In the following links you can find the title, abstract, recording and transcript of the previous lectures. You can find future lectures here.

Autobiographic Narratives of the Great War and the Creation of the New Middle East

Prof. Salim Tamari  (Birzeit University and Institute for Palestine Studies)

September 14, 2022


Soberana vaccines against SARS-CoV2: handling antigenic complexity in a versatile biotechnological process

Dr. Gertrudis Rojas (Center of Molecular Immunology, Havana, Cuba)

May 11th, 2022


Dr. Gertrudis Rojas of the Center of Molecular Immunology in Havana delivered the third Bisan LectureSoberana Vaccines Against SARS-CoV2, on Tuesday 11 May 2022. It was an inspiring summary of Cuba’s COVID-19 vaccine program, in which the Protein Engineering lab that she heads plays a major role. “Inspiring” not only because of the program’s remarkable success in independently developing five vaccines and fully vaccinating almost 90 percent of the Island’s people; but also because it embodies hopeful lessons that other countries would do well to attend.

You can watch the video recording here and you can download the slides here.

Dr. Rojas explained in lay terms how her team in the Protein Engineering lab designed and produced the SARS CoV-2 viral antigen at the heart of three of the five vaccines: Soberana 1, 2, and Plus. The antigen is the so-called receptor-binding domain, or RBD, which is the part of the virus’s Spike surface protein that initiates the infection process by making direct contact with a receptor called ACE2 on the surface of human cells. The Protein Engineering team produced the engineered RBD protein on a laboratory scale to confirm its structure. In particular they showed that it binds ACE2, and used mass spectrometry to demonstrate that the four strong chemical bonds—the “disulfide bridges”—that lock the protein in its natural three-dimensional shape are all intact. They then produced stable lines of Chinese hamster ovary cells that secrete the engineered protein in high yield in culture. Those cell lines have allowed the protein to be produced at industrial scale in huge bioreactors for incorporation into doses for country-wide vaccination.

Dr. Rojas stressed that the vaccine project, including her part in it, isn’t innovative. She meant that the goal wasn’t development of new vaccine technology. It was to “get the job done,” building on technology that is already well established in the Island, including especially in its long-standing national vaccination initiative—a vital component of Cuba’s widely-praised universal health care system. She also emphasized how success has required coordination of many branches of Cuba’s extensive biotechnology sector, each branch playing its role without demanding more than its share of the honor. Her story is an exemplar for the power of communitarian medicine. The story is all the more remarkable in that success has been achieved in spite of the six-decade economic embargo that the U.S. and its allies have imposed on Cuba’s technological development.

One consequence of the embargo is that Dr. Rojas was unable to join the webinar herself: Zoom doesn’t make its services available in the Island, and connectivity is intermittent in any case. Instead, her lecture was pre-recorded and projected during the seminar. Afterward, she responded to the many questions that were submitted in the Chat over a WhatsApp phone connection; a Scientists for Palestine member in Switzerland held his phone close to his microphone while he asked the questions and she responded so the webinar audience could hear. This staticky makeshift arrangement was unable to hide the grace, professionalism, and intelligence of Dr. Rojas’s answers, whether to clarify the nature of the aforementioned disulfide bridges; to convey the pride she takes in her country’s biotechnology sector and the people-focused universal health care system of which it’s a part; or to explain to an audience with many Arabic speakers why one of Cuba’s COVID-19 vaccines comes to have an Arabic name: Abdala, the fictional Nubian hero of an iconic 1869 poem by Cuban revolutionary intellectual José Martí.

Post-justice, exceptionalism, and the normalization of Apartheid

Dr. Honaida Ghanim (Director of the Palestinian Forum for Israeli Studies “MADAR”, Visiting Professor at Birzeit University)

April 13th, 2022


On 13th April 2022, we held our second session of the Bisan Lecture Series. It was given by Dr. Hohaida Ghanem, director of the Palestinian Forum for Israeli Studies “MADAR” and Visiting Professor at Birzeit University. The talk’s title was “Post-justice, exceptionalism, and the normalization of Apartheid”. Dr. Ghanem focused on the importance of the symbolic and ideological facets of the oppression, as those which make the normalization of Apartheid in Palestine possible. She distinguished the conception, according to which Palestine was truly, physically “empty” of Arab inhabitants before the Zionist colonization, from that which has treated Palestine as “politically empty”. The latter approach, according to Ghanem, has tolerated the Palestinian physical presence as long as it was not accorded full-blown humanity, agency and political self-definition. Such an approach has been easier to digest, by the colonialists themselves, as well as by the international community. Hence the Israeli “exceptionalism”. Ghanem offered a fascinating reading of the history of Palestine in the last 100 years according to this interpretation. The talk was followed by a lively discussion, which revolved mainly on linkages between this interpretation and the current political situation in Palestine and Israel. 

The video recording of the webinar is available here. The lecture notes will be available soon at the same address.

The Virology of Ideas—An Indispensable Pandemic

Prof. George Smith (University of Missouri, Nobel laureate in chemistry in 2018)

March 9th, 2022


On March 9, 2022, Nobel laureate George Smith gave the inaugural Bisan Lecture. He spoke of the « ideosphere, » the teeming culture of ideas interacting and mutating much the way viruses do in the biosphere. He presented scientific discovery as a communal process, in which individuals contribute small mutations to the existing flux of ideas. This generous and democratic perspective was contrasted with the authoritarian restrictions faced by the Palestinian people under occupation. His lecture was followed by an interesting question and answer period. More than a hundred people followed the event on Zoom making this Bisan Lecture Series (BLS) inaugural session a great success.

The video recording of the webinar and the lecture notes are available here