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Director’s Blog: October 2014

Two months after the end of another military conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and 19 years after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitchak Rabin by Yigal Amir, Israelis once again gathered in Rabin Square, named for the fallen Israeli leader, to remember his legacy and to call for peace between the peoples in the region. Former Israeli President Shimon Peres, who spoke at the memorial for Rabin said, “Israel will not have lasting security without peace. Israel will not have a stable economy without peace.  Israel will not have a healthy society without peace.  Israel will not preserve her Jewish and democratic character without peace.”  In the 19 years since Yitzchak Rabin’s assassination, there have been five military conflicts between Israeli and Palestinian forces. In those same 19 years, Israel has suffered from drought, biodiversity loss, ground water degradation and decreasing air quality in major population centers.  As a stark witness to these losses, during the 19 years since Yitzchak Rabin’s assassination, the level of the Dead Sea has dropped almost 20 meters.  Environmental and political challenges abound in the Middle East and the Arava Institute is training a new generation of social and scientific innovators to meet those challenges.  At the Institute when students ask us why the Peace Building and Environmental Leadership is mandatory we tell them that you cannot live in peace with nature if you are not also living in peace with your neighbor. This month, Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian and international students studied together the varied eco-systems of the Arava Valley, met with entertainer and peace activist Achinoam Nini and danced together in celebration of Arava Institute alumna Kate Cohen and Kibbutz Ketura born Matan Hoffman’s wedding. I hope you enjoy reading this month’s blog which shows that there is an alternative to the ongoing conflict and that we can live together in peace in this region.

David Lehrer

Achinoam Nini and Gil Dor Visit the Arava Institute

Recently, Israeli musicians and political activists, Achinoam Nini and Gil Dor visited the Arava Institute and Kibbutz Ketura, creating a festive celebration of the Sukkot holiday. Achinoam Nini, known internationally as Noa, and her musical partner Gil Dor recently joined the Israeli Public Council for the Arava Institute and were eager to meet with students and learn more about the Institute’s vision and actions. In a concert for students and Kibbutz community members, Noa and Gil shared their beautiful music, spoke about the songwriting process and their experiences as political artists.10669331_864762973534095_751054507785294817_o

The following day, former Israeli Ambassador to France and the Chair of the Public Council, Daniel Shek joined Noa and Gil for a meeting where students shared their motivations for coming to the Arava Institute and their hopes for the future.  Achinoam and Gil’s honesty and willingness to engage with the community was greatly appreciated by all. Noa and Gil spent the holiday at Ketura with their families and before leaving expressed their appreciation for a certain ‘magic’ they felt in this place. We hope they’ll be back to visit soon and are grateful for their commitment to helping raise awareness and funds on behalf of the Arava Institute and our efforts to make a more environmental and peaceful Middle East.

Submitted by Kate Cohen

Ecology Trip

resized group dunes-blurredIn the early morning on Sunday, October 19th the Ecology of the Arava course students embarked on a full-day field trip to explore different ecosystems in the area. The first stop of the day was at the top of Eagle Mountain overlooking the Arava Valley where Professor Elli Groner gave a lecture about the geographic history of the area. After the lesson, students were driven to the sand dunes near Kibbutz Samar where they learned about the essential role of Hypoxylon fungus to the dunes, identified beetle and skink tracks, and discussed how sand dunes are formed and what threatens their existence. Next, the group stopped at the Bird Sanctuary near Eilot to see the amazing biodiversity of the area. There, they learned about environmental pressures that migratory birds face and the efforts by the Sanctuary to help. The highlight of the trip was visiting the underwater observatory in Eilat and snorkeling off the coast of the Red Sea. The observatory facilitates tours for visiting school groups and has a curated aquarium to show the variety of species and incredible beauty of the local reefs. On the way back to Ketura, the excursion stopped at a salt evaporation pond  to watch a flock of flamingos forage in the pools. The final stop was at Hai Bar, the Arava Valley’s largest nature reserve, where the students learned how to identify the different subspecies of Vachellia or the African Acacia, and about their influence over nutrient cycling in the desert environment.

Submitted by Oren Rabinowitz

Arava Institute’s Center for Trans-boundary Water Management (CTWM) Conference

nablus7The Arava Institute’s Center for Trans-boundary Water Management (CTWM) and Palestinian non-governmental organization, House of Water & Environment (HWE) recently held a workshop in Nablus for homeowners and technicians involved with the USAID constructed wetland grey water treatment project. This allowed everybody involved with the project to learn more about the systems and how they work, in addition to meeting the other people involved with this project. Attendees included Center for Trans-boundary Water Management Director, Clive Lipchin, CTWM interns Allyza Lustig and Jess Little, and Arava Institute students. The workshop consisted of three presentations: Theory and Design of the Constructed Wetland Systems by Dr. Shlomo Kimchie, Construction and Technical Maintenance by Majdi Sahahee and Water Quality Monitoring and Field Observations by Jess Little. These were accompanied by extensive Q & A and a site visit to the constructed wetland system at Deir al-Hatab.

Submitted by Jess Little

Program Associate, Kate Cohen & Matan Hoffman Wedding

Screen Shot 2014-11-07 at 1.26.06 PMLast week, the Arava Institute and the community of Kibbutz Ketura  celebrated the wedding of Kate Cohen and Matan Hoffman. Kate, currently a Program Associate at the Institute, met Matan, who grew up on Kibbutz Ketura, when she came to study here seven years ago.  Their love for one another was beautifully displayed during a touching, honest ceremony. Vows were exchanged in both Hebrew and English, after which all present started off the party with some dancing. Arava students took up a large part of the dance floor, sharing smiles and celebrating the evening with Kate and Matan. Between hours of dancing, there was a dinner and dessert prepared by the kibbutz kitchen.  Kibbutz members, guests and students mingled, shared drinks, enjoyed the perfect weather  and marveled at the complete transformation of the kibbutz itself. Thanks to the hard work of those on the kibbutz, as well as many of the students, the place we work and live everyday seemed completely transformed. The sun set and the stars appeared, the trees stood magically with twinkling lights. It was a beautiful evening in more ways than one. The community is thankful to Kate and Matan for allowing us to join in their celebration and wishes them a life full of love, health and happiness. Mazel tov and Mabrouk!

Submitted by Meredith Allen

Profile: Dr. Alexander Gusarov, the New Director of the Arava Institute’s Center for Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation (CREEC) 

Dr. Alexander Gusarov recently joined the Arava Institute as the new Director of CREEC. Dr. Gusarov has engaged in a number of projects in the field of photo voltaic (PV) efficiency and water desalination. He has been involved in the development of novel methods of silicon treatment and PV wafering technology at the Capital Nature Renewable Energy  Technology Incubator and is now working with both the Arava Institute and the Arava and Dead Sea Science Center.  Alexander received his PhD from Ben-Gurion University (BGU), with his research work focused on optical magnetometer, optical spectroscopy methods and low-noise methods of weak signals registration. An extremely sensitive atomic magnetometer based on spin-dependent interaction of light with polarized atomic vapor was built in the context of his work in the BGU Physics department in cooperation with Negev Nuclear Research Center. His teaching experience includes years of instruction in the field of electro-optics at Ben Gurion University and academic colleges in Israel. Alexander currently lives with his family on Kibbutz Ketura.

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