Israelis and Palestinians cooperate to identify health-promoting Mediterranean plants

Despite conflict and fury, Israelis and Palestinians join together.

Prof. Bertold Fridlender (photo credit: JERUSALEM ACADEMIC COLLEGE)
Prof. Bertold Fridlender
In spite of the current wave of terrorism and bitter memories of Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, Israelis and West Bank Palestinians have completed a three-year project to identify and study Mediterranean plants for assessment for producing lifesaving medications.
An all-day conference to mark the conclusion of the project called Bio-Xplore – funded largely by the European Union – was held on Thursday at the Hadassah Academic College in Jerusalem.
Students and faculty from Nablus, along with other partners in Spain and Greece, participated by video conference streamed into the college’s Gottesman Auditorium.
Bio-Xplore, a €2 million collaborative international project aimed at promoting socioeconomic development in the Mediterranean Sea basin area, is coordinated by college president Prof. Bertold Fridlender.
Besides the college, the other participants were the Biodiversity and Environmental Research Center of the Palestinian Authority, the Leitat Technology Center in Spain and the Hellenic Regional Development Center in Greece, along with two major associate partners in the US – Rutgers University and North Carolina State University.
The Mediterranean area was picked not only because of the Israeli-Arab conflict but also as its unique geology and climate makes it one of the world’s major centers of plant diversity with some 25,000 species, about half of which are endemic to the region.
About 25 percent of all medications in the world are based on plants, but pharmaceutical companies have preferred to use synthetic chemicals in recent years because they are not as difficult to acquire and test as plant species in far-off locations, which require consultation with native tribes with centuries of experience using them.
But as fewer than 1% of plants in the Mediterranean area have been studied scientifically and 17% of Mediterranean plants are classified as endangered species, the Bio-Xplore project focuses on the identification of commercially valuable natural compounds derived from the flora of the Mediterranean area, with the aim of protecting the natural resources while creating new sources for local industrial development and job opportunities.
It is the first time that the college has been involved in such scientific research, and the Agriculture Ministry has agreed to provide NIS 1.5 million for its students and faculty to continue collecting and examining plants throughout Israel for medicinal potential. In addition, the EU will sponsor a gathering soon in Rome to consider how to continue the cooperative activity.
Fridlender said at the conference that his college wants to “continue to build bridges by joining scientists abroad to make use of their natural resources. Our mission is to utilize financial and human resources to discover, develop and commercialize health and wellness products derived from Mediterranean plants to promote human health based on scientific knowledge. We use science to communicate with Palestinians and create trust.”
Even through the war in Gaza, Palestinians in Nablus and Israelis in Jerusalem continued to cooperate and exchange data through the Bio-Xplore website. Some of the uses of plant extracts could eventually fight cancers and viral diseases.
A full Health Page feature on the conference will be published on Sunday, December 21.