Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Israel, Palestine and the environment

Arava Institute students Arava Institute students Arava Institute of Environmental Studies
08 Oct
2015
The Arava Institute brings together Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian and international students to talk about a shared issue – the environment 

Located on Kibbutz Ketura, on the Israeli border with Jordan, the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies has, for 20 years, brought together undergraduate and graduate university students from both sides of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict to teach and talk about environmental issues.

Recognised as one of the top environmental think tanks in the world, it is now a key player in issues such as water scarcity, sustainable agriculture and cross-border nature conservation – problems that defy disputed borders. Even during some of the worst periods of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, the Arava Institute has managed to maintain a diverse student body.

David Lehrer, director of the institute, tells Geographical that the institute’s main role in the region is ‘building a cohort of young environmental leaders who understand that our common interests are much more important – especially around water – instead of the things that divide us’.

Political escalation in the region has meant that the Israeli and Palestinian relations have gone from bad to worse. The Israel–Gaza conflict claimed more than 2,000 lives in 2014, and rockets continued to be launched from both sides of the borders throughout 2015. As well as the human loss, the lack of cooperation exacerbates water shortages and environmental degradation the region. 

oasisA small oasis in the Negev desert. Some students will take trips into the the Negev region of southern Israel to learn about the Arab and Israeli communities living there (Image: Oleg Znamenskiy)

Rebecca Farnum, researcher at King’s College London, studies environmental think-tanks and the positive influence they can have in state-to-state relations. Academic centres such as the Arava Institute can be critical in forming diplomacy during conflict and ensuring that it lasts afterwards. Farnum says ‘eventually state negotiations stop and there’s some kind of treaty reached. Is that the end of diplomacy? No, it can’t be or you’re going to find yourself back in the same position. It is this kind of peer-to-peer and academic diplomacy will inform treaty making and official state negotiations.’

According to the Arava Institute , it is the graduates who will eventually prove of benefit to the region. ‘Things seem to be going from bad to worse,’ says Lehrer. ‘However, on the ground, we’re seeing more and more alumni achieving influential positions and becoming involved. They are part of environmental units on a governmental level across the region. It is an issue of critical mass, when there are enough of our graduates and others from similar programmes, we will see real impact.’

desert2
Students of the Arava Institute examine the desert environment (Image: Arava Institute of Environmental Studies)

During the studies, the conflict is actively addressed. A peace-building and leadership seminar is part of the curriculum, which gives the students a chance to talk about environmentally-related subjects that are usually easier to avoid; history, politics, religion, war and occupation. ‘These discussions are not very quiet,’ says Lehrer. ‘The students can scream at each other and stomp out the door.’ However, it is the geographical isolation that, Lehrer says, helps to forge cooperation: ‘We are located in the middle of a desert in the middle of nowhere. So no matter how much they disagree, they all go back to the same dorm rooms, sharing coffee, sharing tea, sharing computers and sharing spaces.’

While it helps keep the students in, it is the desert that becomes the shared interest of the Arava Institute. Using the arid landscape of the region as a common denominator, cooperation is easier to come by. ‘Bridging conflict with environmental issues has a lot of potential, in that it is hard to escape,’ says Farnum. ‘For people in the Middle East, it is very easy to see when there isn’t enough water.’

For Lehrer, it’s culture and relationships that need to be addressed first. ‘The truth is that water is not the scarcest resource in the Middle East,’ he says. ‘It is trust. We don’t trust each other. Without trust there will never be peace in this region.’

Related items

Subscribe to Geographical!

Geographical Week

Sign up for our weekly newsletter today and get a FREE eBook collection!

University of Winchester

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • The Human Game – Tackling football’s ‘slave trade’
    Few would argue with football’s position as the world’s number one sport. But as Mark Rowe discovers, this global popularity is masking a sinister...
    Essential oil?
    Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many circles it is considered the scourge of the natural world, for the deforestation and habita...
    National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    REDD+ or Dead?
    The UN-backed REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) scheme, under which developing nations would be paid not to cut dow...
    Hung out to dry
    Wetlands are vital storehouses of biodiversity and important bulwarks against the effects of climate change, while also providing livelihoods for mill...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in PLACES...

Deserts

Biosphere 2 was one of the most ambitious experiments in…

Forests

High-quality, affordable drones can revolutionise the way that landscape and…

Mapping

Benjamin Hennig charts the impact of volcanoes on nearby human…

Mapping

A volunteer-led digital mapping project is at the heart of…

Cities

As the planet urbanises, attention is turning towards the most…

Forests

Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many…

Cities

A rising number of cruise ships and their ‘overlooked’ diesel…

Mapping

Benjamin Hennig charts the growth and impact of the world’s…

Deserts

Long-term studies reveal the Sahara desert has expanded substantially over…

Water

South America’s wealthiest economy is at a crossroads between environmental…

Forests

The European Court of Justice finds the logging of a…

Mountains

In this extract from his new book, Tides, mountain climber…

Cities

New data from the World Health Organization reveals that nine…

Water

In the wake of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan,…

Mapping

Benjamin Hennig maps out the global production and distribution levels…

Water

Millions of Americans are living in areas at high-risk of…

Mapping

New interactive maps combine precipitation and temperature to show climate…

Cities

Public transport in India could be on the verge of…

Water

To retrace the route of the fur voyageurs on the waterways…

Cities

IPCC Cities and Climate Change Conference: Alberta host dresses non-renewable…