Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Directors Report July 10th-29th, 2011

My last blog before going on vacation for the month of August:

Last Week of Dickinson Summer Sustainability Program - The Dickinson College Summer Sustainability Program at the Arava Institute is in its last week. For the last 3 weeks   8 students and  Dickinson faculty member Dr Marcus Key have explored issues of sustainability in Israel , focusing mainly on the Southern Arava. The program has included  a range of lectures, workshops and local trips including  biodiversity of local sand dunes, earth science in the Arava,  tours and sessions on renewable energy initiatives in the region, an introduction to human ecology and archeology , sustainable agriculture., mud building , discussions and lectures on water management in the Middle East and discussion groups and role plays based on environmental justice and activism. 
Submitted by Cathie Granit 

Israeli Minister for Environmental Protection, Gilad Erdan, visited the Arava Institute

Minister for Environmental Protection, Gilad Erdan, visited the Arava Institute on July 26th.  The mnister came with his entire senior staff to visit the area, see the Samar Sand dunes under threat of mining for building purposes, the Sasgon Valley near Park Timna under threat of development, renewable energy projects in the area and to visit the Arava Institute.  The Minister was also accompanied by Hevel Eilot Regional Council Chair, Udi Gat.  After introductions, David Lehrer gave a brief overview of the Arava Institute highlighting the academic program, research programs and alumni activiies. The minister was especially interested in the cross border cooperative educational and research programs.  Minister Erdan said that he did not want this visit to be check off on a list of things to do but the visit should be followed up by cooperation between the Arava Institute and the Ministry for Environmental Protection. Both the staff of the the Ministry and the Arava Institute is charged with following up programs and ideas for further cooperation.  At the end of David's presentation, David gave his usual closing line:  "It is our vision a the Arava Institute, that some day, the Minister of the Environment from Israel, the Minister of the Environment from Palestine and the Minister of the Enviroment from Jordan will all be graduates of the Arava Institute and will be able to work together for a more sustainable and peaceful Middle East."  Minister Erdan just smiled.
Arava Alumane Manar Saria participates in Washington DC Program

A new program in Washington DC, founded by Paul Costello is the New Story Leadership Program. We had two Arava alumni participating in the first pilot group and now the Arava Institute partners with NSL by identifying excellent alumni to participate each year. Arava alumnae Manar Saria is participating in the second New Story Leadership Program. NSL sees that Stories matter. NSL says "Old stories of grievance, suspicion, and fear, recycled endlessly, have kept generations of Israelis and Palestinians from moving toward a future free of conflict. It’s now clear: without a new story, there will be no peace. Fortunately, young people throughout the region are increasingly grasping this truth. More and more of them are no longer willing to play a part in the dead-end story their elders have scripted for them. They want a voice in their own future." See what's been happening this summer – what Manar and the others on video on the site:
Submitted by Sharon Benheim

Across Borders:  Managing Transboundary Environmental Resources

From June 26th through July 24th, the Arava Institute, in partnership with Dickinson College, hosted a U.S. State Department funded program, “Across Borders: Managing Transboundary Environmental Resources in the Middle East.” The program, attended by 17 Americans from all sectors of environmental management, has participants attending lectures and site visits in Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Egypt. The program focused on transboundary water issues in and between these four countries. At the end of the program, participants completed group projects on environmental economic development, water conservation in Amman, the Red Sea-Dead Sea canal project and the prospect for transnational water management in Israel and Palestine.

In 2012, the program will bring young leaders from Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Egypt to the United States to learn about transboundary environmental issues in the Chesapeake Bay. Applications are currently being accepted:
The program is funded by the US State Department's Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs.
Submitted by Kristina Donnely

In keeping with the high standards of this blog, here is a little taste of student life at the AIES:

As you know our campus life team works tirelessly to address the needs of our campus community.  However, many people always wonder what the Program Associates (PA) are up to since they seem to come and go, from the office, through out the day.  Here is a sneak peak into what our two PAs from this past semester were up to.
Submitted by Josh Neirman
The next blog will appear in September.  Have a good summer

David Lehrer

Friday, July 8, 2011

Director's Report June 19th to July 8th

Speech to Students at the End of the Spring Semester 2011
It is my privilege to have been the Director of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies for the past 10 years. I became the Director as the second year of the Intifada Al Aqsa began and just 10 days before the 911 Tragedy. For the past 10 years, the Middle East has remained a turbulent and unstable part of the world going from crises to crises and conflict to conflict; the Second Intifada, the second Lebanon War, The Gaza Withdrawal and the Gaza Operation/Invasion, Katyushot on Kiryat Shmona, Kasamim on Sderot, the Flotilla and then there is the wider Middle East conflicts – the Second Gulf War, Iran and this year – uprisings in Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen.. Notice how so many of these conflicts start with the Second… Doesn’t that say something about our region? Are we trapped in a house of mirrors where we can only see ourselves and are doomed to walk around in circles repeating history and our own mistakes?

