Director’s blog: My first two months

After almost two months as Executive Director, I am pleased to share some updates about my work since August. I took this position thinking that I was very familiar with all activities at the Arava Institute, and I quickly realized that I still have much to learn more in-depth.

Goals and strategic planning

One of my priorities as Executive Director is to focus the Institute’s activities more around the issues of climate change, and to concentrate all the research conducted by our staff under that umbrella. I also aim to put an emphasis on excellence in academics and research by recruiting passionate and skilled faculty, and encouraging all researchers to continue to publish in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

In addition, I plan to venture further into our goals of shared society, utilize the Institute’s 25 years of experience in transboundary environmental cooperation to promote a just and equal society in Israel/Palestine, and to establish more collaboration with Israeli-Arab research academic institutions.

For the past few months the Institute has been in the process of finalizing a new strategic plan for the coming five years. We have set eight strategic goals, and determined the metrics for each goal. The different departments at the Institute will now review the work plan and adapt it to their individual work plans in order to meet these strategic goals.

Joyful events

In mid-August I had the opportunity to meet with the Israeli Public Council for the first time as Executive Director. We hosted MK Esawi Frej, the new Israeli Minister of Regional Cooperation, who discussed his vision for the future of regional cooperation as making connections “above the table” rather than under the table, as has happened in the Middle East for many years. This event also marked the passing of the torch by Amb. Daniel Shek, who stepped down as Chair of the Public Council after 8 years, to Eti Livni, former member of Knesset, who has also been a supporter of the Institute for many years. I would like to thank Amb. Shek for his loyalty and hard work throughout the years, and look forward to continuing working with him as part of our environmental diplomacy efforts.

A few days later we harvested the second bunch of dates from Hannah, one of our Ancient Judean Date trees, which was pollinated by our oldest tree Methuselah and two other ancient date palms named Adam and Jonah. This year’s harvest produced around 700 dates (after 111 during last year’s harvest).

Beginning of the new academic year and research updates

As I transitioned into my new role at the Institute, Dr. Jessica Schäckermann took over as Academic Director. Dr. Schäckermann took on the position after several years as a researcher at the Dead Sea and Arava Science Center, and as ecology guest lecturer at the Arava Institute. She immediately got to work preparing the Fall 2021 semester, which started in early September with 30 students and 12 interns from Israel, Palestine, the United States, Canada, and Great Britain.

My other previous position at the Institute as Director of the Center for Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation currently remains unfilled during some restructuring of the department. In the interim Dr. Tali Zohar of the Dead Sea and Arava Science has joined us as a consultant, focusing mainly on the water-energy-food nexus, and agrophotovoltaic research.

Environmental diplomacy

Several research and environmental diplomacy projects are currently being implemented and completed. A very exciting example of this is our work on the establishment of a route to bring water from the Al Bireh wastewater treatment plant to the village of Al Auja in the West Bank to support local farmers. Through our diplomatic work, this route has recently been approved by the Palestinian Water Authority and the Israeli Civil Administration to begin its first planning stages. We are also proud of the implementation of a wastewater treatment plant and two WaterGen atmospheric drinking water generators in the Gaza strip. We are also working on converting all of these facilities into off-grid systems by adding solar energy components which will improve their efficiency, and reduce their vulnerability to the very frequent power outages in Gaza.
Evie Leviten-Lawton has recently joined our Track II Environmental Forum team as coordinator. We are excited to have her on board in order to support and grow our work in environmental diplomacy.

News from the Board of Directors

I am also excited to share that we have recruited five new members to our Board of Directors in Israel, increasing the number of seats to 16: Assaf Admon, Laithi Gnaim, Manar Sarie-Weiss, Prof. Muhammad Bashouti , Tali Adini – have all joined. Laithi Gnaim and Manar Sarie-Weiss are both alumni of the Arava Institute who have continued their studies in the environmental field, and are now returning to support us as members of the Board.

As we return to our routines after the holidays, I wish everyone a happy Jewish new year, and hope this year is filled with health, peace, and happiness for people and the planet.

Tareq Abu Hamed
Executive Director

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