I spent the four and a half months of the Fall '08 semester in Israel at the Arava Institute of Environmental Studies, or Machon Arava. The Machon is a peace-building, environmentalist coexistence program located on Kibbutz Ketura, in the Southern Arava Valley of the Southern Negev. The Machon consists of students from all over the Middle East (Arabs and Israelis), and North America (and sometimes Britain), and works toward the motto "Nature knows no borders."
Through my semester abroad I made some very interesting observations about the sociology and the politics of the region, particularly as the pertained to conflict, and began some research on the environment's place in the conflict. Throughout the process of my Div III, I wish to expand the knowledge gained from my experiences in the Middle East through interviews with my fellow Arava students, asking them questions about the Machon, about Israel, about the conflict, and about the political atmospheres in which they grew up (whether they grew up in Albany, Ramallah, Tel Aviv, or Amman). I'll also be further developing my research on the question of environment in conflict, focusing on the case study of water rights with the Palestinians, a constant battle in Israel. How do these fights over environmental resources stem from, or contribute to the larger conflict between Israel and it's Arab neighbors? How can these environmental scarcities be a building block toward peace? Also, under the Israeli Occupation, how does the understanding of power and responsibility affect the viability of the peace process, in terms of trust-building? How do all actors (Palestinian Water Authority, Israeli government, individuals, the UN, Jordan, those working on the Red-Dead Conduit project, etc) play into the conflict and resolution of resource management under constant threat of war?
The final product, I hope, will be a thesis, broken up into three chapters:
1. Introductory background on Machon Arava, Israel, Kibbutz Ketura, and the political sociology shown through my observations abroad as well as the interviews and some basic academic research about the political institutions of Israel and power dynamics with the various Palestinian powers. Explanation of leading questions, thesis, methods, etc.
2. Water rights for Palestinians, international and environmental law, the necessity of equity (read: sovereignty) for both nations in order for water scarcity to be a point of cooperation and possibly peace talks, gained through academic research. So far, most of my research has been through reading Thomas Homer-Dixon and Fadia Daibes.
3. Conclusions? This chapter should connect back to the introduction, with the ethnographic affect of the interviews and personal stories of Israelis, Palestinian, and other environmentalist and/or peace activists, looking for hope for the future of the conflict and environmental awareness in Israel/Palestine.