Arava Institute for Environmental Studies
The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies is an accredited academic program for undergraduate and graduate studies located at Kibbutz Ketura on the Israeli side of the Arava Valley. It seeks to train future leaders of the Middle East in environmental issues so that they will be able to cooperate in solving regional environmental problems. The Arava is a sparsely populated desert valley that connects the Dead Sea region with the Red Sea, and is part of the Jordan Rift Valley. Between the Dead Sea and the cities of Eilat and Aqaba, the Arava forms the border between Israel and Jordan. Kibbutz Ketura, founded in 1973 by members of Young Judea, is located only a few hundred meters from the border between Israel and Jordan.
Kibbutz Ketura is one of a small number of intentional communities in Israel, and that makes it an ideal setting for a culturally diverse program. Members of the Kibbutz are both religious and non-religious Jews who have chosen to live together in the same community and maintain an egalitarian synagogue. The kibbutz is also a member of Israel's Green Kibbutzim movement, which seeks to promote environmentally friendly and sustainable practices. A portion of the kibbutz's agricultural produce is organic.
Students and academic programs
Students at the Arava Institute live on Kibbutz Ketura while taking classes in sustainable development, water management, environmental law, economic policy, environmental science, and other topics in environmental studies. Classes are taught in English. Members of the faculty are often guest lecturers from universities, both in Israel and abroad, or professionals in fields such as public policy and water management.
Students come from around the world to study and conduct research at the Arava Institute. Since its founding in 1996, the Arava Institute has hosted over 400 graduate and undergraduate students of various nationalities, including Israeli Jewish, Israeli Arab, Palestinian, Jordanian, Egyptian, Tunisian, European and American students. The Arava Institute has been able to maintain a diverse student body even during very difficult times elsewhere in Israel and the Middle East.
Students can participate in semester and year-long programs accredited through Ben Gurion University as well as two Master’s degree graduate programs granted by Ben-Gurion University – one in Environmental Desert Studies and the other a “Green” MBA that teaches environmental sustainability and efficiency as well as business management skills. A three-week summer course is sometimes offered to study biodiversity and environmental challenges in the Arava Valley. The Arava Institute is considering establishing a joint Master’s program with Al-Quds University, the only Arab institution of higher learning in Jerusalem. All students are required to participate in a Peace-Building and Environmental Leadership Seminar, which provides them with a facilitated forum for expressing their views on race, religion, identity, and the political situation.
Over 75% of Arava Institute graduates are working in the environmental or peacebuilding field. The Institute has created an alumni network to continue supporting alumni by providing personal and professional contacts as well as seed money for alumni projects that demonstrate cross-cultural cooperation. Several alumni of the institute have gone on to work in cross-cultural projects.
- Hashem Shahin, a Muslim Palestinian alumnus, is part of a joint Israeli-Palestinian project to discover the genetic basis of deafness.
- Tamar Keinan, a Jewish Israeli alumna, joined a Jordanian alumnus to create the "Good Neighbors Water Project" for Friends of the Earth Middle East.
- Laithi Gnaim, an Israeli Arab alumnus, established a nonovernmental organization called "Arrasid" (Bearing Witness) which trains Arab farmers in the Beit Netofa Valley in sustainable farming techniques. He has used connections made at the Arava Institute to offer training in sustainable practices and bui Arab-Jewish partnerships in the agricultural sector.
Maya Negev, a Jewish Israeli alumna, working at the Herzog Center for Policy in Tel Aviv University
Others are working in NGO's working on solutions to hygiene and energy in rural and poor areas, working on environmental education and awareness, activists in peace related activities and more.
The Arava Institute has recently added a new network to build more connections between alumni. Called AAPEN or the Arava Alumni Peace and Environmental Network, AAPEN brings together alumni from all years of study during an annual conference (most recently held in Aqaba, Jordan), as well as an online presence on Facebook, a private online network (NING), updated pages on the Arava website for alumni, a newsletter, and more.
In addition to its academic programs, the Arava Institute conducts ecological research in the desert environment. Its Environmental Policy and Research Center has established trans-boundary projects with the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, and Morocco in the areas of Bio-Diversity, Air Quality, Stream Restoration, Sustainable Agriculture in Arid Lands, and Sustainable Futures for the Dead Sea Basin.
At the Center for Sustainable Agriculture, important research is being conducted on water-saving plants as well as endangered medicinal and biblical plants of the Dead Sea region. Recently the Center’s Director, Dr. Elaine Solowey, made international headlines for germinating a 2,000 year old seed of the Judean date palm found in excavations at Masada.