Gaza’s astronomy fans enviously gaze at the skies

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“What happens to me is that I was not able to attend the 2021 astronomy camp in Hebron because the Israeli occupation refused to grant us permits,” lamented Jumana Koueider, an amateur astronomer of the Gaza Strip, in his statement to Al-Monitor. .

Koueider explained that the camp, which was held on August 5, included an observational astronomy training course held at the Birzeit University observatory and the Korea Palestine Center planetarium in Hebron, as the month August offers the most beautiful astronomical events. in the Palestinian sky over Palestine: a major meteor shower.

She added that the camp includes classes on the sky of Palestine and its star clusters and constellations. “We were going to observe Saturn and Jupiter with telescopes,” she said.

“At dawn, we also went to observe the moon. My team and I had planned to watch the crossing of the International Space Station across the Palestinian sky, a wonderful scene that can be seen with the naked eye, ”Koueider added. “We were going to photograph an arm of the Milky Way.

Koueider leads a team of 30 volunteers who meet often at Al-Aqsa University’s Astronomy and Space Science Research Center. They teach children all over Gaza about astronomy and related sciences at home and at other sites such as the Al-Aqsa Research Center in cooperation with local institutions such as UNRWA schools, public schools and the Qattan Foundation.

Since 2013, astronomy camps have been held annually for astronomers and astronomy enthusiasts across the West Bank, but not in the Gaza Strip. Every year, Koueider signs up to participate in one of them, just to be rejected again and again by the Israeli authorities.

Koueider, a self-proclaimed bookworm, became interested in astronomy after reading a book about its history from the era of his Canaanite ancestors and ancient civilizations. She had found the book on the shelves of her grandfather’s library in the attic of his humble house.

Al-Monitor entered Koueider’s makeshift laboratory which she set up at her home in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip. She keeps lenses and other equipment there, as well as handmade tools and models of celestial bodies.

During one of her demonstrations, she put lemon juice on a sunflower leaf and the class watched it turn red. The children were amazed when she discussed what such simple chemistry experiments can teach about the stars.

“We are now participating in the first astronomy camp for children in the Gaza Strip called ‘Astronomical Adventures’, in cooperation with the Culture and Free Thought Association. At the end of the camp, there will be an exhibition for the children to share and demonstrate what they have learned, ”Koueider added.

Koueider hopes that more people in Gaza will be interested in astronomy and that the few existing activities and programs will be expanded.

Mirna Abu Mosbah, one of Koueider’s volunteers and holder of a physics degree from Al-Azhar University, told Al-Monitor: “The dream seemed quite elusive at first. We have been intimidated and mocked because we live in a besieged city where people have asked us how we plan to build a space rocket and whether or not we are going to NASA. But we believe in what we do. We are very happy with what we are doing and will achieve. Despite the lack of opportunities and other challenges, we continue to learn and innovate.

Lorraine Qandil, another member of the team and an astrochemist at Al-Aqsa University, told Al-Monitor that the team made a small telescope from reused parts. She added that the lack of material resources is far from the only challenge, saying: “Most of us are girls, and we live in a conservative society where to go out after midnight to see the stars and the moon is. frowned upon.

Sobh Wajih al-Qiq, doctoral student at Sorbonne University and researcher at the Plasma Physics Laboratory in Paris, worked as a researcher at the Center for Research in Astronomy and Space Sciences at the University of Al-Aqsa and headed the astronomy team before his trip to France and Koueider took over.

“In Gaza, life is limited and opportunities are almost non-existent, but hope is eternal,” Qiq told Al-Monitor.

He explained that he had studied and received many scholarships and research opportunities, “but I was only able to get out of Gaza prison two years ago, when I went to Paris.”

Qiq added, “I have worked in some Palestinian research institutions and universities, but unfortunately there is not enough interest in science to make a difference. Universities tend not to create space research centers, and if one of them is inclined to create such centers, it usually fails to prioritize them. “

Qiq stressed the need to provide Palestinian scientists with opportunities abroad and support them in their studies and to pay more attention to the work of the Astronomy and Space Science Research Center.

Ziyad al-Sahar, professor of physics at Al-Aqsa University, told Al-Monitor: “I had been interested in astronomy since childhood and borrowed astronomy books from the Center for culture and light. [in Remal] in the 1970s, because resources were scarce and there were no specialists in astronomy in Palestine.

He added: “There is an astronomy center at Al-Aqsa University, astronomical societies, a club for amateur astronomers and astronomical projects in the Gaza Strip, but all of them need support and help. development.

“Only two telescopes entered Gaza through the French consulate, and it is difficult to provide more advanced telescopes due to the siege,” Sahar said, adding that the university is currently working on the introduction of a course. astronomy.

Dawoud Tarawa, director of the Palestinian Astronomical Society in Jerusalem, told Al-Monitor: “In August, the Palestinian sky hosts an exciting astronomical event: the Perseid meteor shower, which is one of the Most intense and enjoyable meteor showers. . “

They fall from August 9 to 14 and activity peaks on August 12.

Tarawa added, “Fortunately, the Palestinian team won first place in the world in the international space settlement design competition organized by NASA. August’s annual competition for high school students is supported by many space, engineering and education organizations.

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