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Director’s Blog: April

Back from the Spring Break

After a needed break from studies, students returned to the Arava Institute from their vacation full of energy and enthusiasm. The annual Biodiversity Course taught by Dr. Uri Shanas and Dr. Elli Groner offered an opportunity for many students to get out in the field and experience how conservation is really practiced.  Soon after the their return students were treated to a four day “Water Trip”, part of the “Water Resource Mangement in the Middle East Course”, taught by Dr. Clive Lipchin, which included visits to significant water sites in  Jordan, Palestine and Israel. Our Youth Environmental Education Peace Initiative, headed by Dr. Gonen Saguy, which brings together Arab and Jewish Schools in Israel around environmental education had a special visitor this month, Ms. Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of US Secretary of State John Kerry.  The Arava Center for Sustainable Development graduated its first class in sustainable agriculture in Kenya while research at the institute in trans-boundary water management, renewable energy, sustainable agriculture and bi-national nature conservation continues to contribute to the body of knowledge which is protecting our natural environment and human welfare in the Middle East and around the world.  Finally, we look forward to the Arava Alumni Peace and Environmental Network’s annual conference being held in Beit Jalla, West Bank on May 9th- 11th, this year sponsored by the Miller International Institute at the Rutgers University School of Law.

David Lehrer

Furrows in the Desert  Project Successfully Trains Farmers of Turkana, Kenya

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Furrows in the Desert (FID), a project which aims to train the people of Turkana, Kenya in sustainable agricultural practices, just completed its first course on March 22nd.  FID is a joint project run by the Israeli NGO Brith Olam, the Arava Center for Sustainable Development, and the local monastery. The participants, which included a farm manager and local volunteers, were trained by Arava Institute affiliates Moti Harari and Amit Eliyahu. The course, which began in October, taught the students about land preparation, fencing, and compost preparation. The graduates will continue to receive ongoing practical and theoretical consultation for their own farms by the FID team. Congratulations to the graduates!  The Arava Center for Sustainable Development, headed by Dr. Shmuel Brenner, is dedicated to empowering peoples from the developing world through onsite training and programs held at the institue, spreading the knowledge gained in sustainable technologies and methods developed in the Arava.

Submitted by Elli Groner

Biodiversity Course Takes Students on a Sand Dune ExpeditionImage

During the first week of April, the Arava Institute held a four-day expedition as part of the “Biodiversity of Sand Dunes” course at Samar Sand Dunes in the southern Arava. Dr. Elli Groner led a class with both students from AIES and from Haifa University, along with Dr. Uri Shanas of Haifa University. The expedition aimed to teach students how to study the diversity of a specific landscape unit. They were taught how to set up pitfall traps to capture insects, arthropods and lizards; as well as how to set up Sherman traps to capture rodents. All the captured animals were then collected and taken to the lab in order to also teach students how to identify each species by using microscopes and other equipment. The final requirement of the course will be to write a report on the biodiversity of this specific dune landscape unit  applying various biodiversity indices including Whittaker, Simpson, and Curtis.

Submitted by Asem Makableh

Ms. Teresa Heinz Kerry visits a YEEPI School

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On the 9th of April, Ms. Teresa Heinz Kerry, businesswoman, philanthropist, and wife of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, accompanied by Ms. Julie Fisher, wife of U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel B. Shapiro, visited a group of tenth graders at Lod High School in central Israel. These lucky tenth graders are participating in an extracurricular program called  the Youth Environmental Education Peace Initiative (YEEPI), supported in part by the US Embassy in Israel, the  Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, and also by the high schools themselves.  YEEPI is a unique program founded by a group of Arava Institute alumni and headed by Dr. Gonen Saguy, who is also an alumnus. The program exists as a partnership between the Arava Institute and the Towns Association for Environmental Quality –Agan Beit Natufa. YEEPI strives to remove religious and cultural barriers by joining Jewish and Arab schools together to learn how to protect and care for their shared environment. The success of YEEPI lies in its ability to break down stereotypes of “the other” and to help the students see each other as friends and equals, not Jews and Arabs. During the initial part of Ms. Heinz Kerry’s visit, the educators and administrators from both Ort Lod (the Arab high school) and Ort Holon (the Jewish high school) gave presentations about their ongoing work and some of the challenges that they face. Then, a group of students made presentations to the visitors. Most talked about the positive impact YEEPI has on them and how much they enjoyed the program while several students from Ort Lod expressed their desire to live in peace and work together. Some of the students from Ort Lod come from Bedouin households and for them, peace without compromising their traditional lifestyle was especially important. One student talked about how every morning, she assists her family by baking hundreds of Shrak (traditional Bedouin bread) before she leaves for school. In the evening, in addition to her chores and helping take care of her brothers and sisters, she studies hard to maintain good grades so that she can attend medical school. Her dream is to become a doctor, a dream that not so long ago, would have been nearly impossible for a Bedouin woman living in a traditional household. In honor of Ms. Heinz Kerry and Ms Fisher’s visit, the girl brought in a plateful of Shrak for everyone to try.

