyn Smith.

During a recent visit to the facility, 20 miles northwest of Amman, he told BBC News: "It is pretty remarkable but it's happened and it's because the scientific communities in these countries have pushed for this and ignored the political barriers. Science is a common language - if we can speak it together, possibly we can build bridges of trust which will help in other areas."

Sesame stands for Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East. And it is also a reference to the famous phrase "open sesame", the secret command to open a treasure trove in the tale of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.

Prof Eliezer Rabinovici, a physicist from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, calls Sesame "a beacon of hope for many people in the area who dare to believe" that things can get better in the region. "I think that as scientists, we have to look at the long range, and in the long range we see no conflict of interest between the people of Iran and the people of Israel."

Acknowledging the on-again, off-again, tensions in the Middle East, Prof Llewellyn Smith is well aware that there are a number of factors that could sidetrack the project, but he remains positive.

"Certainly a real war would stop us in our tracks but we've got to be optimistic and keep going," said Smith.

Related articles: Science, Peace, Middle East, Sesame, Communication, Enemies, Israel, Palestine, Turkey, Pakistan, Iran, Cyprus, Jordon
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