Texas A&M Global Programs 2018 Israel Field Study Student Blog

May17 Temple MountThe Texas A&M University School of Law Global Programs May 2018 Field Study course "Israel: Water, Energy and Dispute Resolution" explored the history, culture and legal issues related to water, energy and associated dispute resolution challenges. Students also ​experienced the basics of international and comparative law and cross-cultural communication. ​

The​ course offered a first-hand deep dive into the regulatory, political, and environmental issues at play in the region. The students gained insight into the nuances of dispute resolution in a different and challenging part of the world that could not be replicated in the classroom.

► Learn more about the Israel field study.

Check out the student blog posts about their experiences in the Middle East:


Kidron Valley & Renewable Energy Meetings

Posted by Elizabeth Ramey, J.D. '19

This past May, I was one of ten student participants on the legal research trip to Israel led by Professors Gabriel Eckstein, Director of the Program in Natural Resources Systems, and Nancy Welsh, Director of the Aggie Dispute Resolution Program, as part of the Global Programs field study for water, energy, and dispute resolution. Each of the students researched a particular topic, and mine was clean energy.

Kidron Valley (May 15)

kidronvalleyView of the Western portion of the Kidron Valley in East Jerusalem.

In a region with as much deep-rooted disharmony as the Middle East, it is somewhat of a miracle that any cooperative initiative between nationalities can succeed. But in Jerusalem’s Kidron Valley, locally known as “Hell Valley,” Palestinians and Israelis alike saw the need for a better transportation system. Out of this need emerged the Kidron Valley bus system, a local beacon of hope in a high-conflict region.

Such a partnership shows that when people find common ground, like the need for safer roads, they can work past their differences for some common good. With many other initiatives in development, maybe peace can start at the local level and become an epidemic. Starting small can be the start of the most lasting change.

May15 Kidron ValleyOverlooking the Kidron Valley with our guide Avner Goren.

We had a picnic lunch on top of a hill overlooking the whole valley. Although it was an impromptu lunch setup, it was a lot of fun and quite beautiful. And it was definitely the only picnic I had while I was in Israel, so it was a meal I will never forget.

Our two guides, Avner Goren and Muhamad Nakhal — one a Jew and one a Muslim — helped to establish the bus system that brought some degree of peace to the region as part of the Kidron Valley Initiative. Their own friendship was the perfect example of the vision they have for their region. Earlier in the day, we met with Richard Laster, another partner of the Kidron Valley Initiative and one of Israel’s first environmental lawyers.

At one point during lunch, a tourist bus parked near us, and the guide who came off the bus ran up to the two men and hugged them. We were among local celebrities, and they had just made a picnic lunch for us. To say it was surreal is an understatement; we were in a completely different world.

May15 Abraham Hostel w Avner GorenGroup discussion with Avner Goren about the Kidron Valley Initiative.

Despite all the beauty and promise we saw in the Kidron Valley, plenty of problems were apparent.

Among the most topical for our trip was the lack of fresh water, proper plumbing, and sanitation services in the Palestinian region of the Valley.

There is a pocket of Palestinian homes in the Valley completely without any of these things; they have to apply to the Israeli government for water and electricity interconnections. Even if these individuals have applied, their applications are ignored or, if granted, the interconnection almost never happens. In those areas, trash is everywhere and so is raw sewage. I cannot imagine living there.

Further, Palestinians who apply for building permits almost never receive them either. Some build their homes without a permit, but such homes are subject to being demolished at any time because they are not permitted. The home insecurity there is astounding.

The divide in the Valley is clear when looking from above, and it is truly sad. While the efforts for peace are promising, there is a long way to go.

Renewable Energy (May 15-16)

May15-Dinner_with_Jack_JacobsDinner with Jack Jacobs, founder of CleanTech Law Partners.

In Jerusalem, we had dinner with Jack Jacobs, the founder of CleanTech Law Partners and a former student of Professor [Gabriel] Eckstein. To say Jack was impressive is a serious understatement. After being disenchanted by conventional environmental law jobs that he held, he decided to start an online law firm in furtherance of clean technology. In fact, he officially started the firm while at the dining room table of his then-girlfriend and now wife, in her Jerusalem apartment.

While many of Jack’s clients are based in the United States, he can live and work in Jerusalem with his wife and children because of this online platform. He is an extremely busy guy, but he still finds free time to privately consult for Gigawatt Global, a humanitarian multinational renewable energy company that helps fund, build, and manage utility-scale solar fields in developing countries.

Coincidentally, the next morning, we met with Yosef Abramowitz, CEO of Gigawatt Global. We met him at the Jerusalem office, the main office for Energiya Global, a subsidiary of Gigawatt Global.

Even from the outside, you knew this was not a conventional office space. The exterior was painted a stripe of vibrant red, orange, and yellow—there was even a hammock hanging under the overhang. The interior space was energizing—all of the desks were out in the open, with no walls separating one individual from another. The conference room was enclosed in glass walls, so even private meetings had a feeling of openness. One wall was filled by an oversized world map marked with current projects, most which were in Africa.

May16 Yossi Abramowitz Gigawatt GlobalMeeting with Yosef Abramowitz at Energiya Global.

For someone so accomplished, Yosef Abramowitz was as down to earth as anyone. Abramowitz did not have any air of superiority, despite having developed over $1 billion in solar pipelines worldwide, being nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize, and being named one of CNN’s top six global “Green Pioneers.” He was in slacks and a t-shirt, and he was very receptive to any and all questions we had for him.

We gained powerful insight into the process of getting a large-scale solar project up and running in a different country with an emerging market. I grew tired just hearing him list the many projects that he had in development.

Halfway through our meeting, his phone began buzzing nonstop. When he finally flipped the phone over to check who was calling, he nonchalantly said, “Oh, that’s just Zimbabwe,” and he continued with his story. WHAT? A foreign government was just calling, but his focus was 100% on us.

He was simply lovely. The amount of information he imparted to us in just under an hour was massive, but since it was all conveyed via personal narratives, it did not feel overwhelming at all.

The cleantech experts we met were extraordinary. Both Jack and Yosef were incredibly humble guys who gave us their valuable time out of the goodness of their hearts. And they were so happy to share their knowledge with us. As an energy geek, I was a bit starstruck going into the meetings. And while I still am, I am even more impressed with how accessible these men were. It made the experience that much more rewarding.

May16-Yosef-Abramowitz-GroupThe Aggie Law group with Yosef Abramowitz (fourth from left) in front of the world map of all of Energiya Global's projects.