While growing up in the United States, Hannah Schafer learned of the struggles that Israelis faced each day during the Second Intifada and wished she could help. After focusing on environmental studies in college, Hannah decided to spend a year studying at the Arava Institute in Israel. Her studies at Arava, which included projects to improve the environment and conflict-resolution activities with Jordanian, Palestinian, Israeli, and North American students were instrumental in making Hannah feel like she could make a difference in Israel—both as an environmentalist and as a Jew. "All of a sudden, I could participate in solving Israel’s problems in a way that was personal," Hannah says.
One of Hannah’s most meaningful experiences at the Arava Institute occurred during the end of her environmental law course. For their final project in the course, Hannah and her fellow students researched the effect of Eilat fish-growing cages on coral reefs. While some students were assigned to prosecute the fish-cage companies, others were assigned to defend them; assigned to the companies’ defense, Hannah traveled to Eilat to meet with one case company’s managers and workers in order to gain a wider perspective on the issue. “It just so happened that several kibbutzim owned the company I was assigned to, and many of the kibbutzniks consider themselves to be big environmentalists,” Hannah says, explaining the complexity of the situation. The project culminated in a mock trial and made Hannah realize that there was an abundance of environmental work to pursue in Israel.
A few years after completing her studies at the Arava Institute, Hannah returned to Israel and began working for Zalul, an environmentally-focused non-profit that works to protect and maintain clean water in Israel. As a result of her studies at Arava, Hannah arrived in Israel fully prepared to help Zalul in its work to protect coral reefs.
Hannah believes that environmental work can bring about significant change in Israel. "Here, the environmental situation is 10 to 15 years behind that of the United States,” Hannah says. “In Israel, I can do more with my knowledge and skills than I could in America."
Arava also made Hannah realize that environmental work in Israel is a conduit for peace in the Middle East. "Everyone has a common goal when it comes to the environment," Hannah says. "Nature has no borders. A contaminated river that flows in Israel not only pollutes Israel, but it also flows through the West Bank and disrupts the Arabs’ lives. We all live in one world, physically undivided by political lines."