The Arava Institute (AIES) has redoubled its efforts in response to the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis, pursuing cross-border work to meet newly heightened need and heal divides sharpened by the pandemic. On campus, the Institute is spending the summer reviewing its academic program so that it continues to be a safe and vibrant learning community. During the recent spring semester, most students remained on campus, as the Institute enacted safety precautions and shifted to remote learning. The semester concluded with a poetic graduation speech delivered by a Gazan student together with an Israeli-American. Due to the pandemic-motivated closure of the Israel-Jordan border, our Jordanian students found themselves stuck in Israel at the end of the semester.  The students remained safely on campus while AIES negotiated with the Jordanian Embassy a special opening of the Jordan-Israel border just for our students, allowing them to return at the end of June.

With the shadow of unilateral annexation threatening the progress being made by the Track II Environmental Forum, AIES and our Palestinian NGO partner, Damour for Community Development, have entered into an agreement with the Cyprus Institute to ensure that the Track II Forum will have a neutral place to convene. As Track II projects progress (see below), this relationship will ensure the continuation of cooperative peace-building work on the ground in a time of great global uncertainty.

Below please find a sampling of how the Institute is responding to these challenges. We would be delighted to share more details on any of these projects with you.

Wastewater Monitoring for COVID-19 in Israel’s Bedouin Community

COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on vulnerable and especially off grid, communities.  Testing of wastewater will help identify outbreaks of the virus early on in communities with limited access to health care such as Bedouin villages in the Middle East or the Navajo Nation in the southwestern United States. These communities have much higher rates of infection, with the infection rate in Bedouin communities in southern Israel estimated to be over 40%. 

Drawing on long-standing expertise in water monitoring, the Arava Institute has launched a project to test wastewater from off grid communities for COVID-19. By gauging the spread of the virus and catching outbreaks even before people are symptomatic, the project will benefit vulnerable communities by getting the testing, isolation and healthcare that they require in a timely fashion.

Bringing Fresh Drinking Water to Gaza

Today, 97% of Gaza’s wells are too contaminated for human consumption. As a result, Gazans have turned to using private and unregulated water supplies such as makeshift desalinization facilities, which are vulnerable to contamination and cause health issues. Gazan children suffer from diarrhea, kidney disease, stunted growth, and impaired IQ from contaminated water.

The Arava Institute’s Track II Forum has built a successful relationship with the Israeli Army, Gazan municipalities, and the Israeli green-tech company, WaterGen, to introduce Atmospheric Water Generators (AWG), which create clean drinking water from the humidity in the air. The joint effort will install an AWG producing 5,000 liters of drinking water per day in the Khan Younis municipality to benefit the Nasser Medical Center, the second largest hospital in Gaza.  This follows the successful installation, in December, of a smaller 800 liter/day unit in Abassan Al-Kabira. An alternative to unregulated, costly, and inefficient desalination units, this technology can be expanded to wider use; reducing stress on the Gaza aquifer, which is over pumped and brackish, and therefore contributing to its restoration. An article on December’s WaterGen installation can be read here.

Building a Shared Society in Jisr-al-Zarqa

Living and working in the shared society of the Arava Institute is eye-opening for many students, as Israeli Jews and Arabs come together to live and pursue cross-cultural and environmental studies. However, many Israeli Jewish students recognize how vast the barriers are to equity and justice. The first step towards mending this ever-present schism is to create a foundation for respectful communication. This summer, 15 students will address this challenge by spending a month living in the Israeli Arab village of Jisr-al-Zarqa, on the coast of central Israel.  During this immersive experience, students learn Arabic, volunteer and engage with the community. Students develop relationships with residents of all ages, working side by side on community projects, while building respect and trust.