Peace-building and Environmental Leadership Seminar at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies

Peace-building and Environmental Leadership Seminar at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies

Palestinian TerritoryJamaica Plain, United States
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$1 million - $5 million
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

The aim of PELS is to teach mutual respect and understanding; giving AIES students tools to address and ease cross-cultural and political tensions

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

The Peace-building & Environmental Leadership Seminar is a required component of the academic program, and was designed to increase abilities to resolve cross-cultural conflicts by exploring individual’s understanding of the conflict and perception of the “other”. After the outbreak of the Second Intifada, PELS was developed to address issues within the Palestinian-Israeli conflict (nationality, race, religion, and ethnicity) in a facilitated atmosphere. Before the outbreak of violence in Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 2000, elements of PELS were included in the Environmental Studies Program, but with the escalation of political tensions, a need arose to provide the participants with a conflict resolution course that also adhered to the overall objectives of the Arava Institute

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

PELS addresses the students’ cultural, political and social issues, allowing expression of their views in a secure and facilitated forum while developing leadership abilities. PELS builds on the conviction that the social & political relationships in the region influence environmental practices, policies, and grassroots environmental activism. Thus, understanding these relations is vital in grasping the nature of environmental problems and options for improvement. It also builds upon the unique opportunity at the Arava Institute, a community comprised of Palestinians, Israelis, Jordanians and international students, to create in microcosm the relationships necessary to foster justice, peace, and environmental sustainability in the broader society. The goal is to provide a forum for studying aspects of the social and political context in which environmental problems develop, and for creating the relations necessary to foster a more just, peaceful, and ecologically secure future.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

PELS sessions explore differences related to nationality, race, religion, age, politics, region, language and social norms. An emphasis is placed on developing students’ individual environmental leadership skills and building trust through teamwork. Our coexistence programming has evolved over the past 13 years, but the core goals have remained the same: to enrich the students with tools for dialogue and group process, and to promote self-reflection, cultural understanding, and empathy. In the first year, the following programs were initiated and led by Michelle Shahar: • A field trip to Gaza with 40 students • An Eco-study tour with 55 Palestinian, Israeli Arab & Jewish students in Israel and the PA. • A workshop on Cultures of Learning with Prof. Sami Adwan from Bethlehem Univ. • Home hospitality and a program on Environmental Justice in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Wadi el Naam We strengthened our programming as a result of the Al Aqsa Intifada; the unrest in Oct. 2000, the Sept. 11th attacks, and the terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians, all of which illustrated the growing need to increase our communication and commitment to one another, and to learn to act more effectively together. By 2002, the program included a weekly Speakers’ Forum, structured dialogue sessions & coexistence or leadership components built into the Field Study Trips. Starting in 2003, we began separate PELS trips and Communication retreats. In 2006, we introduced a ‘Direct Action’ track, introducing the students to local environmental problems and campaigns.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Michelle has worked with professional facilitators & program directors to design communication/dialogue workshops that are suited to student needs. • Neve Shalom/Wahat al Salam- drawn from theories of group dynamics, workshops examine the small group as a microcosm of larger social forces and realities • Peace Research Institute in the Middle East Dual Narratives - dialogue methodology designed by Drs. Sami Adwan and Dan Baron, used in Israel, Germany, Croatia, and the USA • Compassionate Listening Project - designed to enhance communication skills and to explore empowerment and compassion in conflict situations. • Center for Democracy and Community Development- capacity-building and peace education programs with Walid Salem. • Conflict Management Strategies with Dr. Muli Peleg.
About You
The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies
About You
About Your Organization
Organization Name

The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies

Organization Country

, MA, Jamaica Plain

Country where this project is creating social impact
Your role in Education


The type of school(s) your solution is affiliated with


How long has your organization been operating?

More than 5 years

The information you provide here will be used to fill in any parts of your profile that have been left blank, such as interests, organization information, and website. No contact information will be made public. Please uncheck here if you do not want this to happen..

How long has your solution been in operation?

Operating for more than 5 years

Now that you have thought out your entry, help us pitch it.
Define your company, program, service, or product in 1-2 short sentences [136 characters]

The goal of PELS is mutual respect and understanding; giving AIES students the tools to address cross-cultural and political tensions

Identify what is innovative about your solution in 1-2 short sentences [136 characters]

Jews, Muslims & Christians live in a 4-month academic environmental program that develops their peace-building and leadership skills.

