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Greetings from the north, the West Bank, and Portugal!

A handful of leaders from the ecovillage “Tamera” in Southern Portugal came to visit our students on the morning of Friday March 23rd. The discussion with the students focused on sustainable water management, and how societies can efficiently use and harvest rainwater in arid regions to grow food and heal biotopes that have been previously damaged by humans. The Tamera members stressed that if done correctly, Water Retention Landscapes would pose a solution to desertification in the Middle East. The students were extremely interested in Tamera’s theories of creating an abundance of water in the Arava Valley, seeing that the region received less than five millimeters of rainfall this year. To learn more about the Tamera ecovillage, check out their website at: http://tamera.org/index.html.

This past weekend, a group of about 20 AIES alumni and seven current students gathered in Marda village in the West Bank. The purpose of the gathering was to learn about environmental issues facing the village, volunteer on the Marda Permaculture Farm, and discuss future plans and events for the alumni network. The two days were filled with lively discussion, hikes around Marda and the neighboring village of Yassuf, lots of farmwork, and delicious homemade food!

The general consensus among those who attended the gathering was that it was a great success. Ideally, monthly alumni meetings in different locations will continue to happen and build momentum within the alumni community. The initiative is off to a great start with many more conversations, events, and activity to come.

As you may have heard, our students and interns recently went on a trip to the north of Israel as part of the “Water Management in the Middle East” class, taught by Dr. Clive Lipchin. Though Clive unfortunately got sick at the last minute and was unable to attend the trip, Dr. Elli Groner and AIES alumnus Amer Sweity filled in and did a great job! The students enjoyed a full three days of traveling, touring, learning and discussing.

Day 1:

The first stop on the trip was the Ashkelon desalination plant, which is the third largest desalination plant in the world. The students, who were required to wear hard hats during the tour, saw firsthand the technologies they had discussed in class, and at the end of the trip even got to drink some tasty desalinated water. One of the students noted that desalination is a simple theory and practice, but the amount of energy, physical labor, and financial resources needed for the process is immense. Ashkelon was the first in the world to create their unique energy recovery system, and since then there have been 350 desalination plants built in 40 countries around the world using the same idea. The glass is always half full for Ashkelon!

After seeing how sea water can be transformed into potable water, the students traveled north to the Gilboa to witness an area where sewage runoff from the West Bank flows into Israel. Sunshine and sudden rain combined powers to create a rainbow that followed the group as they walked along the fence bordering the Palestinian town of Jenin. The group stopped next to the site to talk about the sewage runoff and hear about a potential transboundary nature park. The plan is to create a park of 2.5 kilometers on both sides of the fence in order to improve relations and encourage dialogue between cultures. The waste and sewage of 200,000 people is running into the Israeli watershed, and by law, Israel is required to treat any polluted water. Therefore, the sewage runoff is treated in Israel and returned to the Palestinians. Despite the fence that separates the two, there is still cooperation amongst the two municipalities.

Day 2:

The group awoke in Tiberius and traveled to meet with the head engineer of the Kinneret Water Authority. He spoke about how water is harvested and managed in Israel’s largest freshwater source, the Sea of Galilee. He also discussed the ecosystem of the lake and how the quality of the water is affected by the health of the ecosystem. About 950 million cubic meters of water are stored in the Kinneret every year. However, 300 million cubic meters are lost through evaporation and 50 million cubic meters are given to the water authority of Jordan as part of a historical treaty.

Next stop on the trip was the Israeli-Arab town of Sakhnin, where the group was lucky enough to meet with the mayor of the village and hear him speak about his own personal identity and the history of the town. Afterwards, they heard from a regional council member, who spoke about his vision of peace in the region.

After a delicious lunch, the group headed to Hula Valley and biked through the gorgeous green landscape of the Agamon Hula Nature Reserve.

The whole region used to be a lake until it was drained for use as agricultural lands. This plan backfired, however, as the majority of the soil is peat which is not good for planting crops. Today, this area of the Hula has been preserved as a nature reserve. The students were witness to the vast and diverse wildlife in the region, including a huge flock of migrating cranes stopping to feed, nutria swimming and playing in the grass, and a herd of water buffalo grazing at sunset.

Day 3:

The third and final day of the trip began at the Banias Falls, where the students hiked through the forests and archaeological sites of the Golan Heights. It was a beautiful hike filled with tangerine picking, laughter, and most of all, water! The hike culminated at the Banias Falls, where the group happily felt the mist of the falls spray their faces.

The last stop on the water trip was in Majdal Shams, a Druze village located on the 1974 ceasefire line with Syria. The students ran through a sudden, surprise hail storm to the town’s community center, where they were warmly greeted by a village resident who works for “Golan for Development of Arab Villages.” His lecture encompassed what it means to be Druze, the environmental problems facing the village, and his personal narrative pertaining to politics of the Golan.

The students, interns, and staff returned to Ketura following three days full of travel, learning, nature, and bonding.  Thanks to Brian Hoefgen, Shannon Wade, Ruby Eb, and Miriam Meyers for their wonderful photos!  And a special thank you to Brian and Shannon for their contribution to this blog.

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, and peaceful Passover Holiday!

Miriam Sharton,

Executive Director

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