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The Arava Institute- Bringing Arabs and Israelis Together to Solve Middle Eastern Environmental Issues

An American, an Israeli and a Palestinian enjoying a cup of coffee and conversation at your local coffee shop is not a scene would expect to find. However, it is precisely the scene that came into my view the other week as I walked into the Starbucks in our very own Emory Village. What could possibly bring these three people together, you might ask? The answer is quite simple: The Arava Institute.

For those of you concerned with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the more general problems between Israelis and Arabs or the U.S. and the Arab World, take some comfort in the fact that there are organizations attempting to solve these issues through cooperation, respect, and friendship, rather than hatred, terror, and intimidation. I have often pondered the individual role I could play in bringing this conflict to a close. As a student here at Emory, I have felt little hope in my ability to make any kind of difference when I am so far removed from the center of the conflict.

Luckily, there are organizations, such as the Arava Institute, that are interested in giving students like us the opportunity to work on these issues, gaining hands-on experience and new perspectives. As I sat down with David Weisberg, Executive Director of the Friends of the Arava Institute, to speak about the program that the Arava Institute offers for students, I knew I was in for an extraordinary conversation. Flanking either side of him were two alumni from the program, Ghadeer Khoury, a Palestinian woman, and Roee Elisha, an Israeli man. While the information provided by Mr. Weisberg was invaluable and highly interesting, it was the testimonies of these two past participants, who were obviously fond of each other despite their seemingly opposed backgrounds, that convinced me of the Arava Institute’s ability to engage students, such as ourselves, in solving global problems.

The mission of the Arava Institute, specifically, the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, is brilliant in its simplicity and clarity. As a regional program based in Israel, it seeks to promote peace, cooperation, and sustainable development in the Middle East by preparing future Arab and Jewish leaders to solve the region’s environmental challenges together. Arava uses environmental issues to bring people together, promoting peace and understanding while working towards solutions in areas such as water management, sustainable agriculture, and renewable energy. The Arava Institute understands the necessity to educate the future leaders, which is why this institute’s work is so relevant to us. Finally, we have been given the opportunity to make a difference.

Although the Arava Institute is involved in different kinds of work and research, central to its mission are the institute’s year and semester long programs for both undergraduate and graduate students, as well as a two-year masters program. The Institute offers a variety of courses in environmental science, social analysis, and policy. According to Weisberg, Khoury and Elisha, many times a scientific problem requires a social solution. Although Arava offers an environmentally based curriculum, students from all academic backgrounds and interests are encouraged to apply.

According to Weisberg, the program is comprised of approximately one third North Americans and one third Israelis with the last third being filled by Arabs, mainly from Palestine and Jordan. Although all classes are taught in English, the culturally diverse makeup of the student body is conducive to informal language study, whether it is Israeli or one of many Arabic dialects. In addition to formal classes and the informal language classes sometimes arranged by students, the program sponsors a number of field trips.  The program takes place on Kibbutz Ketura, located in the Arava Rift Valley, with Jordan’s Edom Mountains in direct view. The program’s location means that field trips aren’t limited to explorations of the Kibbutz. Often, field trips can include educational excursions to Jordan or parts of Israel you would have never thought to explore yourself.

Roee Elisha, a former Israeli student on the program, underscored the point and purpose of the program by saying that most of your experience lies outside of the classroom. Whether it is conversation within the Kibbutz’s multi-cultural community, or perhaps a trip to meet a friend’s family in Jordan, the opportunities to expose you to new and exciting things are endless. Your education does not cease when you leave a classroom. Rather, it is every meal, every interaction, every conversation, which  provides invaluable learning that cannot be taught in any other environment.

If you’re looking for a job or an internship that allows you to leave work behind when you leave the office, this program is not for you. If you are, however, looking for an academic and cultural experience that will prepare you to make a different in the world, I think the Arava Institute may be worth looking into. We can sit here in our Emory bubble and lament the fact that we are too far to make a difference, or we can be proactive and change not only our lives, but the lives of future generations. 

For more info, http://www.arava.org/

-Gillian Schreiber ’11

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