A bikeathon in Israel aims to protect the environment and build peace.

One of the major efforts in Israel in promoting both environmental awareness and regional cooperation is taking place in the southern area of the country called the Arava. The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies at Kibbutz Ketura combines high level environmental undergraduate and graduate studies along with an intensive cross-cultural learning experience as well as life on a kibbutz.

Students from the Middle East (Israeli Jews and Arabs, Palestinians, Jordanians, Egyptians, Tunisians, etc) along with students from the United States and around the world prove that young people (Christians, Muslims, and Jews) can make a positive response to the challenges of the world when it comes to the environment and peace.

Unlike many Israeli-Palestinian cooperative groups the Arava Institute has not closed down these past 30 plus months. At this challenging and critical time this project combines the work of peace and cross-cultural education, along with the preservation of the world’s environment. It also provides a unique and important place in this post September 11th world that we live in for students from the United States to study with and live with students from the Middle East region in the Middle East.

One of the most powerful aspects of this program is that none of the participants check their strong individual identities – Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Israeli, Palestinian, Arab, American, etc. – at the gate of the kibbutz. The Institute does not shy away from the very difficult discussions that can not be avoided with such a constellation of students; without things falling apart.

The key ingredient is the environment. Students who come on this program, because of their interest in the environment, have a broader existential view and understanding of the world they live in. This view does not lead them to negate their individual identities by any means, but allows them to hold and embrace a wider view, while at the same time hold onto who they are.

Each semester students take classes in five areas: Environmental Policy; Environmental Science; an Inter-Disciplinary Class (one semester the Desert and the other semester Water Issues; Social & Cultural Issues; and an Independent Study. Students live in special dormitories built on the kibbutz for the Program, but eat their meals in the communal dinning room of the kibbutz and are ‘adopted’ by kibbutz families. The kibbutz, a community by intent, on the micro level provides an important model of sharing and cooperation with clear implications for the peace and the environment on the macro level.

While most of the students are environmental studies majors the Arava Institute has welcomed many other students over the years who are looking for a unique way to fill their elective requirements for a broad liberal arts education. The program is accredited through Tel-Aviv University, Ben-Gurion University (a joint Master’s program), and Green Mountain College.

In an effort to increase the resources that enable the Institute to implement its goals, The Arava Institute and Hazon have launched a joint fund raising project – The Arava Institute Hazon Bike Ride in Israel, Cycling in Solidarity for Peace, Partnership & Environmental Protection 2003

The ride is a 450 km. (300 mile) ride in which 40 participants mostly North America and some from Israel will raise funds for the two organizations by getting friends and relatives to sponsor their ride. The ride starts in Neve Shalom Monday morning April 28th and ends in Eilat Friday May 3rd.

On the way the group will pass Ashkelon, Beersheva, the Ramat Negev settlements, Sde Boker, Mitzpe Ramon, Ketura and Eilat. Israeli environmentalists and political leaders will join the ride at various points along the way. The ride will contain educational components about environment, sustainable development and cooperation with our neighbors all in the spirit of the Arava Institute and Hazon – Protecting Nature, Building Peace. Other sponsors of the ride are the Jewish Agency for Israel and Friends of the AIES in North America. The Jewish National Fund is also a supporter of the ride.

The Arava Institute’s partnership with Hazon is not incidental. The organization has run a number of environmental bike rides in North America. Hazon, as its name implies is bringing new vision not only to Judaism and the environment but other areas where Judaism will be enhanced by new dynamic thinking.