Social Impact
What has been the impact of your solution to date?

Skills acquired by participants during PELS are key throughout their careers as they pursue solutions to environmental conflicts after they leave the Institute. In 13 years, PELS has influenced over 600 AIES alumni. Over each semester, course evaluations have highlighted the positive effect PELS has had on students’ perceptions of each other. For example, the EcoME Center, established in 2011 by AIES Alumni. The goal of EcoME is to create a space in the Middle East, accessible to Israelis and Palestinians for meetings, workshops and ongoing contact. The location makes it possible for Israelis and Palestinians to meet with no need for permits. EcoME is one example of how our alumni have taken the lessons learned in PELS and turned them from theory into reality. Another project in the West Bank involves two AIES alumni, an Israeli man and a Palestinian woman, working together to provide renewable energy solutions to marginalized Palestinian communities.

What is your projected impact over the next 1-3 years?

Over the next 1-3 years, we hope to increase our student enrollment from 35 students per semester to 60 per semester. As a result, we will average about 120 alumni each year. In addition, alumni continue to initiate joint ideas and projects, working through the Arava Alumni Peace and Environmental Network (AAPEN).

What barriers might hinder the success of your project? How do you plan to overcome them?

Any deterioration in Israeli-Palestinian relations, whether political, economic, or military in nature, can create barriers that interfere with the success of our project. However, in the past, the basic concept of the PELS has proven itself when we see the students themselves rise to the challenge of overcoming a difficult situation and reaching out to each other.

Winning entries present a strong plan for how they will achieve and track growth. Identify your six-month milestone for growing your impact

Enhance & develop PELS to include additional relevant and pertinent components

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your six-month milestone
Task 1

Develop a History track in PELS based around the principles of Dual Narratives taught by Walid Salem from Al Quds University

Task 2

Bring journalists, politicians, and community/religious leaders to share their perspectives

Task 3

Find funds to promote student-led initiatives on campus: interfaith and cultural activities, and environmental initiatives

Now think bigger! Identify your 12-month impact milestone

Increase Palestinian staff and faculty in the Arava Institute & specifically for PELS to strengthen the program overall

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your 12-month milestone
Task 1

Seek funding to reinstate the PELS budget that has been cut as a result of the economic crisis

Task 2

Hire a Palestinian co-facilitator to work together with Ms Shahar

Task 3
Founding Story: We want to hear about your "Aha!" moment. Share the story of where and when the founder(s) saw this solution's potential to change the world [125 words]

When Roee came to AIES, it was the first time he saw a woman wearing a hijab (Moslem head cover). He was in shock that someone so religious could come to study at a place like AIES. He got to know Dawlah and stopped noticing the hijab. He learned to respect her wisdom and opinions. He grew to be her friend, and saw Dawlah instead.
Once, Dawlah was coming out of her room. She saw an Israeli soldier walking onto campus. In fear & dread, she hid in her room. All her contacts with soldiers had been at checkpoints, and had been bad & humiliating. After he changed, she saw it was Roee, back from reserve duty. He heard that she had been scared and came to talk to her. She realized that inside the uniform was her friend Roee who she could respect and talk to.
They laughed and said how concrete and convincing their experience was; how they learned not to judge by how someone looks - how, along with the identity of Israeli Soldier or Moslem Woman, a whole world could be inside the costume

Tell us about your partnerships

The Arava Institute offers an accredited university-level program for undergraduate and graduate students pursuing degrees in environmental or related fields under the auspices of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel. Other academic affiliates include Allegheny College and Green Mountain College. Research partners include Jordan University of Science and Technology, Boston University and numerous environmental organizations in Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.

What type of team (staff, volunteers, etc.) will ensure that you achieve the growth milestones identified in the Social Impact section? [75 words]

As mentioned above, the Development Department of the Arava Institute is crucial to the continuation and growth of the PELS program. The Friends of the Arava Institute also work continually to find funding for the many and varied programs offered.

Please elaborate on any needs or offers you have mentioned above and/or suggest categories of support that aren't specified within the list

We are always open to hear from other organizations regarding potential partnerships, internship opportunities for our alumni or possible sources for future students