Meet the Students Studying Transboundary Environmental Issues in the Middle East This Summer

For the fifth year, Columbia University and Tel Aviv University will collaborate to send graduate students to the Middle East to learn about the environmental challenges facing communities in Jordan and Israel. From June 30 to July 14, students will conduct fieldwork and explore the complex issues surrounding shared natural resources through meetings with practitioners, academics and policymakers. Students will be posting on State of the Planet about their experiences and you can also follow them on social media at #CUJordanIsrael2018.

The students will be led by professor Joshua Fisher from Columbia University and Dr. Shahar Sadeh, a visiting scholar and director of Faculty Engagement at New York University. Together they will teach students how to think critically about what they hear from different stakeholders, and will provide them with tools for conflict mapping and mediation. The fieldwork is an integral component of the course NECR K5260 Regional Environmental Sustainability in the Middle East, which is part of the Negotiation and Conflict Resolution program at the School of Professional Studies.

Israa Anabossi
Israa is a current student at the Porter School of Environmental Studies at Tel Aviv University, and believes that international cooperation is the key to finding creative solutions to environmental issues, such as those that face the Dead Sea and the Jordan River. One example of a successful collaboration that Israa points to lies in the 1998 project to study the problems of the Gulf of Eilat. This collaboration led to the removal of fish cages and restoration of Eilat’s ecological system. She is joining this year’s program to learn more about cross-border environmental issues, and to try to foster regional cooperation with other countries in an effort to find new solutions.

Molly Blessing
Molly is a chemist with a strong interest in promoting green and sustainable chemistry processes and, currently, a master’s student at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.  Molly is originally from NYC.  She holds a B.S. in chemistry and works as a regulatory chemist for the law firm Bergeson & Campbell, P.C. and associated consulting firm The Acta Group.  She is participating in the course to learn about how cooperation on environmental issues can serve to mitigate conflict and support sustainable outcomes.

Katharina Botlz
Katharina is originally from Germany and is studying in the International Masters’ Program at the Porter School of Environmental Studies at Tel Aviv University. She has taken several electives regarding transboundary environmental issues, including Physical and Hydrological Aspects of Transboundary Water Management, Policy and Political Aspects of Transboundary Water Resources, and Environmental Conflict. Through these courses Katherine learned that managing natural resources efficiently is essential to avoiding conflicts and to decreasing future environmental impacts.  Taking part in this program will give her the chance to deepen her knowledge of and methods for natural resource management.

Daniel Gal
Daniel is a Master of Science student, pursuing a degree in Urban and Regional Planning at Tel Aviv University. She is also a team member at Planning for the Environment with Communities and works as a social worker/community facilitator for Social Magic (Kesem Hevrati). Social Magic is an NGO that supports communities in need of legal aid, financial management and emotional support. Daniel works closely with a community of Arab women, helping them with challenges related to the spatial conflict in the region. She has volunteered with the Arab-Jewish Center for Equality, Empowerment and Cooperation and Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development and with Hands of Peace, where she had the rare opportunity to explore real-world challenges facing both Israelis and Palestinians. Through this program, she hopes to learn more about regional cooperation that can benefit the environment and society.

Dalit Harel
Dalit was born in Tel-Aviv and has always loved nature and the sea. She teaches high-school French. Dalit is currently a student at the Porter School of Environmental Studies, where she is undertaking seminars on Co-Working Spaces and Community Resilience, and Water Conflicts with our Neighbors.

Brian Haviland
Brian is a part-time graduate student in Columbia University’s Master of Science in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution program and a full-time professional in the insurance industry. He is studying advanced negotiation and mediation techniques as part of his capstone project. Brian hopes to learn about what techniques have or have not been effective in negotiations between Israel and its neighbors, as well as how the environment can be an entry point for cooperation in the region.

Nogah Hertz
Nogah is studying urban space sustainability at the Porter School of Environmental Studies at Tel Aviv University. She has extensive professional experience in planning and design, and is passionate about influencing urban space while trying to find synergies between the needs of individuals and the environment. She recently completed an exchange semester in Berlin as a part of the Erasmus worldwide program, and feels that being a part of international programs provides an opportunity to benefit from being exposed to ideas and people from around the world. Through this program, she hopes to learn more about shared environmental concerns in the region. Because environmental problems do not follow borders, she feels it makes no sense for countries to attempt to solve shared environmental problems on their own.

Sabrina Ho
Sabrina, originally from Singapore, is a graduate student in Columbia University’s Climate and Society Program. She has a Bachelor of Science in Geography from University College London. Interested in climate change adaptation, she would like to learn more about the current environmental problems faced in the Middle East, and the underlying complexities in dealing with them collectively as a region due to the social and cultural fabric. She is excited to gain exposure to the way the environment could be used in peace-building in the region.

Yoni Yakup Levi
Yoni is studying environmental studies at the Porter School of Environmental Studies at Tel Aviv University. Yoni has lived in Turkey over 20 years and is well acquainted with the regional water conflicts given Turkey’s recent export of water to Syria, Jordan, Qatar and Israel. Yoni believes the peace process can only be achieved with regional cooperation.