For 15 years, the Arava Institute has offered Middle Eastern and International students the opportunity to break through the mirrors and the stereotypes and to meet the other. For many of you it is your first time to really get to know the human side of the other side. Through wars, uprisings, political and military conflicts, the Arava Institute continues to wave the banner of “Nature Knows No Borders”. The institute continues to shine the light on a different path presenting a different paradigm for the Middle East. You have sat side by side in class, studying Ecology, Ethics and Water Politics together; you have slept on the beach together, hiked through dry desert valleys and braved pouring rain. You have disagreed over politics and over what to bring to the pot-luck dinner and you have agreed that there must be a different way to solve the Middle East conflict and that Elli gives way too many quizzes. You have had the incredibly unique opportunity to experience what life could be like in the Middle East without conflict.
It is not just a one time opportunity. Your teachers, staff and fellow students have given you the tools you need to go back to your home communities and to create a different paradigm. Like Bill Murray in Ground Hog Day, who discovers that the way to get out of the endlessly repeating loop in which he was caught was to stop looking at himself in the mirror and to start seeing the world through the eyes of others. I hope that your experience at the Arava Institute has enabled you to see the world through the eyes of your neighbors and that you will be able to carry this new view of your neighborhood back to your friends and family in order to enable them to envision a sustainable Middle East without conflict and a world living in peace. Thank you and good luck. - David Lehrer

Sababa at the Knesset
On June 22nd, an urgent gathering of the Knesset Finance Committee was called to discuss the mining in the Samar Sand Dunes. Five Sababa members and 16 representatives from other environmental organizations took part in the discussion. The meeting ended with the committee calling on the Israeli land Authority to stop the plan to mine sand in the Samar Dunes until surveys are conducted for alternatives such as mining below the surface of already mined areas, using sand from Timna waste piles and importing sand from Jordan. The support of Knesset members for our campaign to save the Samar dunes gives us proof that our mission in Sababa is important as the only grass roots environmental organization protecting and promoting sustainable development in the Arava.

Provided by Taal Goldman

Sababa in the Hevel Eilot Region
Sababa has taken on the challenge of leading the discussion of sustainable development in the region. On June 26th, a hot Monday afternoon, 50 people from the region came to a Sustainable Development Workshop to discuss future plans in the Arava and ways we can promote sustainable development and lifestyle. The two hour session resulted in a list of ideas and projects for Sababa to take on as new campaigns and a draft for a joint vision of the Arava. This is the first step in a one year project. We hope that by the end to present to the Chairman of the Regional Council a proposal of a new sustainable development policy to be used as guidelines for regional growth.
Provided by Taal Goldman

Across Borders
From June 26th through July 24th, AIES, in collaboration with Dickinson College, is hosting part one of a two-year project entitled Across Borders. In 2011 the focus is on managing transboundary environmental resources in the Middle East. Seventeen young emerging young professionals from the United States are actively participating in seminars at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies and in the field, on site visits in the Negev, the Jordan River Valley, and the Red Sea coast. The group will travel through Israel, Jordan and the Sinai peninsula. The goal of this two-way exchange project is to allow professionals from the Near East and the United States to explore and develop a substantive, nuanced understanding of those complex forces that impact the management of trans-boundary environmental resources through interdisciplinary studies and complementary experiential learning.
The AIES faculty coordinator is Dr. Clive Lipchin, and research intern Kristina Donnelly is the program coordinator. Dickinson staff are Bryan Bartosik-Velez, Senior Associate Director for International Services, and Prof. Ed Webb of the Political Science and International Studies departments.
Provided by Tali Adini

Jordanian Recruitment Trip

Sharon Benheim and Brenda Hausler traveled to Amman last week(June 27-29). Fifteen potential students were interviewed. Visa forms and application materials are currently being collected. In addition to our 6 continuing Jordanian students, we have accepted one new Jordanian student and are hoping to review another 5-6 candidates. Our Jordanian representative organized the intensive interview days, and many alumni came to visit and lend a hand.
Provided by Brenda Hausler

English Ulpan
The Institute received funding to do a pilot English language ulpan with Western Galilee College, in an effort to encourage Arab Israeli students to apply to the Arava Institute. The English Ulpan is going to open at the Western Galilee College on November 1, 2011. It was decided, after some feedback, that having an intensive ulpan, 5 mornings a week in the month of July was not going to be successful. People expressed interest in a longer program with evening hours. Dr. Hussein Tarabeah is our program coordinator. We are working closely with Liliana Caminer, the director of the college, and with Haya Shenar, the English Program Coordinator.
Provided by Brenda Hausler