Submitted by Vera Saulino, YEEPI Intern

Students embark on “Water Trip” and witness challenges to management in the region

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Photo by Stacia-Fe Gillen

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Photo by Dima Khoury

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Photo by Dima Khoury

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Photo by Dima Khoury

At the crack of dawn on April 12th, the entire student body of the Arava Institute, accompanied by staff and interns, boarded a bus headed for Ashkelon. It was the beginning of a 5-day Water Trip. The trip was part of a required course for all students called “Water Resource Management in the Middle East,” and was intended to show the challenges and approaches to transboundary water management in Israel, the West Bank, Palestine, and Jordan.  The trip began in Israel, with behind-the-scenes tours of a desalination plant and wastewater treatment plant. The desalination plant supplies Israel with 15% of its domestic water production, and the wastewater treatment plant is one of the most complex of its kind in the region. The following morning in Jerusalem, the group was introduced to  the Kidron River Valley. The Kidron River is a body of water for which both Israelis and Palestinians are riparians, and one that is beleaguered by contamination – including over 28,000 cubic meters of raw sewage which flows through the river. The students met with experts from Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) and the engineers behind a joint Master Plan to address the needs of the Kidron.  The group talked at length about the political barriers that prevent said Master Plan from manifesting – including the Israeli government’s rejection of joint proposals for the improvement of Palestinian infrastructure.We were kindly hosted by an alumnus who lives in East Jerusalem, and whose backyard looks down into the Kidron Valley where birds flocked around the raw sewage flowing in the river.The group then made its way to a reservoir in Area C of the West Bank, at what would be the most politically tense hour of the day. The reservoir provides water mainly to Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The manager of the reservoir began explaining how the plant operates and his role in it, but the conversation was quickly diverted into an argument about whether or not the settlements should be there in the first place. After a bitter argument, the group departed the reservoir, feeling considerably discouraged about the chances for reconcilliation in the region. It was a relief, then, to arrive for lunch at EcoME – an ecological center in the West Bank founded by Arava Institute alumni which served as an oasis to the weary travelers. AIES alumni including Rina Kedem and Liel Maghen facilitated a group discussion reflecting on the frustrating experience at the reservoir.  The group left EcoME with good food in their stomachs and with a bit of restored hope. The trip was truly the highlight of the semester so far.  A huge thanks goes out to Dr. Clive Lipchin, director of the Center for Transboundary Water Management, program director Cathie Granit, and campus life director Barbara Finkel for organizing the trip and making it run smoothly.The next two days were dedicated to exploring water in Jordan, including a large reservoir, the King Abdullah canal, and the Dead Sea. The students met with area experts who guided them through the status quo of water usage in Jordan – some of the progress that has been made, and some of the setbacks. The next day, the final activity was an exhilarating, upstream  hike through Wadi Mujib – where the entire group climbed up rocks and rope systems to reach a huge waterfall. They went back the way they came, floating effortlessly downstream on a lazy river. The physical exercise and relaxation of being immersed in the water was the perfect cure for those who had been feeling discouraged or overwhelmed  by the critical political and environmental questions posed by the trip.

Submitted by Kayla Santosuosso

Intern Profile – Evan Morrow

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Evan Morrow, born in Vancouver, Canada, graduated with a BSc in Environmental Science from Queen’s University with a focus on Physical Geography and Economics in 2008. He also received an MSc in Ecological Economics from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland in 2009, where he looked at the economics of transporting water from a water abundant country (Turkey) to a capital abundant country (Israel), as well as the role that regional politics has played. Evan has since spent time taking accounting courses, volunteering at an afterschool program at a community center in Vancouver, planting mangroves and teaching English in the Philippines. He is looking forward to working on the website, GIS and other elements of the stream restoration project, and enjoying his time on Kibbutz Ketura.

Alumni Profile – Raja Abdel Aziz

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Raja Abdel Aziz  is from Jerusalem. She received her BA in History and Political Science from Birzeit University. Her education is very important to her and during her time at the Arava Institute  in 2010-2011, she contributed to the Peace Building and Environmental Leadership (PELS) course with an interesting perspective and important insights. Following her study at the Institute, she then worked as a Program Associate for the year of 2011-2012. Raja is passionate about enhancing her understanding of the different dimensions of the Palestinian and Israeli realities and displays bravery in her pursuit.  Her project during her year at the Arava Institute focused on the Bedouin population within the Negev area, in terms of their political situation and their environmental perception within the State of Israel. Currently she is a graduate student at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, studying the political history of Israel and the Zionist movement.

The Alumni Conference is Almost Here! 

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Don’t forget to register for the Alumni Conference! The conference will be held May 9-11 at the Talitha Kumi guest house in Beit Jala. The conference is fast approaching and registration is closing soon!  Come hear about the work our fabulous alumni are involved in, and network while you do it! The conference will also include opportunities to plan for future projects, as well as activities to help alumni get to know each other.  The cost for the conference is 200 NIS, but scholarships are available.  See you in Beit Jala!  This year’s conference is sponsored by the Miller International Institute of the Rutgers University School of Law.

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