Director’s Blog: February 2015

From the start of a new semester to the reclamation work at the Evrona Nature Reserve oil spill site to a regional waste water workshop in the central Negev, this month’s blog reveals the breadth and depth of the Arava Institute’s cross border research and study program.  With the support of our Friends of the Arava Institute in the US and our new Public Council in Israel, the Arava Institute is growing in size and capacity.  We look forward to developing new research and academic partnerships in Israel, Palestine, Jordan and outside of the Middle East.

“May you live in interesting times” is said to be both a blessing and a curse.  The upcoming Israeli elections offers our students, especially those from outside of Israel, the opportunity to experience the very interesting and unique political culture of Israel.  Loud, contentious, divisive, colorful and always surprising, the Israeli elections are a true celebration of democracy.  We may not always be happy with the results but we should be proud of the process.  In this election, a change in the Israeli law which raised the threshold of the percentage of the vote needed to get into the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) has reduced the number of parties running and will also probably reduce the number of parties who will be elected. One interesting result has been the unification of the Arab parties which may turn out to be a game changer in Israeli politics.  Our students will have a front row seat for what could be the next political upheaval in Israel.  David Lehrer

Spring 2015 Orientation

10626205_10152552951307461_9043364139672711804_oThe Arava Institute welcomes 32 students and 13 interns this Spring 2015 semester. Students hail from Israel, Jordan, Palestine, the United States, Canada, Argentina, Morocco, Germany, Ecuador, Mexico, Brazil and Venezuela, including 17 returning students and interns from previous semesters. This large and diverse group quickly bonded over orientation week when students and interns toured the kibbutz, reflected in the desert, and joined the Institute staff in “ice-breaker” activities. Orientation also included tours of the Southern Arava Agricultural Research and Development Station and the site of the Ein Evrona oil spill that occurred in December 2014. The field trip provided examples of environmental issues and solutions that inspired the students to initiate independent research projects. This semester’s courses range from the Ecology of the Arava to Environmental Mediation.  The Peace and Environmental Leadership Seminar (PELS) is already in full swing with a training session in non-violent communication and a student-led discussion on individual hopes and expectations for the semester and life in an environmental community. Somehow, there has still been time for for students to teach each other Arabic, throw parties at the kibbutz pub and enjoy the blooming flowers of the desert on communal hikes.
Submitted by Elena Juodisius

Compare and Contrast: 1975 and 2014 Evrona Oil Spills

20150122_161224The December 2014 oil spill was not the first oil spill to hit the Evrona Nature Reserve. South of the recent spill, fossilized oil from a 1975 incident can still be found in the soil under a thin layer of sand. Dr. Elli Groner, Director of the Arava Institute’s Center for Hyper-Arid Socio-Ecology (CHASE), plans to study this site in the coming weeks together with his team.  The CHASE team includes Nitzan Segev and five interns: Amjad Hijazeen, Ahmad al Shehab, Noah Riesenbach, Ya’akov Prois and Mara Nothers. They will examine soil DSC_0055(1)conditions, soil macro fauna, biodiversity of plants and the germination and growth of Acacia trees in the 1975 spill area. This data will then be compared to an area that has not been contaminated by the oil in order to assess the amount of recovery the ecosystem has attained over the past forty years. The analysis should provide a measure of damage to an untreated oil saturated ecosystem, thereby enabling an informed decision process for future clean up and recovery work at the December oil spill site. Current options under discussion are to remove the sand oil mix mechanically (with heavy machines or handwork), to treat it with heat or chemicals or to facilitate bacterial decomposition of the oil. Since each treatment has potentially dangerous environmental side effects, the last option is to leave the oil in the soil and let time do the work.  CHASE recently submitted the “Terms of Reference” for reclamation work on the oil spill to The  Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Trans-Israel Pipeline Oil Company. The work involved a series of interviews with local stakeholders and a literature review.
Submitted by Mara Nothers

Trans-boundary Stakeholders Water Workshop

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESThe Arava Institute’s Center for Trans-boundary Water Management (CTWM) held a two-day workshop, February 24-25 at Neot Hovav Eco-Industrial Park located near the city of Be’er Sheva. The focus of the workshop was “Eco-Industry as a Springboard for Regional and International Development”. Decision-makers from the West Bank and Israel gathered to share positive experiences and results regarding industrial waste water management in the region.
Palestinian participants were received in Be’er Sheva by CTWM Director Dr. Clive Lipchin, who discussed the work of the of the Arava Institute and prepared them for the next day’s events. The second day featured remarks by Neot Hovav Mayor Andre Uzan and Ramat Hovav Municipal Council CEO Amnon Ben Dahan followed by a site tour for all participants of the Neot Hovav complex. The site visit was integrated with visual media presentations and professional explanations from the park’s Environmental Department experts, and the Israeli and Palestinian decision makers were shown alternative methods of toxic waste water management from  various companies operating in the complex. Dr. Lipchin then introduced a presentation given by Ms. Bilha Givon, NGO Executive Director, Sustainable Development for the Negev, followed by a discussion and networking session.  The workshop provided the perfect opportunity to strengthen contacts and encourage discussion regarding reduction of environmental impact on water from both interested parties and to strengthen the understanding of mutual responsibility for each side to work together regardless of political obstacles.
Submitted by Gerardo Tremont

Program Associate Profile: Elena Juodisius

10440961_907185485964326_7666527892547386401_nElena Juodisius, aged 23 from Cleveland, Ohio first came to the Arava Institute on a Junior Year Abroad program through Allegheney College. Elena studied Environmental Science with a minor in Studio Art.
During the fall of 2011, she interned with Dr. Elli Groner and focused her work on acacia trees and continued to study as a student in the spring 2012 semester.  After graduating and upon returning to Cleveland, Elena worked for Americorps with an after-school tutoring and youth service learning program. She was also involved with the Arts Parade project of the Cleveland Museum of Art.  Elena left Americorps to reconnect with her environmental knowledge and experience by organizing people through community building and justice work. Elena has returned to the Institute for the Spring 2015 semester to work as a Program Associate, where her main role is facilitating campus environmental projects and education.  She is especially excited to be living in this multicultural community and learning different forms of communication.  In her free time, Elena enjoys hiking, painting, drawing, crafts, and interpretive dance. In the future, she hopes to work with social and environmental solutions to environmental health issues.
Submitted by Melanie Nakashian


Eric Berzon and Kaiser Permanente

Berzon photoEric Berzon is Assistant Treasurer and Executive Director of Corporate Finance for Kaiser Permanente, a $55 billion a year integrated health insurer and health care delivery system.  He was a founding member of Kibbutz Ketura, where he first learned finance as kibbutz treasurer and a founding member of the Friends of the Arava Institute Board. Kaiser Permanente recently announced it would purchase enough renewable energy to provide 50 percent of the power used in California, making KP one of the largest users of green power in the country. Find more information here and here.


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