Arava Institute Director’s Blog – December 2012

1Workshop on Decentralized Water, Wastewater and Renewable Energy Management in the Middle East –The Arava Institute’s Center for Trans-boundary Water Management (CTWM) recently held a three day conference and series of workshops on decentralized water, wastewater and renewable energy management for the Middle East. The discourse surrounding cross-border environmental management in the region has focused largely on large-scale centralized solutions yet some of the most severe problems in terms of water and energy shortages are in the rural sector where a more local and decentralized approach is better suited. This conference therefore, provided a needed platform to discuss solutions for communities that are off-grid and have no or intermittent water supply. The conference is a part of a USAID Conflict Management and Mitigation grant awarded to CTWM to promote cross-border wastewater management. The conference brought together around 40 participants from Israel, the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jordan. The students of the Arava Institute also participated in the conference. A series of discussions and dialogues on appropriate technologies and policies for solving water and energy problems in the rural sector were held with the participants who represented government, NGO’s and the private sector. A highlight of the conference was the unveiling and presentation of the joint CTWM and the Arava Institute’s Center for Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation (CREEC) designed solar desalination unit for the treatment of brackish water for drinking. This unit has been designed to provide a low-cost but efficient solution to rural communities with low quality drinking water such as in the Gaza Strip. The system also illustrates the importance of integrating water and energy solutions, drawing on the expertise of both CTWM and CREEC. The conference was sponsored by the Ministry of Regional Cooperation and USAID and was supported by the Hevel Eilot Regional Authority. Submitted by Clive Lipchin, photograph by Brian Hoefgen

IMG_4034The Arava Institute Academic Program Negev Trip  – From December 3rd-5th, students and interns embarked on the Negev Trip, led by Michelle Shachar and Dr. Elli Groner. The Negev Trip is a joint program between the fall Ecology course and the Peacebuilding and Environmental Leadership Seminar (PELS). The trip followed the theme of environmental justice through three days of hikes, lectures, and activities in Arab and Jewish communities.  By visiting different settlements in the Negev, students learned about the various people, communities and organizations which form a complex, and changing region. Sites visited were: Mitzpe Ramon, an example of a Southern development town, still home to many of its original inhabitants from North Africa, but now attracting a small population of artists and intellectuals from the center of the country.   Dr. Joshua Schmidt , an alum from the first years of the Arava Institute,  organized a full-day program called “Resilient Communities: Cultural Preservation and the ‘Development’ of Mitzpe Ramon” for our group.  Students were hosted for lunch by Black Hebrew, Moroccan, and Indian families.  We heard from the government perspectives in the Regional Council, and spoke about environmental considerations at the impressive Beresheet Hotel.   Abra Berkowitz, our Program Associate, organized meetings that highlighted many of the planning issues connected to her Masters thesis which she just completed. The group visited Kaser al-Ser, a recently recognized Bedouin village which hosts an ecological building project through an NGO partnership with Bustan.  Then the students continued on to Tel Sheva, a Bedouin town which is home to one of a few emerging women-led businesses in Bedouin villages.  There the group spoke with local leaders, community activists and governmental officials from the Abu-Basma Regional Council for Newly Recognized Bedouin Villages, and the Regional Council for Unrecognized Bedouin Villages.  During the overnight stay in the unrecognized settlement of Wadi Ariqa, the southernmost Bedouin village in Israel,  Dr. Tareq Abu Hamed joined us to explain about the Bio-gas project established there.  The trip also included a visit to Ramat Hovav, a petrochemical plant and waste disposal site; and to Holot Makman, a tourist lodge built almost exclusively from mud and recycled local materials.  At the end of the trip, participants were left with many questions, such as how to balance economic development with ecological preservation. The conversations have continued on campus, and students have begun to look for solutions to the challenges facing the region. Submitted by Michelle Shachar