Dickinson Summer Course

For the month of July the Arava Institute is running the Dickinson College Summer Sustainability Program. This program has 8 students who are accompanied by Dr Marcus Key from the Department of Earth Sciences and Joseph Priestley Professor of Natural Philosophy at Dickinson. The Sustainability Program is an introduction to the unique aspects of the desert environment and its natural resources and provides an understanding of the environmental challenges that are connected to human settlement in the Southern Arava. The course is divided into two main sections: Natural History of the Desert and Development Challenges in a Desert Environment. The AIES faculty coordinator is Dr Uri Gordon and the program coordinator is Josh Neirman.
Provided by Cathie Granit

Center for Transboundary Water Management
As part of the GLOWA research project, a training workshop was held at the Institute for Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian water professionals. The workshop, held from June 19th through the 24th, was focused on building proficiency in the use of a model-building software called WEAP, Water Evaluation And Planning. Over twenty participants from all three countries spent five intensive days with an instructor from the Stockholm Environment Institute, another partner in the GLOWA project, learning about the software and building models.  The workshop was sponsored by GLOWA-Jordan River, an interdisciplinary project addressing water scarce regions under the impact of climate and global change. GLOWA-Jordan River is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.
Provided by Abby Lutman

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Director's Report May 1st to June 17th

To Director's Blog Readers'

I apologize that I took a two month break in writing the blog. The last two months have been very intense and I was not able to keep up with the blog.  Things have calmed down a bit and I have finished the two courses I was taking at BGU - Quantative Research Methods and Evolutionary Ecology, so I will try to go back to producing the blog about once every two weeks.  The following report is not everything that has happened in the past two months but some of the major highlights.

Arava Institute student receives prestigious award for hydrogen production research

The World Renewable Energy Congress 2011 (WREC 2011) is an international scientific event that occurs once every two years. Most of the topics in the WREC 2011 focused on renewable energy technology and renewable energy applications. Arava Institute Ben-Gurion University Joint Master’s student, Bara Wahbeh had the chance to present his Master’s research; “Hydrogen Production by Boron Hydrolysis” that he is performing at the Arava Institute under the guidance of Dr. Tareq Abu Hamed, the Arava Institute’s Director of the Center for Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation. The research simulates Hydrogen production in a car, by reacting steam with boron particles, the products of this reaction are Hydrogen gas, steam and boric acid (no green house gases are produced). During Bara’s presentation at the conference, he also discussed the advantages of Boron over other elements and compounds, as well as the hydrolysis technology compared to other technologies that are used to produce Hydrogen. Hydrogen production on board a car can overcome some of the obstacles facing Hydrogen use in vehicles such as the need for infrastructure to supply and store Hydrogen fuel. Bara’s paper was selected by the scientific committee of the conference as the winner of the “Best Paper Award within the topic Fuel Cells”.

Peace Building and Environmental Leadership Seminar (PELS) Trip

From May 18th to the 20th, Arava Institute students went on a three day study trip. It started off with a hike on the ridge of Machtesh Ramon. Following that the students headed to the Sderot-Gaza area where they went to Moshav Netiv HaAsara, along the Gaza-Israel border. While there, they met with members of Other Voice, an organization that was created three years ago to continue dialogue and contact between Gazans and Israelis from the Sderot area. Besides hearing from Israeli members of Other Voice, the students were also able to speak with an individual from Gaza in order to get an idea of what the conflict is like there. Later in the day the students met with 9th graders from a regional school in Sderot. The students asked them questions ranging from what they think their government should be doing to help them to asking what it was like during Operation Cast Lead. The final part of the day in Sderot consisted of going to the JNF Sderot Indoor Recreational Center which is an indoor protected playground for the children of Sderot. The students organized and environmental art project with them the children. That evening the students spent the night at the Adamama Ecological Center in Netivot.

The next day the students travelled to the West Bank to the archeological site of the ancient village of Susya in the southern Hebron mountain region, where they were given a tour from a resident of the nearby Jewish settlement of Susya. The students saw the ancient synagogue and walked through some of the underground buildings. Students also asked questions about what it is like living in a settlement and how did the settlers from Susya get along with their Palestinian neighbors. After that, the students went to the Palestinian village of Susya which is next to the Jewish settlement. They received a tour from Arava alumni, Yair Teller and Abeer Abu-Sara of the bio-digester project that Arava Alumni projects has created and spoke to the villagers. The students learned about ongoing issues with the settlers. The students met members of the Villagers Group, an organization of Israelis and others who are working to help villages like Susya. The Palestinian villagers of Susya have set up a community center, which hosts groups and has programs throughout the year. The students split up into three different groups. One group went to plant trees that were donated by Dr. Elaine Solowey, another group worked on an environmental art project and the last group played with children from the village. At one point, students witnessed a confrontation between settlers and Palestinians over where the settlers' sheep could graze. That evening the students were divided and hosted by families where they had dinner and slept.

