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Director’s Blog: May 2014

I hope that you have a few minutes to spend reading this month’s blog.  It is overflowing with articles about the myriad of exciting events that took place at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies in the month of May.  The blog covers our academic program’s look at cross border conflicts and reconciliation on the Dual Narratives Trip to Jerusalem.  You will read about the successful alumni conference in Madaba Jordan with over 100 alumni participants and the many visitors hosted and special programs held at the institute.  I want to commend the staff, students and alumni who all work together to push the institute towards higher and higher achievements.  I want to give a special thanks to my new intern, Melanie Nakashian, for bringing to life the mosaic of activities at the institute in such an informative and colorful way in her premier blog, a real tour de force.  David Lehrer

Dual Narratives Peace Building and Enviornmental Leadership Seminar (PELS) Trip to Jerusalem

Early this month, Arava Institute students and interns headed to Jerusalem for the PELS Dual Narratives Trip. The trip began at Beit Yalin, Israel’s first agricultural settlement. Here students listened to two different organizations: Parents Circle-Families Forum and Combatants for Peace. Both organizations seek to promote peace-building and DSCF0839reconciliation through communication rather than violence. After the discussion the group was led by the speaker from Combatants for Peace on a short hike through Lifta, one of the many Palestinian villages on the western edge of Jerusalem evacuated during the 1948 war.
The next day they went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust (or Shoah) museum in Jerusalem. The students were divided into smaller groups and led through the museum on guided tours. Once the tours were completed students participated in a PELS session reflecting on their experiences and thoughts. Following this, the group visited the Max Rayne Hand in Hand Bilingual School for Jewish Arab Education where they had a tour and learned more about the history and mission of the school. Much like the Arava Institute the Hand in Hand school, brings Jewish and Arab students to study together and build an inclusive community. The Arava Institute students had the opportunity to engage with students during an English lesson and spoke with a group of 12th graders about their experiences at the school since an early age and their plans for the future. Though a short trip, the Arava Institute students were exposed to different narratives, perspectives, and histories. Reflecting upon the trip in a PELS session days later, using strategies like compassionate listening to synthesize the experiences they shared. Submitted by Mary Ann Maestas

MASHAV Course on Renewable Energy as a Catalyst for Regional Development

mashavThe Arava Center for Sustainable Development has just completed another successful course for 25 participants from 13 developing countries, as part of the Foreign Ministry’s International Center for Development program (MASHAV). The two and a half week course “Renewable Energy as a Catalyst for Regional Development” program took place at the Arava Institute on Kibbutz Ketura. The group attended hands-on workshops, took field trips in the region, and heard from many of Arava Institute lecturers, including: Dr. Shmuel Brenner, Dr. Tareq Abu Hamed, Dr. Elaine Solowey, Suleiman Halasah, Dr. Amit Mor, Dr. Shlomo Kimchie, and Yair Teller.
In addition, the group was lucky enough to be on Ketura during its annual “music week” and were treated to many evening performances and gatherings. This included Culture Night, when the spotlight was on MASHAV participants from each SONY DSCcountry as they presented aspects of their culture in the form of song and dance to students and kibbutz members. There were other opportunities for interactions with current Arava Institute students throughout the course, at a lively meet-n-greet, and a morning hike up to our nearest overlook. Another highlight was in Jerusalem when Nadia and Diego, a Colombian couple who were married just one week before the course, renewed their vows in the presence of the entire group, guided by fellow participant Frank who is a church minister in Ghana. The final event took place at the offices of “Gigawatt Global” in Jerusalem, attended by representatives of the Foreign Ministry, along with a chance to speak with Yossi Abramowitz, co-founder of the Arava Power Company. Thanks to Abby Lutman and Tali Adini for organizing the course, and to interns Jan Bondy and Hannah Herman for organizing Culture Night. The Arava Institute is looking forward to our next course on the topic of water, scheduled for December 2014. Submitted by Tali Adini

Friends of the Arava Institute Faculty Tour

2014-05-20 16.52.14 The inaugural Arava Institute Trans-boundary Faculty Tour welcomed faculty, researchers, and study abroad professionals from universities across the U.S. for eleven days, during which they traveled through Israel, Palestine and Jordan. Part of the stay was at the Arava Institute, where they took part in conversations regarding renewable energy, trans-boundary water management, sustainable agriculture and development, and sociological research. The visitors also presented their own research to the Arava Institute community, on topics such as trans-boundary water management in the US, US-Mexico water policy, ex-combatants and victims as peacemakers, and the Great Lakes Compact. Their journey outside of Ketura included a dual narratives tour of Jerusalem and observing applied research projects in Bedouin and Palestinian communities. They then culminated their travels in Madaba, Jordan where they had the opportunity to meet Arava Institute graduates at the annual Arava Alumni Peace and Environmental Network (AAPEN) Alumni Conference. Submitted by Melanie Nakashian

