On Kibbutz Ketura in Israel’s Arava desert, more than 800 students from Israel and other countries have torn down barriers over the past two decades to find cooperative solutions for regional environmental challenges.

This year, the non-profit Arava Institute for Environmental Studies is sponsoring concerts, conferences and public forums in celebration of its 20th anniversary of innovative environmental and peace-building work.

“The Arava Institute is the only academic program in the Middle East to provide a balanced student body of approximately 40 students — one-third Jewish Israelis, one-third Palestinians and Jordanians and one-third international students each semester — with the theoretical knowledge and practical skills needed to inspire Israeli-Arab environmental cooperation, ” says Deputy Director Eliza Mayo.

Considered one of the top environmental think tanks in the world, the Arava Institute recently was a semifinalist in the Hero Award by Billion Acts of Peace, a UN-supported initiative.

 

The institute’s founders, Alon Tal and Miriam Sharton, envisioned creating cross-border environmental cooperation while “transforming misperceptions into meaningful friendships that transcend traditional political and religious divides, ” Mayo tells ISRAEL21c.

“We set ourselves a specific goal to train and educate young adults to go out into the world using the environment as a tool for dialogue and dialogue as a tool for improving the environment in the region, ” she says.

“In our anniversary year, we’re celebrating that we have done just that — through wars and intifadas, during which other initiatives have come and gone. We stick with it and work together because of our emphasis on respectful academic disagreement and on hearing other narratives and using that ability to improve the environment.”

“We train and educate young adults to go out into the world using the environment as a tool for dialogue and dialogue as a tool for improving the environment in the region.”

Accredited through Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and headed since 2003 by David Lehrer, the Arava Institute runs academic programs, research centers and international collaborations supported by an American Friends organization, foundation grants and research grants from the European Union, the Israeli government, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and other sources.

Here, ISRAEL21c takes a look at five significant projects of the Arava Institute to improve both the environment and human relations.

 

1. More water for off-grid communities

From 2013 to 2015, the Arava Institute’s Center for Transboundary Water Management ran a USAID-funded project to construct decentralized graywater recycling systems and develop a multi-player regional wastewater treatment network.

The main goal was to protect freshwater sources and find a low-cost, low-maintenance, socially acceptable and widely replicable sanitation solution to reduce wastewater pollution while increasing irrigation water supply to off-grid households and communities in Israel and Palestinian Authority-administered areas.

“Dr. Shlomo Kimchie’s design, consisting of a series of modular units filled with gravel, emphasizes the use of local materials and requires minimal electricity, as it is dependent on the natural forces of gravity for treatment, ” according to the institute. “These systems were also designed to be scalable, allowing for their implementation in single-family homes or entire neighborhoods.”

 

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