The final day of the trip was in Jerusalem where the students met outside the Knesset with Likud Knesset Member Benny Begin, who gave an impassioned speech about what he believes, are the history and truths of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Following MK Begins talk, the students heard from Christopher Gunness, a spokesperson for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). The students received an in depth briefing of the situation for the refugees in Gaza and in the West Bank and were very interested in what he had to say. The PELS trip was a unique opportunity for Arava Institute students to hear a wide range of narratives from Israeli’s and Palestinians. Report submitted by Josh Neirman.

Alumni Gathering in Jerusalem

The Alumni Department spent many hours over the month working on the submission of permit requests for Palestinians to attend the International AAPEN Gathering hosted by the Israel AAPEN Committee in late May. Additionally, visa requests were made for several Jordanian alumni. The visas and permits were received in time for the alumni to attend the gathering in Jerusalem. The International AAPEN Gathering took place on May 27-28, in Jerusalem. The main goal of the event was a social gathering with the possibility of discussions for developing regional activities. Around 50 people attended the gathering which included a number of workshops, meetings and discussions. Alumna Inna Filkovski led a gender circle, Assaf Katz and Liel Maghen facilitated a communication circle about the current situation in the Middle East, and Yoel Vierba helped organize and facilitate a session to focus alumni towards creating a new project. The gathering ended with a high level of energy and a feeling of family, new connections made amongst alumni from different years of study, and a team of people formed to plan the next social gathering.

AIES Night

On Monday, June 6th the Arava Institute held this semester's AIES night when students present their research from Independent Study and Masters Research. This semester there were five poster presentations and over twenty power point presentations. The students received high praise from their instructor, Dr. Clive Lipchin and the Director of the Academic Program, Dr. Elli Groner. The event lasted close to 4 hours but the time seemed to fly by, as each presentation was well thought out and interesting. The topics ranged from the feasibility of implementing a carbon tax in Jordan to hydrogen production via metal hydrolysis. It was a pleasant evening and included great desserts provided by AIES staff. The audience consisted of students, staff, kibbutz members and residents from the region. Report submitted by Josh Neirman

David Lehrer

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Director's Report March 27th to April 8th, 2011

Student Culture Night
     On Monday, March 28th, the students gathered for their first culture night of the semester. It was a nice community event as many staff, kibbutz members and their families also attended. The evening started off with an American presentation of how to make a proper peanut butter and jelly sandwich. There were then a few presentations about Jordanian and American culture through pictures. The Israelis presented an extremely funny skit about an Israeli Passover seder and after that there was a beautiful Arab wedding ceremony. There were a few music pieces preformed and a few poems read as well. To finish the night the Arab students led us in a dabke (Arabic dance) and from there we danced the night away.It was another very successful evening and it was very nice to see the community come together and celebrate everyone's culture. Report provided by Josh Neirman

Food Sustainability Workshop
     Tali Adini, Director of EcoPaths and I attended a Food Sustainability Workshop held on March 28th and 29th at the Nes Ziona guest house in the Carmel Mountains.  The guest house is located on a mountain top that overlooks areas  that were part of the carmel forest fire disaster in the fall of last year.  The fire did not reach the guest house but came very close.
     Two years ago, the Arava Institue, together with the Heschel Center held Israel's first ever sustainable food confenrece, "Food for Thought".  Ever since then, the Heschel Center and the institute have been deliberating on how to bring in additional partners and create a real coaltion of individuals and organizations who are working together to promote a more sustainable food system in Israel.  Heschel used the funding for its annual think tank workshop MAOF to fund a 2 day coalition building workshop.  About 20 people attended including  representatives from the Ministry of Health, the Local Governments Council, a variety of non-governmental organizations working on food security, nutrition, vegeterianism, sustainable food supply as well as organic farmers and interested individuals.  The program included round-table discussions, "coffee house" discussions, "speed dating" and other creative ways to put on the table issues such as the food supply chain, the role of the major supermarket chains, government impediments to small local food supply industries, food security, nutrion, processed food, organic farming, farmers markets etc.
     The two day workshop produced an agend and a variety of projects that will be followed up through ad-hoc committees and continued coalition building. One of the important results of the workshop is the development of a Sustainable Food Covenant which will help the newly formed coalition to create a common agenda and action plan. Tali and I agreed that the conference was very helpful and that the Arava Institue must find a way to continue our involvement in the initiative.

