During Thusday’s installment of the Environmental Studies Lunch & Learn Program, three alumni of The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies — Eve Tendler, Shadi Shiha and Jacklyn Best — spoke about their work on transboundary water management in Israel and Palestine. The event, cosponsored by the Tufts Institute of the Environment, the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life and Friends of Israel, was held in the Rabb Room in Lincoln Filene Hall. About 40 people were in attendance.
The Arava Institute is an educational and research-based program in Ketura, Israel, about a kilometer from the Jordanian border. The institute offers a year-long environmental research program with an international student body, of which the event’s three speakers were alumni. This week’s Lunch & Learn is the first installment of a series of lectures Shiha and Tendler are giving throughout the United States at universities and synagogues in the coming months.
Ari Massefski, the university relations manager for Friends of the Arava Institute, gave an introduction to the work of the institute before Tendler, Shiha and Best began their talk. Massefski highlighted the organization’s emphasis on bringing people of different backgrounds together over a common respect for the environment. He also stressed the diversity within the student body, with interns from the West Bank and Gaza Strip as well as Morocco, Egypt and Tunisia.
In an interview with the Daily, Massefski said the goal of the lecture was to “bring awareness of our cooperation in the region to people who might not be exposed to it.”
“We were founded in 1996 on the premise that environmental issues in the region, which are serious issues, are issues that transcend the politics of the region,” Massefski said in the lecture.
Shiha, Tendler and Best shared the sentiment that environmental issues allow for people to come together despite political tensions. Shiha was born in Amman, Jordan to Palestinian parents who were displaced from their homes in Beersheba and Jerusalem after the Israeli army took over their communities. Tendler is Israeli, born in Tel Aviv to parents with German and Israeli citizenship. Best comes from an American Jewish background.
Both Tendler and Shiha emphasized the sheer polarity of the conflict as they experienced it growing up. Growing up, both were convinced that the people across the border from themselves were their enemies, and they credited the Arava Institute and its peace leadership seminar with giving them an experience of peace and coexistence.
Tendler stressed that environmental issues and politics are deeply intertwined.
“Environmental issues will always exist as long as there is a conflict in the political situation, and the political situation will never be solved as long as there is environmental injustice,” she said. “What we try to do in the Institute is talk about both of them at the same time, and try to engage both narratives when we talk about the environmental issues of the region. It can bring some hope.”
Shiha shared a similar idea, emphasizing that around the world, environmental sustainability cannot exist without collaboration among various groups.
“[An environmental issue] is not something that can wait … to get solved by itself. We should all work on it together,” he said. “Regardless of whether you are Israeli, you are Jordanian, American, we share the same planet.”
Best spoke about her work at the Arava Institute, which involved negotiating between Israelis and Palestinians around wastewater management on a grassroots level. After she returned from the fellowship, she tried to share her experience with the American Jewish community of which she is a part.
“There’s so much we can learn through our friends’ eyes that is more real than what we see on the news and on Facebook and through our various filters that we put ourselves through, so I feel extremely lucky to have gone through this experience [and] to have met people like Eve [Tendler] and Shadi [Shiha],” she said.
Sara Gomez, the assistant director of the Environmental Studies Program and the organizer of the lecture series, described its purpose as twofold: to make environmental topics accessible to the Tufts community, and to build a sense of community within the Environmental Studies Program itself.
“This is a focal point of community,” Gomez said.
She added that this particular lecture exemplifies how individuals “leave aside their interpersonal conflicts for the love of the land.”