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The American mathematician David Mumford, co-winner of the 2008 Wolf Foundation Prize in Mathematics, announced upon receiving the award yesterday that he will donate the money to Birzeit University, near Ramallah, and to Gisha, an Israeli organization that advocates for Palestinian freedom of movement.
“I decided to donate my share of the Wolf Prize to enable the academic community in occupied Palestine to survive and thrive,” Mumford told Haaretz. “I am very grateful for the prize, but I believe that Palestinian students should have an opportunity to go elsewhere to acquire an education. Students in the West Bank and Gaza today do not have an opportunity to do that.”
The Wolf Foundation awards prizes of $100,000 each year “to outstanding scientists and artists for achievements in the interest of mankind and friendly relations among peoples,” its web site says. It is considered one of the most prestigious international honors in mathematics.
Mumford, professor emeritus at Brown University and Harvard University, shared this year’s prize with Pierre Deligne and Phillip Griffiths of Princeton University. According to the Wolf Foundation, he was recognized for his “work on algebraic surfaces; on geometric invariant theory; and for laying the foundations of the modern algebraic theory of the moduli space of curves and theta functions.”
Mumford, who received the prize from President Shimon Peres in the Knesset, said he has already contacted Birzeit University and Gisha, and they have agreed to accept his donation. “The achievements I accomplished in mathematics were made possible thanks to my being able to move freely and exchange ideas with other scholars,” he said. “It would not have been possible without an international consensus on an exchange of ideas. Mathematics works best when people can move and get together. That’s its elixir of life. But the people of occupied Palestine don’t have an opportunity to do that. The school system is fighting for its life, and mobility is very limited.”
“When I visited Israel in 1995, there was a feeling of hope, but that is not the situation today,” he added. “Education for people in the occupied territories gives them a future. The alternative is chaos.” He said his decision was not aimed at Israel. “I have tremendous regard for Israel, which is without a doubt a major force in the mathematics world. But unfortunately, the Palestinians cannot take part in this prosperity.”