Student Water Trip
     On Monday April 4th the students departed on a three-day field trip for the Water Management course. On the first morning the group visited the sinkholes in the Dead Sea area and learned about the Dead Sea Works company that extracts minerals and resources from the increasingly destabilized Dead Sea. Dr. Clive Lipchin, an expert in water management in the Middle East, acted as tour guide and teacher, gave information about many sites along the way and provoked discussion on issues the students are learning about in class. As they drove along the Israeli side of the Dead Sea, the students also learned about what is happening to the Dead Sea and about water resources on the Jordanian side.

     After viewing several areas near the Dead Sea, the students arrived at a swimming beach for lunch, just in time for the first rainfall of the trip. The students witnessed the rare sight of large waterfalls cascading from the cliffs of Ein Gedi and as the journey continued north many more waterfalls could be seen from the road. Very fitting for a trip designed to learn about the water systems and resources in the region, the students stopped at a large waterfall next to the road and watched the roaring water fall from the towering cliffs above, flood the road and flow into the Dead Sea. Successfully bypassing the area through the rain and floods, the bus continued and made several more stops in the Dead Sea region for more lectures from Clive. The group then stopped at the Lido Junction, which sits at the northern tip of the Dead Sea. There the group discussed issues related to the history of the Dead Sea Region, in relation to transboundary ownership and management. They  discussed the ways in which the area has changed as the waters have receded and ownership has changed hands over time. They arrived at EcoME, an alumni project in the West Bank that is easily accessed by Israelis and Palestinians, learning about a successful alumni venture and were hosted overnight by Arava Institute alumni Yair Wahle, Rina Kedem, Ilana Meallem, Jennifer Golding and the rest of the EcoME team.
     Flexibility was required of both students and staff when the planned hike had to be cancelled due to flooding in the desert, and the group set off through the lightly falling rain to a natural spring north of Jericho to hear about the spring that provides water for the settlements and villages in the area. The visit included a lecture from Clive and an improptu trash cleanup at the spring. From there the students continued to Uja village for lunch and then a visit to a family home to learn about the sewage treatment systems that individual households maintain without relying on waste water infrastructure. In the afternoon the group visited a village in East Jerusalem to understand the problems of wastewater systems related to the political situation and the interests of Palestinians and Israelis working together on wastewater management. There the group also visited a current student's home and heard from a community member about the efforts to manage water in the village.
     The group had dinner in East Jerusalem at a restaurant owned by the family of alumnus Ihab Baraket and spent the night in Nes Harim in the Jerusalem mountains. They woke up early to arrive at the Palmachim Desalination plant south of Tel Aviv and were given an in-depth educational tour of the facility to learn about alternative water resources in a region that has very few (and those are rapidly depleting). After several hours at the plant the group visited the Palmachim beach, which was recently saved from development by an environmental campaign.  One of the campaign activists came to speak with the students at Ketura earlier in the semester to teach them about activism in the Environmental Leadership course. After lunch, sand-castle building, volleyball, and swimming, the students left the beach and arrived at the last stop on the field trip: the biggest waste water treatment facility in the world, the Shafdan waster water treatement plant. After an hour of education, discussion and questions the students were able to tour the entire facility by bus and see the treatment of sewage firsthand!
     Despite a rain cloud following the bus around the country, the trip was successful in educating the students on the many issues of water in the region. The discussions had during the trip are relevant to Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians and students from around the world because it's clear that no water source or treatment system can be considered without thinking of the other people who rely on the same bodies of water to provide fresh water. The trip was also an opportunity for the AIES community to travel together, visit alumni, visit  student's homes, and recognize the borders that are sometimes overlooked while learning in a classroom on campus. Report provided by Lindsey Zemler

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Director's Report March 11th - 25th, 2010

It has been a relatively quiet two weeks at the institute since my last posting, at least as compared to the turmoil taking place in the rest of the world, the natural disaster in Japan, the revolutions accross the Arab world and the increased violence between Israelis and Palestinians.  In contrast, Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian and international students participated in this year's annual soccer tournament on Ketura:  