Annual Alumni Conference in Madaba, Jordan

Alumni, staff, associates and current students of the Arava Institute gathered together over the weekend of Thursday, May 22nd through Saturday, May 24th at the Grand Hotel in Madaba, Jordan for the annual alumni conference, organized by the Arava Alumni Peace and Environmental Network (AAPEN). This year, there were 103 people in attendance. The theme of this year’s conference was “networking and entrepreneurship.” Accordingly, the conference was a valuable opportunity10294259_10152147913008730_2300536587322575995_n for networking among attendees, for current students to connect with alumni, and alumni and faculty to reunite. Scheduled activities included a networking event, day-long design-thinking workshop, presentations by alumni on their latest work and research, a session on the Youth Environmental Education and Peace Initiative run by alumni, and a distinguished keynote speaker on the topic of entrepreneurship. The keynote speaker was Mrs. Ola Almasri, a Jordanian business woman who was named by Forbes Magazine as among the top 50 most influential Arab businesswomen in the world. Mrs. Almasri shared her insights, gleaned from her own experiences, on making successful connections and actualizing ideas. The results of the design-thinking workshop were creative products and initiatives, from scientific digital applications to food-conscious business ventures, which many were eager to see through to implementation. The conference concluded with a celebration at a restaurant overlooking the city on Friday evening and a visit to a local historical site on Saturday. Key developments emerged from this conference, including renewed volunteer commitments to various programs such as the Israel Ride, discussions on alumni leadership, and plans to evaluate sources of funding. Submitted by Dara Epstein

Art Knows No Borders

photo(2) On May 29th and 30th Arava Institute interns Alexander Stein and May Garces held Art Knows No Borders, a two day event focused on arts’ function in raising environmental awareness, promoting cultural understanding, and fostering peace. The event was entirely crowd-funded by donors, many anonymous, using social media to spread the word. Highlights of the event included talks on arts’ role in social change, workshops on environmental art, and a show featuring the recycled-art sculptures of Ketura based artist Marla Slott, as well as participants own eco-art created during the festival. The event then culminated with a collaborative performance by Iraqi-Jewish musician Yair Dalal and movement artist Celine Avrahimi which attracted visitors from local Kibbutzim, Eliat, and Jerusalem. Submitted by Alex Stein

 

Special Guests of the Conflict or Cooperation Course:  Dr. Muhammad Hmaidi and Dr. Shmuel Brenner

On Thursday 29th of May, the Conflict or Cooperation class was fortunate to host the Palestinian and Israeli negotiators of the environmental section of the Oslo Accords, Dr. Mohammad Hmaidi and Dr. Shmuel Brenner. Following a visit earlier in the semester from Dr. Shmuel Brenner, currently Director of the Arava Center for Sustainable Development, this particular visit focused on a talk with Dr. Mohammad Said Al Hmaidi. With 30 years of extensive environmental experience, Dr. Hmaidi has been a key player in developing environmental institutions, law, assessment policy, strategy and action plans for Palestine, and previously directed the USAID funded Rehabilitation Program in Iraq.hmaidi

Dr. Hmaidi emphasized that prior to becoming a negotiator for the Oslo Accords, he was not a politician  but came from academia and technology – a point of view that brings people together. He proposed that “in order to proceed, we need to look at how to manage the problem, not for a solution to the problem,” and discussed the long list of environmental issues where cooperation offers win-win- dynamics, such as climate change, waste management, local pollution, environmental technology, to name a few.

After his lecture, there was a round table discussion for students to ask questions to both Dr. Brenner and Dr. Hmaidi, on topics ranging from the Oslo Accords, to the Red Sea Dead Sea Conveyance, to Palestinian media. Students certainly walked away from this unique meeting with ideas and inspiration to feed into their own work in environmental cooperation that crosses borders. Submitted by Melanie Nakashian

Profile: Dr. Shanti Gamper-Rabindran

Dr. Shanti Gamper-Rabindran arrived at the Arava Institute on May  19 as the inaugural recipient of the Bley Stein Visiting Professorship. She is DSCF1015Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and the Department of Economics, University of Pittsburgh. Her empirical research examines Corporate Social Responsibility issues, including testing the effectiveness of regulatory, self-regulation and information disclosure programs in the chemical industry, the benefits from hazardous waste cleanup programs and the environmental impact of free trade agreements. She holds a PhD from MIT, MSc in Environmental Management and BA in Jurisprudence from Oxford, and a BA in Economics and Environmental Science & Public Policy from Harvard.

While at the Arava Institute, Dr. Gamper-Rabindran held a two-day workshop on program evaluation for research interns and independent study students. Accompanied by her 7-year-old son Felix, they then traveled to Madaba, Jordan to meet more of the Arava Institute community at the Alumni Conference. During her time in Israel, she also lectured at the Porter School for Environmental Studies in Tel Aviv and at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She was inspired by the youthfulness of the country and by the range of work being done by students and interns at the Arava Institute. The Arava Institute community enjoyed getting to know both Dr. Gamper-Rabindran and Felix. Submitted by Melanie Nakashian

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