Director’s Blog: Advancing cross-border environmental cooperation in the face of political conflict

Water, air, energy and land are shared environmental resources in the Middle East. As the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis persists and relationships continue to deteriorate at all levels, not only will cross-border environmental problems continue to plague the region, but they will also significantly increase tension among all sides. Water scarcity in the West Bank and Jordan, and seawater infiltration into Gaza and Israel’s coastal plain, pose regional challenges. The consequences of air and water pollution from urban centers are not confined to local health problems. No border or physical barrier can prevent untreated sewage from polluting shared aquifers or air pollution from spreading from one country to another. As climate change raises average temperatures, reduces average rainfall across the region, and gives rise to an increasing number of extreme events, protecting the rich biodiversity of the biblical landscapes that are shared by almost four billion people around the world, can only be accomplished through strong cooperation between environmentalists and policy makers from across the region.

For the past 20 years, the Arava Institute has pioneered cross border environmental research and cooperation among Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians because protecting the environment cannot wait for the conflict to be resolved. Pressure to suspend cooperation from both sides must be resisted. Even during the lowest points in the relationship between Palestinians and Israelis, the Arava Institute maintained contact and has continued to work with its research partners and alumni. The Institute has consistently succeeded in recruiting Middle Eastern and international students to study together and forge relationships based on trust and a mutual concern for our shared environment, irrespective of the political turbulence in the region. The Arava Institute is dedicated to the vision of a peaceful and sustainable Middle East. Its ongoing role and credibility in the region, position the Institute to make a vital contribution to environmental protection and sustainability despite the lack of progress towards peace. While not losing sight of the Institute’s accomplishments so far, we have reframed our mission statement to focus in on the Institute’s essential role in the coming years:

The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies’ mission is to advance cross-border environmental cooperation in the face of political conflict

This is to ensure that:

  • The shared environmental resources of the region will be protected from further degradation and loss.
  • Scarce environmental resources will no longer be a source of conflict.
  • Environmental cooperation will become a model for cross-border cooperation in all other areas of the conflict.

Over the past few months, the Institute has engaged in a strategic planning process which has involved brainstorming sessions and stake holder meetings with Board members in the US and Israel, Public Council members in Israel, alumni, staff, members of our local community on Kibbutz Ketura, and donors. In its June 2016 meeting the Arava Institute’s Board of Directors confirmed the Institute’s vision.

The AIES 2021 vision:

Over the next five years, the Arava Institute will advance cross-border environmental discourse, with the aim of helping to secure agreements between Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and other countries in the region on the sustainable management of water and other environmental resources.

The AIES vision will be made a reality through cross-border environmental studies, research and leadership in creative thinking. The expected outcomes include an expanded Academic and Research Program, a second campus in the West Bank, an annual cross-border cooperation conference which will ultimately lead to agreements signed between Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan on the sustainable management of water and other environmental resources. These agreements will improve the lives of human beings throughout the region, reduce political tensions, demonstrate the feasibility and benefits of peaceful relations and perhaps serve as a first step towards a resolution of wider issues of conflict. We invite donors, friends and alumni to engage with the Arava Institute in any way they can in the coming years to help us achieve this ambitious 5 year mission.


On a personal note, many of you may be aware that I was scheduled to step down as the Executive Director of the Arava Institute in the fall of 2017, however, in light of this new and exciting direction for the Institute, the Arava Institute’s Board of Directors has approved my continuation as Executive Director beyond 2017 in order to see through this vision.


Elie Wiesel ז”ל

The Arava Institute mourns, along with the rest of humanity, the loss of Professor Elie Wiesel who died on the July 2nd.  I had the privilege and honor of meeting Professor Wiesel twice; once at the Petra Conference for Nobel Laureates in 2007 in Jordan hosted by King Abdallah and Professor Wiesel, and again about a year later in his foundation office in Manhattan. At this time in our history when irrational hatred is erupting into senseless violence all over the world, Elie Wiesel’s voice, which reminded us of the evil humankind is capable of, and of the good humankind must strive to become, will be sorely missed.

David Lehrer

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