Pini Lutman Soccer Tournament -  On Monday the 14th the Arava Institute men's team participated in the "Tournir Pini", an annual soccer tournament in memory of Pini Lutman, a kibbutz member who passed away over 15 years ago. The men's team was matched against Kibbutz Samar, the defending champions of the tournament. The Arava Institute team was made up of eleven student, staff and faculty members from Israel, Jordan, Palestine, America and Turkey.  It was a very tight match through out and Samar took the lead in the second half, scoring, after colliding with the Arava goalie. With Samar leading 1-0 the Arava team put a lot of pressure on Samar's defense and eventually scored on a nice crossing shot. Regulation time came to an end and the game went to penalty kicks (PKs). The initial PKs were best out of three and both teams made one. Then the match moved to sudden death penalty kicks. It kept going back and forth with both teams goalies blocking many shots. It wasn't until the 9th PK that Samar finally scored. The men's team put up an amazing effort and their match was actually the closest any team had against Samar until they won 4-1 in the finals.
      On Wednesday the 16th the Arava women's team had their first match to defend their title. They first played against the Kibbutz Ketura team. In the first half the Arava team dominated and entered half time up 2-0. In the second half a few errors by the Arava team led to Ketura scoring and making it a 2-1 contest. However, the women's team came together in the end to hold of Ketura.
     On Friday the Arava women's team played Kibbutz Yotvata in the finals. It was an extremely hot afternoon and both teams were battling against each other and the heat. Kibbutz Yotvata scored mid way through the first half and halftime came with a 1-0 lead for Yotvata. In the second half the women's team gave it their all but ended up coming up just short on multiple occasions and the whistle blew with Kibbutz Yotvata winning 1-0. It was an amazing effort by our women's team and I'm sure they will be back in the finals next year.  Congratulations to both teams!  Reported by Josh Neirman

Trip to US

I just spent a week in the US at a conference at Brown University and some time with our new Executive Director of the Friends of the Arava Institute, Dan Schachter along with our Chair, Seth Morrison and our Director of Development, Rabbi Michael Cohen.  In the aftermath of the horrible terrorist attack at Itamar, I wrote the following message from the conference in Brown to our students:

Message to Arava Family
I am currently attending a conference at Brown University called "Israelis and Palestinians: Working Together for a Better Future". The conference is sponsored by the Elga K. Stulman Fund and the Watson Institute for International Studies of Brown University. The purpose of the conference is to expose students and faculty from Brown University to the myriad of cross border Palestinian and Israeli cooperative organizations such as Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI), All for Peace Radio, Peace Research Institute in the Middle East (PRIME) and the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies (AIES). The conference started in the evening with an informal dinner for the conference speakers. I met old friend such as Gershon Baskin, Hanna Seniora and Eyal Naveh. I met new friends from peace organizations such as Maysa Baransi-Siniora, Mossi Raz and Galia Golan. I also met Professor David C. Jacobson, the Director of the Judaic Studies program at Brown and our host for the conference. This was the conference that Dr. Tareq Abu Hamed was supposed to attend but could not because he never received an answer from the US Consulate for his visa application.

On the first morning of the conference, the participants woke up to the horrific news of the terrorist attack on the Itamar Settlement, and the slaughter of the Fogel family including the unthinkable murder of an infant. We were all in shock, Israelis and Palestinians alike, at this inhuman act which is difficult for any human being to comprehend. It was a very surrealistic feeling to be in the cocoon of an American university campus, about to hold academic discussions on Israeli/Palestinian cooperation, only to be confronted by the reality of terrorism in the Middle East. Every panel session opened with a condemnation of this heinous act but we did not allow the violence in the West Bank to overshadow the message that we came to deliver to the students and faculty of Brown University. The message, of course, is that there is an alternative to the violence. The resolution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians can be achieved through peaceful means. The overall consensus of the conference participants was that 70% of the Palestinian people and 70% of the Israeli people agree on a two state solution, yet our leaders do not have the ability to lead us to a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

In addition to the human and personal tragedy of the cold blooded murder of the Fogel family, this is a tragedy for the Palestinian and Israeli people because it feeds the flames of hatred and pushes the Middle East towards the precipice of another cycle of violence. Unless Palestinians and Israelis commit themselves unequivocally to a condemnation of violence and all forms of military aggression, we will find ourselves locked into a never ending brutal struggle with one another that will leave many more victims like the 5 members of the Fogel family.

I am deeply saddened by the senseless murder of the Fogel family and my prayers go out to Tamar, Roi and Yishai. Most of all, I pray that the Fogel family are the last victims of this tragic struggle and I strengthen my commitment to help find an end to the violence in the Middle East and my resolve to work towards a just, secure and peaceful resolution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Director's Report Feb 27th to March 11th

• Spring Semester students are continuing a volunteer project that was started by our students from last year working with Sudanese refugee children in Eilat. This week, one of the student organizers, Inna Filkovski presented the project to staff members. There is a Sudanese refugee community living in Eilat. The total number of Sudanese refugees in Eilat is unclear. There is a strong distrust of Israelis authorities so they don’t reveal numbers. Because Eilat residence view the Sudanese refugees as a threat to their jobs and because the Israeli government has not stepped in to provide funding for welfare services the Eilat municipality has decided to ignore the refugees and provide social services for the adults nor for the children. Some children study in school and some don not . But there is no afternoon program for the children. The policy of the municipality does not allow the social workers to attend activities with/for Sudanese.

