Director’s Blog: October 2013

On the 1st of October, 38 Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian and international students and interns made their way down from the center of Israel, the West Bank and across the Jordanian border to the Arava desert, embarking on their first days of a semester at the Arava Institute. They chatted away their trip and began getting to know each other, many of them encountering the “other” for the first time. One of the buses on the way down from Jerusalem met a checkpoint and was rerouted – an unplanned introduction to the challenging reality that the students address when they attend the Institute.


The students have settled in, begun classes, and are working to build trust with each other every day. They have already participated in their first Peace-building and Environmental Leadership (PELS) trip, exploring the concept of “dual narratives” to the conflict as it relates to the city of Jerusalem. They toured historical sights, important to various religions, met with academics and former politicians, and visited sites of cooperation like the Arab-Jewish village of Neve Shalom. The students were particularly inspired by an environmental education center in Sur Baher, East Jersusalem, which is built on the grounds of a school for Palestinian children with special needs.  Back in Ketura, in a summary session after the trip, the students expressed their desire to begin delving deeply into the narrative of the other after having been exposed to the very tip of the iceberg during the PELS trip.

Meanwhile, as you’ll see in this month’s blog, the staff of the Institute has remained busy with fundraising trips to the States, participation in international conferences, and preparation for coursework and campus programming. Not to mention that Kibbutz Ketura’s  40th anniversary kept a lot of us busy after work hours. And amidst all that, we are excited to announce a new addition to the Arava Institute community – a new baby! Mazal Tov to our Campus Life Director Lex Paul and his wife Jackie, who just gave birth last week.  The whole campus is thrilled to have baby Tsuk join us.  David Lehrer

Kibbutz Ketura, Home of the Arava Institute, Celebrates its 40th Anniversary


In October 1973, in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur war, a small community was founded in the Arava by Garin Hashachar (the Dawn) made up of a group of American graduates of Hadassah’s youth movement, Young Judaea. Forty years later, a community of 400 including 150 members gathered in the center of Kibbutz Ketura, their children and grandchildren alongside them.

“Did you ever think you’d do anything for 40 years?” asked Judy Bar-Lev, one of the founders of the kibbutz and Office Manager of the Arava Institute. “You never think when you’re young that you’re going stick with something for that long.”

Judy, one of four founding members still on Ketura, headed the team that organized this year’s 40th anniversary celebration. Unlike other years, this was a three-day production, with almost everyone involved in its planning and execution.


“I think this was special because of the connotations of the number 40. In the western world we see 40 as some sort of mid-life train station. So there’s a lot of humor connected with the number. Another aspect is the biblical aspect. The Jews wandered in the desert for 40 years, and we’re a kibbutz in the desert who just spent 40 years of being here. So there’s a lot of Jewish humor involved.”

The weekend’s celebration included live music and performances, a mini-triathalon, horseback riding, mud building, and a large exhibit of photos and mementos dating back to the first days of the kibbutz.   “Some young people came up to me and said ‘wow, I never knew how Ketura began.’” Judy remarked.  “It was a strengthening, crystallizing weekend.”  “What’s special about Ketura is its continued interdependency as its base, while most kibbutzim have become privatized,” Judy reflected. And with the anniversary weekend now complete, Judy hopes that the spirit of the celebration will carry on throughout the year. Submitted by Kayla Santosuosso

AIES Students Learn GIS Skills

One of the more popular classes offered this semester is the GIS course, taught by Dr. Aviva Peeters. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) integrate between hardware, software, and data for collecting, managing, analyzing, and displaying spatial information. The main core of GIS is spatial analysis which is a scientific approach for recognizing and analyzing spatial patterns, trends and relationships. GIS is used in order to understand and model spatial phenomena, and can be used to support decision making processes and solve real-world problems.

“It’s very intense for now because we’re learning how to use the program,” reflected one student. “But I’m looking forward to be able to layer all sorts of information on a single map, and to see how some overlapping layers could tell a lot about a certain subject. It’s an important tool because it can be applied in any field of study, and can be use for many types of development projects.”

The course taught at AIES is an introduction to the concepts and methods of GIS. It focuses on the use of GIS for scientific inquiry in environmental sciences and on its application for solving environmental problems. Submitted by Dr. Aviva Peeters

Dr. Elli Groner Attends Long-Term Ecological Research Conference in Korea


Dr. Elli Groner was the representative of the Israel LTER (Long Term Ecological Research) network in the International LTER meeting at Korea 6-13 October.  This is an annual meeting that takes place in a different country each year. In 2010 it was held in Sde Boqer in Israel and next year it will be in Chile. There were representatives of many countries present  including a large delegation from the US LTER who came to celebrate the 20th anniversary of ILTER. There were also representatives of NEON (an observation network of the US government), the National Science Foundation of US, the Deputy Minister of Environment of Korea, and many scientists. Elli presented the Israeli biodiversity monitoring program and also met the Israeli ambassador to Korea. Submitted by Dr. Elli Groner

YEEPI Program Begins Instruction in Area Schools

sharing circle JS 10-24

The Youth Environmental Education and Peace Initiative (YEEPI) kicked off its academic year this month, as it began working in schools around the country.  And while most of them got off to a good start, some of them encountered difficulties. For instance, this year’s team includes a Jordanian graduate of the Arava Institute who is going to be a YEEPI Leader in two pairs of high school. While the students and school staff who have worked with YEEPI for two years were very enthusiastic about him, there was a pair of high schools that chose not to participate precisely because of this leader’s nationality. Needless to say, the team has continued on proudly with our Jordanian leader andis looking for a new pair of schools for him and his partner YEEPI Leader!

Two of our leaders, Nairooz Qupty and Liel Maghen began the lessons in the schools this month. YEEPI Intern, Vera Saulino, shared her observations of their first class:

Nairooz and Liel began the class by asking students to stand in a circle to play two name games. The circle ended with students tying string bracelets around their wrists as symbols of their unity with YEEPI during the upcoming school year.  Following the activities, Nairooz put on an animated movie called “MAN”. The video illustrated the destruction that man has caused. When the video ended, the students were able to give their interpretations of the video.  Next, the students watched a video taken of the first encounter between the Arab High Schools in Lod and Jewish High School in Holon during the previous school year. The students said that watching the video, they didn’t distinguish between two groups of people, it looked like everyone was equal and everyone was having fun and doing activities together. Submitted by Gonen Sagy and Vera Saulino

Intern Profile: Natasha Westheimer


Natasha Westheimer is interning at the Center for Trans-boundary Water Management at the Arava Institute. Her self-designed major in International Development and Conflict Management, specialization in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict for a double major in Jewish Studies, citation as a Public Leadership Scholar, and certificate of International Law and Negotiation from the University of Amsterdam combine to give her the versatile background needed for dealing with issues related to not only trans-boundary water management, but to the general issues relating to peace building and resource management. Natasha wrote her two senior theses on different aspects of water policy and management in Israel. The first addresses the current challenges related to allocation of water between Israel and the Palestinian Territories. The second investigates the roots of Israel’s current water policy within Zionist ideologies. To complement her studies, Natasha interned at the U.S. Department of State, where she gained an in depth understanding of the U.S. financial aid and foreign policy world, which she is eager to contribute to the Arava Institute. Natasha is thrilled to continue exploring this path and learning more about the intricate and complex water management system within the region through her internship at CTWM. Submitted by Kayla Santosuosso

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