Israel’s creative innovations, particularly in the areas of environment and ecology, have contributed immensely to elevating and enhancing her reputation across the globe. But because they are numerous, trying to include all or even many of them in a short article is almost impossible.
And so as per Lewis Carroll – “‘Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?’ I ask. ‘Begin at the beginning,’ the King said to me, gravely, ‘and go on till you come to the end: then stop.'” – and because there is neither a beginning nor an ending to Israel’s achievements, here are but a few of them, exciting, unusual and fascinating: the kinds of inventions that make us all feel, “I wish I’d have thought of that!”
We all know what damage polluted water can cause. Thus very hi-tech road-navigation app developer Waze was commissioned to add a water-pollution application to its popular smart phone service, to help identify the levels of water pollution in the country’s arterial network of rivers, lakes and streams. This now guarantees safer swimming and fishing in Israel. And while on the topic of water, seaweed, prolific in the Mediterranean Sea, is used to alleviate a host of Jewish ailments from peptic ulcers to fungal infections and wounds … better than granny’s!
New on the market is MISTOWW – Mobile Integrated Sustainable System for Treatment of Organic Waste Water – which is aimed at small agricultural business owners who can’t afford their own on-site sewage systems. Supported by the EU, this project helps get rid of the special and poisonous remains of the olive-oil, wine-making and cheese-making industries, not only cleaning agricultural waste, but also creating biogas and usable irrigation water as valuable byproducts.
More than almost any other country, Israel has succeeded in turning arid desert into arable fertile land. Recent work carried out at BenGurionUniversity’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research in the NegevDesert, pinpoints a number of successful ways in which this has been achieved. This is a project in motion, of vital significance, as the impact of global warming becomes a reality, and as the weather becomes more unpredictable, the threat of flooding grows exponentially, and droughts and famine engulf particularly third world countries.
The reverse of desertification is the planting of trees, in Israel primarily the task of the KKL – JNF (Jewish National Fund) which can take credit for the fact that Israel is the only country over the past 100 years to have seen a net gain in trees. JNF research also focuses on the types of trees best suited for desert areas and for wetter, more temperate zones – hence its enviable successes.
Too many societies ignore the value of trees, so in an effort to prevent the widespread destruction of forests for firewood, Israel has made notable advances in off-grid solar energy power plants for homes or villages, using the force of the sun as a clean, renewable and affordable alternative – truly 21st century technology.
If we go back in history more than 2000 years ago, we learn about the sophisticated floodwater collection system used in the Negev. Fast-forward today, and see how Israel has refined and modernized it via a low-tech approach where floodwaters are redirected either to plots surrounded by dikes, or to pits that have been hand-dug and in which trees and shrubs have been planted. Soil fertility is maintained at almost no cost, ensuring the long-term viability of the system, and making it perfect for countries like India, Mexico and Kenya.
Architects at the Blaustein Institute have “invented” homes that require no air-conditioning, even in the heat of the Israeli summer. They take into account the direction of the wind, the angle of the sun and daily temperatures; and the results are astonishing and environmentally totally successful. A lesson for Eskom…
And of course we must not forget how Israel has excelled at wastewater management on a scale unmatched by any other country. A whopping 50 percent of Israel’s irrigated water comes from recycled wastewater, much of which then is used in the JNF forests. Spain, for example, only recycles 20% of its water.
So now, having made enormous strides in preserving part of the planet, what next from Israel? Of course: feeding the world; and again, in a class of its own, finding solutions for better agriculture and safer food storage.
It’s a truism that the world’s wealthy countries take their food supplies for granted; but as populations increase at an alarming rate, in African, Asian and South American countries particularly, it is vital that they make provision for the increase in numbers. Probably the best-known Israeli invention, widely used in South Africa, is the concept of drip-irrigation which has proved that a slow and balanced drip on crops, coming through tubing that gradually released water where it was most effective, results in remarkable growth. It has also proven that crops can be harvested not once a year but sometimes up to three times, even on unfertile land.
Israeli researchers have developed strains of potatoes – in many countries the major source of nutrition but previously not able to be grown in desert conditions – that thrive in hot dry climates, irrigated by salt water. They have also made possible the harvesting of fish, the main source of protein for hundreds of millions of people, in the desert, a project not reliant at all on electricity. The tanks in which the fish are farmed are filled with specially developed microbes which purify the fish waste byproducts in the tank, eliminating the need for refilling. In similar vein a kibbutz company breeds insects and mites as part of biological pest control, and bumblebees that contribute to natural pollination in greenhouses and open fields.
Dairy farmers too benefit from Israeli innovators, through their advanced systems for herd management, monitoring and feeding which is used internationally on dairy farms to increase the amount of milk produced by the cows. The project is so successful that groups of Chinese dairy farm manager trainees regularly visit Israel to learn how to boost milk production in their country.
And we must not forget Israel’s valuable gift to Ugandan villagers: the reintroduction of carp into Lake Victoria after the Nile perch was introduced to the lake and decimated it and other smaller fish. Unable to catch these large perch, the villagers’ diet was severely compromised and the children started showing symptoms of protein deficiency. Then Israeli scientists taught the villagers how to spawn carp, and how to dig and fill ponds and raise the small fish so as to ensure that their children now had more than sufficient protein in their diets.
As this article is being written, Israel is once again confronted by an enemy waging war against her legitimacy and her very existence, and determined to destroy her. A cease-fire has been signed, but as before the portents for there being a long-term viable truce are fragile and improbable. Tomes have been written by supporters and detractors of Israel. There have been protest marches across the continents. There have been great tragedies and tragically wasted lives. And ineffable sadness has engulfed both the Zionist and the Jewish world. If there is to be a full-scale war, there will be many more tragedies and many more tragically wasted lives.
Yet Israel is more – so much more – than a conflict area, a war zone, whose continuation and survival are constantly under threat. Israel is a country burgeoning with innovation, with growth and development, with creativity and originality. Israel gives the world so much and yet so much of the world fails to recognize or acknowledge these gifts – the gift of preventing a global shortage of potable drinking water, the gift of using slimy algae for fuel, nutrition and innovative medical therapies, the gift of using particular species of bush to form the basis of a new natural insect repellant, the gift of affordable and long-lasting cardboard bicycles and wheelchairs for poorer societies. The list is long – it goes to clean energy, recycling old tyres, saving jet-fuel – there is hardly an area in which Israeli environmental scientists are not involved.
A light unto the nations? There is no doubt about that.