(photo credit: courtesy)
A Jordanian woman studying the effects of Israel's new desalination program has become the first Jordanian to receive a master's degree from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
Dana Rassas finished her studies this month at the Albert Katz International School for Desert Studies, which is part of the Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research at the university's Sde Boker campus.
She is the first of a group of seven Jordanian students studying there to complete her degree requirements; next year, five Jordanian and a Palestinian will begin MA studies.
Rassas doesn't consider her decision to study in Israel exceptional. "At the beginning, it was a little bit hard because I was the only Jordanian one there," she said. "It was a little bit easier later on because others came, too."
"It's also easier for me because I'm a Jordanian-Palestinian, so in my family it's not as a big a taboo to come to Israel," Rassas said.
While her friends and family in Jordan had "no problem" with her studying in Israel, when it came to looking for work in Jordan, Rassas said she would have to be "selective" in where she would work due to her Israeli degree.
Her thesis advisers included Dr. Moshe Schwartz and Prof. Alon Tal, who were joined at the oral examination by Technion-Israel Institute of Technology Prof. Yorik Avnimelech (former chief scientist of the Environment Ministry) and Dr. Yaakov Garb from the Blaustein Institute.
Her research focused on how the desalination program affects a variety of local stakeholders. In a survey of Israeli farmers, she found that as many as a third could feasibly utilize desalinized water at present prices. However, Rassas said, for much of the region's agricultural sectors, however, even a reduced $0.52/cubic meter price for desalinized water was prohibitively expensive.
She examined a range of environmental challenges connected with desalination and made concrete suggestions as to what must be done if desalination is to be sustainable in a broad regional context.
"Dana is a uniquely talented woman who showed significant personal courage in coming to Israel as a graduate student to acquire the knowledge [and] a skill sets that she will need for her professional future," said Tal, who comes from North Carolina. "Dana's work is among the very first efforts to understand the implications of this new era into which we have entered - where Israel and its neighbors can now utilize the sea for providing domestic water needs," said Tal. "There is no doubt that desalination is going to be an important part of our region's water infrastructure, and it is particularly valuable to have research conducted by a Jordanian about Israel's experience in this area."
Rassas has a bachelor's degree in political science from Brigham Young University in Utah. She received a scholarship from the Blaustein Foundation to pursue her master's degree at BGU and lived in a dormitory with Israeli students.
She clearly felt at home here and received "a warm hug" from the university, Tal said. "She understands Hebrew well, but the level of her spoken Hebrew is a bit lower. On the one hand, she is very politically aware, and at the same time she is indifferent to it. She regards herself as a Jordanian and Palestinian whose parents were refugees, but she opposes violence and terror."
Rassas has begun working at the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information, which seeks creative solutions to transboundary issues and is located between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. She hopes to continue her training eventually in a doctoral program in the field of political ecology in the US.