One Campus, Two Countries


Most visitors to a dried-out riverbed along the Israeli-Jordanian border, halfway between the Dead Sea and Eilat, see only bare dessert. Bernard Lander pictures a university campus there.

Lander, president of Touro College, announced this week that the Manhattan-based school will establish a branch, Touro’s third in Israel, in the Jordan Valley.

Sandbreaking — that is, groundbreaking — is to take place in the fall.The School of Agriculture and Business in the Central Arava Region is to open in 12 years. Arava is the name of the Negev desert’s eastern plain.

The school will be located on the international border, with entrances in Israel and Jordan, and will be open to students from both countries, Lander said.

“This will bring peace to the neighborhood,” he said, calling the school “the first concrete breakthrough” since Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty in 1993.

Lander, who is Touro College’s founder, unveiled plans for the new campus and an initial $25 million fund-raising campaign at a press conference in Washington sponsored by Rep. Ben Gilman (R-Rockland), chairman of the House Committee on International Relations. Lander said the idea for the school grew out of a meeting two years ago with an official of an Arava community — he subsequently made a proposal to the Israeli and Jordanian governments and “both agreed.”

The campus, to be financed by Touro and the Jewish Agency, has the official endorsement of Ariel Sharon, Israel’s minister of national infrastructure, and Munther Haddadin, Jordan’s minister of water and irrigation.

“Both of us agreed that this project can be a most vital and significant initiative for the settling and development of the area and a real incentive for peace,” Sharon wrote in a letter to Lander.

Israel and Jordan have agreed to establish a joint steering committee for the school.

Gilman called the Touro campus, the first-known school that straddles the border of two countries, “a new, impressive demonstration of the cooperative and creative potential that awaits unleashing in the Middle East. The process of establishing this new school, and the benefits to the entire region that it is anticipated will flow from it, will help to open new doors leading to expanded trade and other links between Jordan and Israel.”

Besides a few small Israeli agricultural settlements, the area is barren, with no nearby Jordanian population centers on its side of the open border, Lander said. Classes at the new school will be offered in English. Details about the size of its campus and student body, and about its curriculum, are not yet known, said Lander, who added that Israel and Jordan have expressed an interest in Touro’s “major attempt to make the desert bloom.”

Lander said the school has contacted the University of Iowa, which offers one of the nation’s leading college-level agricultural programs, to advise Touro about its new desert curriculum.

Touro College, a 26-year-old, independent institution under Jewish auspices, has some 10,000 students enrolled at branches in the United States, Russia and Israel. The school plans to open two new branches this fall, one in Jerusalem, and one in the northern Israeli town of Katzrin. A fourth branch in Israel, an American International University in Ra’anana, is to open in two years.