Moona serves as a physical and virtual space to promote technology and Jewish-Arab social cohesion in the northern Galilee region of Israel.
By Avigayil Kadesh
“From outer space, everyone looks the same,” says former pilot Asaf Brimer, CEO and founder of Moona — a Space for Change, described as “a collaborative space that enables the people of the Galilee to dream and achieve technological entrepreneurship and innovation, which we believe will help the region reach a social and economic breakthrough.”
Brimer, a former IDF pilot and aerospace executive, launched the technology and innovation hub in September 2014 with partner Hussein Tarabeih, the Muslim head of Towns Association for Environmental Quality, following a successful crowdfunding campaign.
Their aim is to connect Arab and Jewish citizens of the Galilee to one another and to the area’s academic institutions and businesses — as well as promote higher-education opportunities in the sciences for women, especially those from Arab families.
Arab-Israeli Moona participant Shada Miari says on a promotional video for the innovation lab: “I see myself wearing that white lab coat, doing research and doing things that females couldn’t do before.”
Brimer says his motivation was to bring the two populations closer for their mutual benefit. “I decided that my children will be better off if society is more open,” he says. “We lose a lot of advantages because we don’t have opportunities to meet each other, and [Arab children] have few opportunities in high-tech.”
The two men chose to focus on outer space because they believe the combination of exploration and technology will draw many participants from the population in the vicinity of Majd Al-Kurum, a Muslim village 15 kilometers (about 10 miles) east of Acre.
So far, some 100 Jewish and Muslim high school students take part in weekly activities learning about robotics, drones, 3D printing, electronics and other related technologies, and families are also welcome to drop in.
“We don’t need to talk about Arabs and Jews; we’re just doing things that need to get done,” says Brimer. “And we are welcomed because the need is big.” He explains that “moona” means “wish” in Arabic and sounds like “moon” in English, while in Hebrew “emoona” means “faith.”
The hard work of forgiveness
When Brimer told friends at NASA back in January 2013 that he intended to open a program “that is going to change society,” they took him seriously.
At the end of that month, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden Jr. was in Israel for the 10th commemoration of the Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy that took the life of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon. He came to the western Galilee to help Brimer and Tarabeih promote the idea of Moona, speaking before an enthusiastic group of teens in the town of Sakhnin who had put together a science fair for the visiting NASA officials.
Bolden told the audience that the United States is working with Russia on space research. “At one time, the United States and the Soviet Union were the bitterest of enemies. But we’ve got to be willing to forgive people. And that’s hard work," he said.
When Moona finally was established almost two years later – with the support of private individuals and foundations, the Israeli government, Israeli industrialist Stef Wertheimer and the Galilee towns of Karmiel and Misgav – Wertheimer and former Israeli president Shimon Peres came by to celebrate.
Wertheimer, who contributed both funds and equipment to the Moona hub, has long supported the growth of Arab business opportunities in the Upper Galilee. His grandson Oren is the head of Moona’s bicultural board of directors.
The project also has the backing of SpaceIL, a national movement of volunteers, academics, business leaders and industry experts working towards landing an Israeli satellite on the moon and educating Israel’s schoolchildren about the frontiers of space technology.
“As chairman of the public board of SpaceIL, I welcome and support Moona’s establishment with great enthusiasm,” said Yanki Margalit. “There is a real shortage in technology education and a thriving high-tech industry in the northern Galilee region. In the near future, SpaceIL will collaborate with Moona and utilize the new lab for our collaborative educational programs. SpaceIL shares a common goal and interest with entities like Moona. Their success is our success, in realizing SpaceIL’s educational vision.”