     Despite the animosity in Eilat towards the refugees, the students of the Arava Institute have stepped into the void and are trying to provide afterschool environmental activities. The students go to the refugee neighborhood once a week. The program was started by Assaf Katz in fall 2009 and ran all year. This year's student's decided to continue the program. The weekly is on Sundays from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm. The children are of various ages (from 5-15). About 15 children attend on regular basis. There are approximately 25 children in the building. The activity takes place in an abandoned building in the Sudanese refugee neighborhood because the community centers in Eilat will not allow the activities to take place on their premises.
     The program includes strengthening English skills with an emphasis on environment, recycling, reducing using environmental games like bowling with recycled bottles, identifying animals, and arts and crafts using local material. The kibbutzim in the area have donated material and toys for the project. About 15 Arava students were involved last semester, even more are participating this semester. The fact that many Palestinian and Jordanian students are involved is helpful because the Sudanese speak Arabic.
• Visits: A group from the Holy Land Trust, 15 college students visitied the Arava Institute this week. Cecil Rimer spoke in morning. Dr. Tariq Abu Hamed did walk through the park. Intro to PELS with Michelle Shachar , SharĂ³n Benheim held a student panel (which also served the Ramah group staying in Keren Kolot).
     A group of students from LeSalle University, a university with campuses around the world vsiited the institute and met with students. This group was from Philladelphia and from Brazil. They are on a program looking at sustainability through community.
     Karen Shapiro, member of the Friends of the Arava Institute, her husband Doug Frazer, Israel Ride alum, Doug's parents, Karen's mother and Nathan Frazer visited the institute. David Frazer, Doug's father facilitated the May Mann Estate donation which funded the May Mann Campus and the May Mann laboratory. The family was taken on a tour of the institute, the new Research and Visitors Park, the new Arava Power Company solar panel field and the dorms. The family also had the opportunity to hear from a student panel.
• The new group of students, although already busy with their classes in their second week at AIES, have initiated a number of extracurricular activities. Last night was the first Women's Circle of the semester, held around a campfire on the night of International Women's Day and attended by the female students and staff members. Continuing students from last semester facilitated a space for personal communication and invited each one present to speak about a woman who influences and inspires them. Many women shared what qualities they admire in the women who influence them, and later a staff member who attended told them that in order to recognize such admirable qualities in others, the female students certainly embody the qualities themselves. In addition they were invited to share the difficulties in a new place and to see the circle as a safe space of support and listening. The evening ended with rolling out dough and making pita over the fire, and the women were encouraged to continuing asking themselves the questions which had come up and to seek each other out for individual communication and reflection, as well as invited to facilitate future Women's Circles. Cathie Granit, Program Director, who attended the event said: "The women’s circle was fantastic. It made me feel excited about the students we have this semester, at least the women. We have a dynamic, energized, active bunch this semester. They seem to have good follow through." Reported by Lindsey Zemler

David Lehrer

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Director's Report - Month of February 2011

