Birzeit University pays tribute to supporter of Arab unity and scientific pioneer Professor Antoine Zahlan

Birzeit University has recently established a memorial garden in honor of Dr. Antoine Zahlan, a prominent Palestinian scientist, thinker, and historian who will always be remembered for his immense contributions to the advancement of science and education in Palestine and the Arab world.

Zahlan, who passed away on September 1, 2020, in Beirut, Lebanon, was one of the Arab world’s most prolific writers and thinkers, publishing works in science, education, history, and urban policies, among others. He helped found many institutions that paved the way for generations of Palestinian and Arab scientists and bolstered Arab integration such as the Arab Physical Society and the Center for Arab Unity Studies.

Born in Haifa, Zahlan and his family had to leave Palestine in 1948 due to the Israeli occupation. They settled in Beirut, Lebanon, where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics from the American University of Beirut (AUB). He then pursued a Ph.D. at Syracuse University in the U.S.

Upon his return in 1956, Zahlan took up a position at the American University of Beirut, leading the department of physics and teaching as part of its faculty members for 13 years. During this time, Zahlan took an interest in the state of scientific research in the Arab world and worked, with colleagues from AUB and beyond, on stimulating research and development and, in the process, bridging the gap between Arab nations.

As part of this push, Zahlan helped found the Royal Scientific Society in Amman, Jordan, which he directed, followed by the Arab Project and Development Institute, a commercial undertaking which explored ways to advance research and development in the Arab region. In 2010, Zahlan founded the Arab Scientific Community Organization, which is overseen by a board of trustees comprising scientists from Iraq, Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, and Lebanon, and aims to strengthen scientific and research links between countries in the Arab world.

Zahlan also held academic positions at various international universities and research institutions, such as Stanford University, the University of North Carolina, the University of Essex, and the International Development Research Centre in Canada.

Known for his pan-Arab outlook and wide range of academic interests, Zahlan published heavily. Among his most widely known publications are: “The Reconstruction of Palestine: Urban and Rural Development,” “The Science and Technology Gap in the Arab–Israeli Conflict,” “Palestine's Arab Population: The Demography of the Palestinians,” “Science and Science Policy in the Arab World,” and “Acquiring Technological Capacity.”