Much needed scholarship funds are raised for the Arava Institute by the Israel Ride participants as cycle their way from Jerusalem to Eilat. The common theme is that “we pedal for peace” because “the environment knows no borders.” But, just what is the Arava Institute for Environmental studies (www.arava.org)? The Arava Institute offers a life-changing academic program that brings Israeli Jews and Arabs, Palestinian, Jordanian, and North American students together using environmental study as a shared goal. The Arava Institute was founded in 1996 by Dr. Alon Tal, Israel’s foremost environmental lawyer as an academic and research center for environmental leadership in the Middle East. The institute came about with the implementation of the Treaty of Peace between Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (1994). As part of the treaty there also are agreements on water. The initial Arava Program, a two semester academic program, offered undergraduate or graduate credit through the Overseas Study Program of Tel Aviv University. Today, the Arava Program is accredited through Ben Gurion University. At the Arava Institute students learn the essential skills required for becoming future environmental leaders. In addition to environmental courses, courses on peaceful coexistence are part of a student’s curriculum. Israeli students spend time with Palestinian and Jordanian families and Palestinian and Jordanian students spend time with Israeli families. Probably the most important outcome of the Arava Institute’s program is that of trust–the scarcest resource in the Middle East.
The students and alumni of the Arava Institute particpate in the bike ride as crew members and support and gear (SAG) staff. As part of the bike ride, participants spend time meeting with and learning about just why Israeli Arab and Jewish, Palestinian, and Jordanian students have chosen to participate in the Arava Institute’s unique program, what are their future goals, and what are some of the challenges they face.