I apologize to all blog fans but the month of February overwhelmed me with travel and conferences such that I was not able to keep the blog updated. I will try to fill in the month of February and then hopefully get back to a routine of updating at least every two weeks.
  • Alumni Conference in Aqaba - Feb 3rd-5th - Over 100 alumni and affiliates of the Arava Institute gathered in Aqaba, Jordan for the annual Arava Alumni Peace and Environmental Network (AAPEN) Conference. In our largest alumni conference to date, an amazing groupof individuals gathered to participate in workshops, see inspiring lectures, communication and planning sessions, alumni-led activities as well as social opportunities, networking, and cultural activities. It was a weekend full of energy and activity which included a lecture by a representative of Engineers Without Borders Palestine who spoke about his experiences working in the environmental field in the Palestinian Authority, small-group “open space” discussions, a “Decision Making and Time Management” workshop with a Jordanian management consultant, an alumni-only communication session which provided the opportunity for more personal connections based on shared experiences between alumni from various years, presentations and discussions on the structure of the alumni network, elections for a new alumni committee, and a keynote speech by T.H. Culhane on his solar energy projects. A number of alumni presented their current work to all conference participants to offer an opportunity for cooperation and collaboration and provide updates from their field and experiences. Amongst those who shared were Gonen Sagy, the coordinator of the Youth and Environmental Educational Peace Initiative (YEEPI) project run by AIES and funded by USAID, Yair Teller on the bio-digester project in Susya, updates on various environmental and peace building projects happening the Jerusalem area, our Jordanian alumni who are working on a project called Green Echo in Jordan, and a team of alumni who initiated the EcoME Centre.In addition to a full schedule the alumni and other conference participants held a Kabbalat Shabbat service, an open prayer session with music, various musical jams, and a dance party as well as many chances to socialize, network, meet new and old friends, and revitalize the feeling of strength and connection between alumni. At the end of the weekend each region (Jordan, Israel and Palestine) elected four representatives to sit on the new AAPEN committee with a chair for each region coming together to form the international committee. The conference ended with a feeling of progress, inspiration, and excitement for all the upcoming events, projects and potential collaborations and partnerships. (Report provided by Lindsey Zemler)
Our alumni having a serious discussion about sustainability in the Middle East
  • Trip to the US Feb - 6th -18th - Immediately after the conference, I travelled to the US in order to attend the Friends of the Arava Institue (FAI) Executive Committee meeting hosted by Board members Karen and Barry Fierst in their home in Maryland. The main purpose of the meeting was to finalize the FAI budget, work plan and to interview candidates for the position of FAI Executive Director. The meetings were very successful and the committee has chosen a new Executive Director for FAI, Daniel Schachter from Boston, Mass. In addition to the committee meeting, I also had the opportunity to meet with donors, foundation representatives, political leaders in Boston, NY, Philadelphia, Washington DC and Colorado. I also met with the JNF Board of the Mountain State Region who have raised over $800,000 towards their $ 1 M goal for the new dormitories. I had the opportunity as well to visit Eddie Sperling, our rider who was seriously injured on the 2010 Israel Ride, in the hospital where he was undergoing a procedure.
  • Opening of the Spring Semester 2011 -  On Tuesday, February 22nd, a group of 38 students, 4 Palestinians, 9 Jordanians, 13 Israelis, and 12 North Americans, arrived to Kibbutz Ketura and the Arava Institute. Before classes begin, the students have a few days of orientation.  The first evening of orientation, the students and interns participated in some get to know you ice breakers and then the students were officially welcomed by the Arave Institute staff.  The next morning all of the students walked over to Dr. Elaine Soloway’s experimental orchards where she explained that she’s growing trees from Morocco and Jordan to see how they adapt to the climate of the Arava and understand their medicinal value and other traits.. The students then had their first Peace Building and Environmental Leadership Seminar session with Michelle Shachar and Dr. Uri Gordon.  Everyone had the opportunity to learn about one another through different activities. Later in the day, the students went on a hike followed by a Middle Eastern style gathering with the staff and faculty of the institute. On Thursday the students were taken on a regional trip. They went to Kibbutz Naot Smadar where they learned about the art center, saw wood working and got to learn about the construction of the building. The students also went to their organic winery and learned about organic agriculture and cheese production on the kibbutz. The students finished the day by taking a hike to Nachal Kasui pristine landscape above Ketura with sand dunes close to 100 feet high. The students frolicked in the sand for a half hour and then had a very nice lunch on the dunes.  Friday was course registration day. Everything went smoothly for the students. In the evening some students went to Friday night Shabbat services and everyone came to a very nice meal in the kibbutz dining hall.  On Shabbat about half of the students went on a beautiful Shabbat hike in the desert. On Sunday morning classes began. (Report provided by Josh Neiman)
  • International Renewable Energy Youth Conference - Feb 20th - 22nd This year, the first International Renewable Energy Youth Conference Competition was held in the Hevel Eilot Region as part of a broad focus on renewable energy and spring board for regional development Thirty two youths participated in the conference: 2 from Jordan, 12 from abroad (France, Germany, Italy, Britain, India, Romania, Latvia, Croatia, Spain, Portugal, Hungary and Serbia) and 16 from Israel. The competition was about creative solutions for energy storage. Participants also toured sustainable projects in the region. The participants stayed at the Keren Kolot Guest House and had the opportunity to visit the Arava Institute, the Research and Visitors Park and hear a lecture from Dr. Tareq Abu Hamed, head of the Arava Institute Center for Renewable Energy.  The competition winners created  a "fly wheel renewable energy storage system.  The atmosphere of the conference was interesting and exciting and introduced the participants to life in the Arava.
  • Eilat Eilot Renewable Energy Conference - Feb 22nd - 24th - The fourth annual Eilat Eilot Renewable Energy Conference was held in Eilat at the Herods and Dan Hotel. Over 2,000 people participated in the conference which once again brought together, entrepreneurs, scientists, policy makers and financers to discuss the promotion of renewable energy in the Middle East and the world. The conference began with the opening ceremony of the new Arava Power Company solar field, the first commercial size field to be licensed by the Israeli Electric Company. The APC field is located just south of the new Arava Institute Research and Visitors Park. Throughout the conference, both the new solar field and the Research and Visitors Park were flooded with visitors from high government officials, reporters, developers and other conference participants. On the final day, 4 bus loads of conference participants descended on the park, the field and the institute providing a wonderful opportunity to raise awareness of the institute's academic and research programs.
David Lehrer