September 14, 2010

Dear Friends,

Over the past week, several letters and articles have appeared online regarding "With Earth and Each Other:  A Virtual Rally for a Better Middle East" (WEAEO), Friends of the Arava Institute (the organization putting together WEAEO), the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies (the organization supported by Friends of the Arava Institute), and Pete Seeger, one of the wonderful performers giving of his time to appear as part of the November 14 WEAEO broadcast.    The central theme of such letters has been urging Mr. Seeger to cancel his participation in WEAEO, based on the strong political viewpoints of the writers and/or publishers.

While we do not question the good intentions of those responsible for these letters and articles, we find it unfortunate that those items that have been published online include information which is factually inaccurate and seem to misunderstand the theme and purpose of WEAEO.  Sadly, none of the writers or publishers of these letters and articles attempted to contact Friends of the Arava Institute prior to proceeding with online postings or other distribution methods, such that we might have been able to clear up, in advance, some of the many misunderstandings that are currently being promulgated regarding this event.

We are hopeful that the following will be helpful in providing an understanding of the facts of this event and the organization that is putting it together.

WEAEO PresenterFriends of the Arava Institute is the sole organization responsible for putting together WEAEO.  While it does have partners in terms of the actual technical production of the event, no other organization is serving as a "lead partner" in the event's design, content, or messaging.  Friends of the Arava Institute is a U.S.-based non-profit organization with the primary goal of raising support and visibility for the Arava Institute for Environment Studies. 

The Arava Institute:  Founded in 1996, the Arava Institute is a university-level academic institution, based in the south of Israel, with a mission of preparing future Arab and Jewish leaders to cooperatively solve the region's environmental challenges.  The mission is achieved by bringing together a diverse group of students from throughout the region to live and study together on one small campus, learning how to respect and cooperate with one another without having to sacrifice their identities or beliefs.  Over 600 students, including Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, and others, have participated in the Arava Institute program, and today many of the Institute's alumni continue to work together, across borders, to improve the quality of life for all in the region.  The Institute has a strong commitment to providing equality in educational opportunity to all those in the region, perhaps best demonstrated by a landmark case in which the Arava Institute took the Israel Defense Forces to the Israeli Supreme Court (and won) in an effort to provide Palestinian students the opportunity to study in Israel.

WEAEO Purpose and Messaging:  The purpose and message of WEAEO is not to advocate for the policies of any government nor propose any political solution to the situation in the Middle East.  Friends of the Arava Institute and the Arava Institute itself are completely non-political organizations.  Instead, the purpose of WEAEO is to help change the perception of those who believe that the only thing going on in the Middle East is fighting.  Indeed, the large majority of people on all sides of the borders simply want to live in peace.  The Arava Institute is one of many examples where people are working together on the micro-level to build a better life for all in the region.  At the Arava Institute, such work includes trans-boundary projects to provide advancements in air quality, water resources, and renewable energy throughout the region.  The purpose of WEAEO is to celebrate these positive stories.

Pete Seeger's Participation in WEAEO:  WEAEO is designed as a virtual rally to be broadcast through the internet on Sunday, November 14.  As such, there is no single staging area, and the broadcast itself will be a combination of pre-recorded and live segments.  No performer, including Pete Seeger, will be traveling to the Middle East for the purpose of contributing a performance segment to WEAEO.  Pete Seeger has confirmed that he remains committed to participating in the "With Earth and Each Other" rally, saying "If there is a human race still here in a hundred years, it will be because people start learning how to talk with other people they deeply disagree with, whether through words, the arts, or otherwise."

Partnering Organizations:  Friends of the Arava Institute has invited any organization that supports the ideals of WEAEO to sign on as a partnering organization.  Being a partnering organization is an expression of support for the rally's message and purpose, but involves no financial support.  To date, approximately thirty organizations around the world have signed on as partnering organizations for WEAEO.  No partnering organization has any greater standing than any other in terms of the event, and none are responsible for the events design, message, or purpose.

The Jewish National Fund as a Partnering Organization:  One of the thirty organizations that has signed on as a partnering organization for WEAEO is the Jewish National Fund, adding itself to a list side-by-side with other organizations , such as Peace Child Israel and the Alliance for Middle East Peace, that are active in the region and the world that believe in the purpose of the rally.  The Jewish National Fund is not, as it has been described in some letters and articles, "the leading partner" or "the sponsor" or WEAEO.  It should be noted, however, that the Jewish National Fund, and its donors, have been strong financial supporters of the Arava Institute itself, and, in fact, significant scholarship funding that helps enable students to attend the Institute, both Arabs and Jews, comes with the aid of the Jewish National Fund.  As in its relationship with any other organization, there are, of course, times in which the Arava Institute and the Jewish National Fund differ.   However, the Arava Institute is proud of the many positive accomplishments benefiting the entire region, Arabs and Jews alike, that have been achieved as a result of this partnership.

The Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions (BDS) Movement:  Friends of the Arava Institute recognizes that the writers and publishers of letters that have called for Pete Seeger to withdraw from WEAEO are associated with a movement that sincerely believes that the only path to a better future for all people in the Middle East involves a total boycott of Israel.  The success of the Arava Institute itself, and its ability to bring together young people of very diverse backgrounds and incredibly varying narratives, is built on a foundation of teaching its students the importance of listening to and respecting various viewpoints without having to agree.  While we respect the sincere passion of those associated with the BDS movement, we believe that there is a different path to cooperation, coexistence, and, we hope, peace, and that path is being realized through ground-breaking programs like the Arava Institute and others.

It should not go without saying that one of the chairs of WEAEO is an alumnus of the Arava Institute, Mohammed Atwa.  Mohammed is a Muslim Palestinian from Gaza whose family's home has twice been destroyed as a result of Israeli military action in Gaza.  Mohammed attended the Arava Institute, is chairing WEAEO, and continues to fight for the ideal of developing cooperation because he believes that by building respect and understanding we can create the change that will lead to a better Middle East for all of its peoples.

In the summer of 2010, two alumni of the Arava Institute - one an Israeli and one a Palestinian - attended an event hosted by the Shinnyo-en Foundation where they were given t-shirts printed with a moving slogan, "Six billion paths to peace."  WEAEO is being created to promote what we believe is one of many possible paths.   While those who wrote and published these letters and articles believe that there is only one possible and acceptable path, we believe that the courageous and heroic students and alumni of the Arava Institute - Muslims, Jews, and Christians; Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, and others - are a cause for celebration.  We thank Pete Seeger, Mandy Patinkin, Ian Anderson, and the many others throughout the world who will join us in that celebration on November 14.

For more information on "With Earth and Each Other:  A Virtual Rally for a Better Middle East," visit  Please feel free to share this email with others by clicking here.

Best Always,

David Weisberg, Executive Director, Friends of the Arava Institute