The SIPA Israel Delegation is a student-led initiative that takes graduate students to Israel for a rich exchange of ideas at the intersection of social, environmental, and security policy. The Environmental and Sustainability Policy iTrek Delegation this year examines the country through the lens of trans-border issues, with primary focus on environmentalism, resource management, and climate change. They explored sectors such as water policy, resource efficiency, sustainable agriculture and urban management.
From December 30th 2017 to January 8th 2018, the Delegation brought 40 diverse students from Columbia University to Israel. They spent eight intensive days traveling from Merom Golan near the Syrian Boarder to Kibbutz Ketura in the South, including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
The students met with Professor Colin Price, Head of the Porter School of Environmental Studies at Tel Aviv University, where they toured the Porter School building itself, Israel’s first LEED Platinum certified building, and interacted with Dr Alon Tal, one of the founders of Israel’s environmental movement.
The Delegation visited Netafim, a Kibbutz-owned and operated company that is one of the leading drip irrigation providers in Israel and abroad. Almost all of the agriculture in Israel is carried out by drip irrigation using retreated sewage water, a water efficient technique for agriculture in a vulnerable climate. Israel has heavily invested in desalinisation, which has proved itself. Israel has one of the largest desalinisation plants, which uses membrane technology able to provide drinking water to 1.5 million residents. This has protected the country from feeling the adverse impacts of droughts and water shortages.
The Delegation also interacted with the Bedouin community at Wadi Attir, learning about their mode of sustainable agriculture, which integrates their historical practices and knowledge with modern technology. For instance, the students learnt how the community still employed traditional techniques of sheep herding, but also used data collection systems to increase their efficiency and improve their productivity. In the south of the country, they also visited the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, attended by students from Jordan, Israel and Palestine, where they learn about methods of sustainable agriculture in a desert climate. Institutes such as the Arava Institute disseminate knowledge about their shared histories and experiences, thereby serving to bridge a gap from years of conflict.
One of the key objectives of the Delegation was to explore international relations from an environmental perspective. Professor David Katz, of Tel Aviv University, brought the students to Yad Hanna, an Israeli village bordering Tulkarm, a Palestinian city in the West Bank. He discussed the politics of trans-border watershed management and how environmental concerns can contribute to regional conflict but can also serve as an opportunity for peaceful cooperation.