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Director’s Blog: March 2013

Spring Break

Most of the students and interns are taking advantage of the spring break to head home, travel and visit friends, so the Arava Institute offices and campus are relatively quiet.  This week we are celebrating both the Jewish holiday of Passover and the Christian holiday of Easter. Both holidays highlight the Spring as a time of rebirth and renewal.  Last week’s visit of President Obama has breathed new life into a moribund peace process, offering us a chance to renew our hope in peace and the fulfillment of the promise of the Arab Spring.  As I sit with family, friends and students at our Passover Seder,reading from the Hagada,  I will recall when I was a slave in Egypt and how I was freed but I will also recall President Obama’s words;  ” It’s also a story that holds within it the universal human experience, with all of its suffering, but also all of its salvation.”  I hope everyone has a good break and returns renewed, refreshed and ready to make a difference.

David Lehrer

Liel Maghen, Arava Institute Alumni,  attends President Obama’s Speech in Jerusalem

2400971439[1]Since President Obama declared that he is going to have a speech in front of Israeli youth in Jerusalem, I knew that it is going to be a remarkable event.  I managed to get a ticket to the speech through the Arava Institute and the NGO Peace Forum. Although my expectations were high, the event still managed to surprise me. After an hour under the sun in the main entrance  and after hours in the second security entrance, I managed to get into the main conference hall. Inside the auditorium was a festive atmosphere.  Students were eating,drinking and singing in the hallways, waiting for the speech to start. Others, were trying to find better seats and some used the opportunity to take a nap or to read another article before class. Together with this festive energy, there was another energy that was very clear. The audience was socially heterogeneous. Just half an hour before the speech, you could see students of different ages and universities, seated in the same row with the US Ambassador or with some ministers that were invited this event. I even saw two students asking two members of the Knesset to change seats because they were seating in their seats.   But nothing could have prepared us for the speech itself. Together with the strong and clear words about the friendships between Israel and the U.S, President Obama managed to focus on three dimensions that are critical to the current situation: security, peace and prosperity. But two things that touched me more than anything, were related to my experience at the Arava Institute. The first was when President Obama talked about justice and asked the audience to imagine themselves as Palestinians. Although at the Arava Institute it is not unusual for students to be asked to try to imagine themselves in the place of the other, I don’t remember any political leader asking Israelis to put themselves into Palestinian shoes and to think about the situation from a universal and just perspective. The second point was when President Obama talked about ways to achieve the reality for which we wish;  “That is where peace begins – not just in the plans of leaders, but in the hearts of people; not just in a carefully designed process, but in the daily connections that take place among those who live together in this land”.  No leader has ever told the people who the reality depends on them and not only on the politicians. Through my experience at the institute and through the Arava Alumni Peace and Environmental Network (AAPEN), I understood that people from both sides are waiting too long for their politicians to change reality.  I hope that this speech will make an important impact on people’s hearts and as a result act against  the violence and injustice which the President described in order to achieve the necessary, just and possible peace.

Submitted by Liel Maghen

Ben-Gurion University President Rivka Carmi visits the Arava Institute:

carmi-tor[1]On March 13th, Rivka Carmi, President of Ben-Gurion University, visited the Arava Institute with 18 delegates from her leadership team.  President Carmi was given a tour of the Renewable Energy Research Park with Dr. Tareq Abu Hamed, and was then taken to the new student lounge to meet with students and staff from the Institute. There, Executive Director David Lehrer and Academic Director Dr. Elli Groner spoke about the Institute’s academics, and its focus on transboundary issues and peacebuilding.  At that meeting, a Palestinian and Jordanian student spoke about themselves, their decision to come to the Arava Institute, and their future plans. Both students spoke to the challenges of enrolling in an Israeli institute, and how it impacted their families and their future job prospects, but also altered the way they approach communicating with those who are different from them. President Carmi was so moved by the words of these students that she asked every student in the room to stand and introduce themselves. The diversity of our student body, both in their nationalities and their academic interests, was truly revealed to Ms. Carmi at that moment, who congratulated the student body with applause.

Culture Night Spring 2013:

gefendancingRivkajessye dance

It was that time of the semester once again: culture night! Students, staff, and community members gathered to view and participate in nearly twenty student-led presentations on some aspect of their culture. Mujadara, rice crispy treats, and tabouleh prepared by students and staff lined the tables as everyone filed in to eat, drink, and learn about where each other came from.  Gefen, the son of staff member Michelle Shachar, kicked off the night with a round of Capoeira done in tandem with two students.  Student Rivka Shapiro taught the crowd how to make paper snowflakes, representing her hometown in Minnesota which was covered in snow on that day.  As usual: lots of dancing! The Salsa Committee (yes, there is a Salsa Committee on campus!) presented a routine they’d been practicing, and student Jessye Waxman led a short Irish step dancing class. And, in typical Culture Night fashion, a large group danced debkeh around the room.  We also watched presentations on Palestinian culture and costume, listened to Motown music while drinking milkshakes, and were even taught how to speak with a Boston accent. Once culture night had officially ended, an impromptu drum circle broke out, and students could be heard celebrating into the night.

Submitted by Kayla Santosuosso

Research Snapshot: The Blueprint Negev Bedouin Project

Laqiya_WoolExecutive Director David Lehrer and Research Assistant Tess Zinnes are researching a policy document that will propose how the needs of the Negev Bedouin can be integrated into the JNF Blue Print Negev fundraising campaign. This study is  funded by the JNF, USA and assesses social service projects within the Bedouin community as well as recommends measures to mitigate tensions between all stakeholders involved. Aiming to evaluate levels of effectiveness as well as propose improvements for overall implementation, the research team will generate a strategy with criteria for future projects. In conjunction, a current first-semester Arava student from Jordan with a background in business, initiated a sub-study seeking to identify the needs of small Bedouin enterprises while evaluating the potential for micro-financing to expand employment opportunities. Over twenty cross-sector interviews contribute to the initiative’s data pool that highlight a strong willingness to create closer collaborations to catalyze change.

Submitted by Tess Anais Zinnes

Alumni Profile: Bart Johnsen-Harris

Bart Johnsen-Harris is a Rhode Island native who graduated from Brown University in spring 2012 with a B.A. in Environmental Studies. Merging his interests of the Middle East and environmental issues, he began studying at the Arava Institute this past fall, after completing an intensive Hebrew course at Middlebury College. At the Institute, he took graduate-level courses and engaged in a research project on the Hebron-Besor watershed, a river system which spans from the West Bank, through Israel, and into Gaza. His work ranged from the installation of new monitors in the Hebron River to the analysis and mapping of areas suitable for an artificial catchment to regulate dilution of the stream. Most notably, his successful coursework in GIS (Geographic Information Systems) landed him a job in Amman, Jordan. He currently resides there, working on finding ecosystem service hotspots in Wadi Araba. He designed the methodology for the cross-border Israeli-Jordanian research project and acts as a GIS technician.

Submitted by Kayla Santosuosso

AAPEN Announces the 2013 Alumni Conference 

conferenceThe Annual Alumni Conference will be taking place in Beit Jala this year from Thursday, May 9th – Saturday, May 11th, thanks to a great team of alumni organizers from the Arava Alumni Peace and Environmental Network (AAPEN).  The conference will give our accomplished alumni the opportunity to present on their recent work with one another and crowdsource solutions to challenges faced in the process. The agenda also includes a volunteering session with the local community in Beit Jala, open space discussions, and elections for the AAPEN leadership team. The cost is 200 NIS. Alumni are encouraged to attend, and asked to please register as soon as possible, here.

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