Winner of Wolf Prize donates award to Palestinian students

A recipient of one of Israel's most prestigious prizes donated his award on Monday to flagship West Bank university Bir Zeit.

A recipient of one of Israel's most prestigious prizes donated his award on Monday to flagship West Bank university Bir Zeit and Gisha, an Israeli organization which attempts to ease travel restrictions on Gaza-based Palestinian students. Prof. David Mumford of Brown University received the Wolf Prize for mathematics at a Knesset ceremony, Sunday, in recognition of his groundbreaking theoretical work in algebraic geometry. Mumford said that, while he did not characterize himself as a political person, he would donate his $33,333 portion of the shared award in accordance with his belief that freedom of movement is crucial to intellectual development. "I feel strongly that mathematics is an international enterprise, and it's really grown up essentially in every country. ... It's really important that everyone have access to higher education, to the international community where mathematics is being carried on." Mumford said "I felt very much that it was really carrying out the spirit of Wolf's own wishes to further education in all the areas of Palestine." He said he chose Bir Zeit after having visited the university four years ago and had heard about Gisha through friends. Citing security considerations, Israel has banned most Palestinians from leaving the Gaza Strip, forcing hundreds of Palestinian students to abandon or postpone university studies outside Gaza, even if they have full scholarships to schools in Europe or the US or simply want to travel the 40 kilometers to Palestinian universities in the West Bank. The Israel-based Wolf foundation was established by Ricardo Wolf, a German-born inventor, diplomat and philanthropist whose last years were spent as Cuba's ambassador to Israel. He died here in 1981. A spokesman for the Wolf Foundation said it had granted prizes for 30 years to high-achievers in science and the arts. "The winners are permitted to use the money for whatever they choose." A statement by Gisha read "We are grateful to Prof. Mumford for the recognition his gift expresses in the universality of the right to education and its importance for the future of both peoples, Israelis and Palestinians... We hope [his] gesture will influence Israeli officials to remove the restrictions that prevent Palestinian students from exercising their right to freedom of movement and to access educational opportunities."