Wheelchair-bound Bedouin man is Israel’s newest doctor of physics

Ramadan Abu-Ragila receives a doctoral degree at Ben-Gurion University (Ran Dahan/TPS)

Among the graduates receiving their doctoral degrees at Ben Gurion University of the Negev on June 28, one stood out above the rest.

Ramadan Abu-Ragila, 34, has muscular dystrophy, a disease that causes progressive weakness and loss of muscle mass, is wheelchair bound and relies on an oxygen machine to breathe. A Bedouin, from the town of Segev Shalom southeast of Beersheba, Abu-Ragila has just completed his doctorate in physics, specialising in the diffusion of water particles.

“I felt enormous satisfaction at achieving a goal and reaching a far off point that I had set for myself,” Abu-Ragila tells Tazpit Press Service (TPS).

Abu-Ragila says he set that goal for himself back in high school. “People told me that physics was a very tough subject so I decided to pick it as a major. I thought it would be very challenging, but challenges are not something I shy away from.”

Abu-Ragila didn’t face those challenges alone. His brother Jihad, who is two years younger than Ramadan, took it upon himself to help his elder sibling achieve his goals. “One day I saw Ramadan sitting at home. He told me he had enrolled to study nuclear engineering at university but didn’t have a way to get to Beersheba. I decided I would help him and from the first day of his first degree right through to his doctorate I accompanied him. He was the brains and I supplied the legs,” says Jihad.

Ramadan says the switch from the sheltered life of a small Bedouin village to the world of academia was not an easy transition. “At the beginning it was very difficult, the first month, the first year. They were really hard,” says Abu-Ragila. “I understood that the transition from high-school to academia was not at all simple. But thankfully I had a very supportive environment. My brother Jihad, my family and friends. Slowly I got used to it.  My success is their success,” he says.

Abu-Ragila steers away from talking about how he coped with his deteriorating physical condition alongside the rigorous demands of his academic chores. All he is willing to say is that  he never received any special concessions and was always taught to believe in his abilities “until I believed in them myself.” His experiences have taught him one central lesson in life: “Whoever you are and no matter what path you choose, there will be always be hurdles. It is our duty to strive to overcome them.”

Having achieved his goal, Abu-Ragila isn’t about to stop there. He has already enrolled for post-doctoral study at Haifa’s Technion-Institute of Technology. “From my perspective the next stage for me is to serve the academic community  and to continue to develop my field of research in order to serve humanity.”