Philippa Naka
Philippa, originally from Athens, Greece, is a student in the Master of Science in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution program at Columbia University. Political conflicts have always interested her, and the reason she chose this class was to explore the ways in which the power of the environment can serve as a means for conflict resolution.

Assaf Navarro
Assaf is studying environmental studies at the Porter School of Environmental Studies at Tel Aviv University, where he is writing a thesis on “Integrating Environmental Issues in the Curriculum of Citizen Education for High School”. This curriculum is currently mandatory for all branches — Jews (secular and religious), Arabs and Druze — and is aimed at establishing a civic common ground for conflicting social sectors in Israeli Society. A central theme in his thesis is that, if integrated, environmental issues could become a common denominator to Jewish and non-Jewish sectors. Assaf is also a Biology and Civics high school teacher. He started a project to bring together 11th graders from his school and Arab students from a nearby high school, to study regional environmental issues in order to suggest possible solutions.

Fernando Ortiz
Fernando Ortiz is a Dominican-American student studying Sustainability Management at Columbia University. His background has been in the design field and he currently has a master’s in sustainable design. His is taking this course to learn about how sustainability and environmental concerns can either facilitate or disrupt peace-building and conflict negotiations and how proper management of our ecosystems and natural resources is critical for sustainable development. He hopes to gain a deeper understanding of the role of the environment in conflict negotiation, the interconnected links between sustainability and environmental policy, and how to sustainably manage natural resources.

Claire Palandri
Originally from France, Claire moved to New York in 2016 to pursue research as a PhD student in Sustainable Development at Columbia University. She hopes to use an interdisciplinary approach to better understand coupled human-ecological systems, and is particularly interested in the convergence of increasing demands for water, its evolving spatial and temporal distribution, and feedbacks between key ecosystem functions and the economy. Claire hopes to learn more about how managing the environment and transboundary resources can constitute a lever for cooperation and peace. During the field course, she will focus especially on the vulnerability to wildfires and its interactions with the peace-building processes.

Calista Small
Calista is an LA native currently pursuing a Master of Science in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution at Columbia University. She is specifically interested in the connection between environmental issues and competitive behavior between groups. While abroad, she plans on studying the ongoing water crisis in the West Bank and looks forward to visiting the water desalination plants in Israel as well as talking to experts in the field. She holds a B.A. in Humanities from Yale University.

Christopher Starr
Christopher is a student in the Master of Science in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution program at Columbia University. His undergraduate background was in in environmental studies and creative writing. During this field course he hopes to learn more about how collective land and narrative can be used in the peace-building processes, and also contribute to economic prosperity.

Eman Taha
Eman is interested in this course because it will allow her to see and explore the Dead Sea from Jordan and to learn about the consequences of political conflicts—particularly how the separation fence impacts people living in Israel, Jordan and Palestine. She is also interested in learning more about natural and environmental resources, and exploring the differences between Jordan and Israel from an Arab perspective. She is looking forward to joining this diverse group and to educating other people while also learning their perspectives on sustainability. Eman is confident it will be an experience to remember.

Daphné Tapia
Daphné is a student at the Porter School of Environmental Studies at Tel Aviv University.  She is curious about environmental sustainability and geographic transboundary issues, and is looking to gain practical field experience to supplement the theoretical knowledge she has gained through coursework. During the program, she will focus her research on water management and Bedouins in the Negev. This topic combines her interest in environmental issues in the Middle East and passion for geography and cartography. She will seek to answer the following question: Since most of the villages are unrecognized and not listed on maps, how can the government locate the source of problems and reduce the spread of waterborne disease and pollution?

Michaela Wey
Michaela is a master’s student in the Negotiation and Conflict Resolution program at Columbia University. She holds an undergraduate degree in international relations, an MBA and JD degree. She is a domestically and internationally experienced corporate attorney, business consultant and entrepreneur based in New York City. Her additional interests are the study of conflict management and dispute resolution and relief and development work. She hopes to learn more about environmental conflict through the fieldwork program.

Hagit Yakir
Hagit is a PhD student at the Porter School of Environmental Studies at Tel Aviv University, conducting research on energy efficient buildings. Hagit is also a certified green building consultant and creates energy efficiency models for buildings in different planning stages. Hagit is interested in the program, in part, because Tel-Aviv and Amman have much in common regarding their climate and the built urban environment. Both cities have high rise buildings and face challenges in minimizing energy consumption while improving thermal comfort. Hagit feels strongly that sharing knowledge is a major engine for improvement and is interested in seeing firsthand how environmental issues in Jordan compare to those in Israel.

This unique program is the product of a partnership between Columbia University’s Earth Institute and School of Professional Studies, and Tel Aviv University’s Porter School of Environmental Studies and Center for Innovation in Transportation. It was organized in collaboration with Columbia’s Global Center in Amman, and significant contributions were made to the curriculum by Dr. Shahar Sadeh, a visiting scholar and the director of the Faculty Engagement Initiative at New York University. 

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