Mahmud Diab Mahmud Diab Joins the Board of Directors of the Arava Institute – Mahmud Diab retired Supervisor for the Arab Sector of the Northern District of the Ministry of Education has joined the Board of Directors of the Arava Institute.  Mr. Diab has held many positions in the Ministry of Education including advisor to President Yizchak Navon when Mr. Navon was the Israeli Minister of Education.  Mahmud had a close relationship with Yigal Allon and Prime Minister Yizchak Rabin.  Mr. Diab also spent part of his career in Tel Sheva, a Bedouin village outside of Beer Sheva where he supervised the Bedouin school system.  Mr. Diab and his wife Lutfia recently spent 3 days at the Arava Institute, participating in the Board meeting, meeting students, staff and researchers.  Mr. Diab is particularly interested in helping the institute to recruit more Arab Israeli students.


Student Profile – Leila Hashweh  – Leila is a 24-year-old Palestinian student from Jerusalem currently studying at the Arava Institute for the 2012-2013 academic year.   She grew up both in East Jerusalem and in Ramallah. She graduated from the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Agriculture in Rehovot, with a B.Sc. in Agricultural Economics and Management. After college, she worked as a researcher in environment and the economy at the Maan Development Center in Ramallah.  Leila loves to garden, dance, and go to the beach. At the Arava, she has started a course in yoga and meditation, and has been particularly active in starting the dialog among students over issues regarding current affairs in the Middle East. She is passionate about exploring creative ways of conserving freshwater, to maximize its use for the agricultural sector. Leila hopes to pursue her M.Sc. in hydrology or environmental studies in the joint program at the Albert Katz International School of Ben-Gurion University at Sde Boker. Submitted by Cathie Granit

Frankincense2Dr. Elaine Solowey, Head of the Center for Sustainable Agriculture, sprouts the first frankinsence tree in Israel in 1,500 years – Dr. Solowey does it again by bringing the frankinsensce tree back to Israel along with growing myrrh and balm of Gilead, all plants used as incense and for medicinal purposes during ancient times.  See Matthew Kalman’s article in the Times of Israel http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/after-1500-years-frankincense-returns-to-the-holy-land/

IMG_4409JNF Colorado Carbon Neutral Dorms Dedicated at the Arava Institute – On December 24th, 2012, Arava Institute students staff Board members and guests gathered on Kibbutz Ketura to dedicate the new student dorms funded by the Mountain State Region of the JNF with the help of  JNF USA, KKL, the Ministry of Negev and Galil Development and the Settlement Department of the WZO.  Mr. Udi Gat, Chairman of the Hevel Eilot Regional Council spoke about the importance of the work of the Arava Institute in the region.  Udi and the regional council were instrumental in facilitating the funding of the project as well as Kibbutz Ketura.  Glen Pegalson, General Secretary of Ketura talked about the pride, members of the kibbutz have in the Arava Institute.  David Lehrer, Executive Director thanked the JNF and the donors to the project:  Butch Weaver, Norman and Sunny Bronstein, Larry Mizel, Joyce Zeff, M.B. and Shana Glassman Foundation, Charlie Gwirtsman, Jordon Perlmutter, Gene Kay, James Markus, Harvey and Sue Allon, David Adelstein, Rick Altman, Andrew Miller and many other JNF donors from Colorado who helped make this dream come true.  David gave a special thanks to Michael Marcus, Colorado JNF Board member and also member of the Friends of the Arava Institute (FAI) Board, who initiated the fundraising campaign.  The ceremony finished with the attachment of two mezuzot by FAI Board members Karen and Barry Fierst and their son Shai Fierst, an alum of the Arava Institute, on to the doors of the new student lounge built with a generous gift to the JNF from Danielle and Irving Grossman of Wilmington, Delaware.

Footnote – at the exact time of the dedication, an earthquake registering 4.5 on the Richter scale with its center located 7 miles south of the institute occurred.  No one in the new building felt a thing.

David Lehrer

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The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies

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