I arrived at the Arava Institute in September 2015, not really knowing what to expect. Im an educator and social activist in Israel; I had worked on the elections for the Knesset the year before and lost, and was looking for something meaningful to do, as well as increasing my academic knowledge about the regional environment. The Institute seemed to be located basically on the other side of the earth: Im from the center of Israel, and had never lived in the desert before.
Little did I know how much I was going to discover there. My best summary would be: The place taught me about nature and its interactions with human beings. Kibbutz Ketura, the home of the Arava Institute, is located in a beautiful area with places to hike all around. I would go out into the desert almost every day to relax or hike up one of the mountains overlooking the Arava valley.
In addition, maybe because of its remote location, the Institute allows for a unique community to form where Israelis and Palestinians live together and cooperate, which was a new experience for me. Most Israelis see Palestinians either as desperate people living under occupation, or terrorists, every single one, and here I suddenly was given a chance to live with them: cook dinner, drink coffee, study, dance, sing – and talk politics or religion. I had the opportunity to see them as human beings, nothing more and nothing less. Add to that our Jordanian neighbors and international students from around the world, and you have a winning mix.
I worked on research projects related to sustainable agriculture together with someone from Jericho, and one of my best friends was from Irbid, Jordan. I dont know of any other place in the world where I could have experienced that particular blend of multiculturalism.
The academic program included courses I havent seen at any other university in Israel, but hopefully their importance will soon be recognized widely: political ecology, sustainable agriculture, environmental politics and others. Likewise, being able to observe and cooperate on research projects led by the Institutes scientists was incredible. I especially enjoyed experimenting in the gardens of Dr. Elaine Solowey [director of the Center for Sustainable Agriculture]. She really made her projects and her expertise available to us.
It was great to study and get involved in projects that are valuable for everyday life and the optimization of natural resources in Jordan, Israel and Palestine. I traveled together with Jordanians to understand environmental problems around the Dead Sea, and I studied greywater systems in Auja, near Jericho, with Palestinians and Germans.
Last but not least, once a week we would all meet for the Peace-Building Leadership Seminar, where we would talk about the real political and historical issues in our region. Here, I got such insight into the Palestinian narrative; I learned to understand the conflict in ways the daily news could never have taught me.
In addition to the academic study program, the Arava Institute offers 2-12 month internships in five transboundary research centers focusing on areas of key environmental concern — water management, renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, ecology and sustainable development. Budding professionals and researchers have an opportunity to focus their research in these areas and contribute substantively to transboundary research through a defined project under the direction of a faculty member, while gaining valuable professional, academic and personal experience, and participate fully in campus and peace-building activities. The Institute welcomes interns from varied backgrounds, including the social and natural sciences.
Interdisciplinary environmental studies
The Arava Institute brings together Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians and international students for an interdisciplinary environmental studies program. Students study natural and social science courses for one or two semesters, while living in a unique multicultural community on the Institute campus in Kibbutz Ketura in the southern Arava desert. All courses are taught in English and are under the auspices of Ben Gurion University of the Negev. Undergraduate and graduate level credit is available for academic courses. In addition to the academic courses, all students are required to attend the weekly Peace-Building Leadership Seminar and participate in a variety of campus life activities, including a weekly comprehensive Environmental Leadership seminar. International students may apply for a Masa scholarship. The Arava Institute has hosted students from over 230 American universities.
For more information about the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, go to arava.org