General News 

Reach for the stars!

On May 14, 1948, at 4 p.m., David Ben-Gurion read the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel.  The world’s newest country had been born, and its future would be written in the stars.

Today, 65 years later, this tiny country evokes awe, astonishment and immense pride. With its intellectual capital, technology, medicine and science and humanitarian assistance in times of disaster, Israel has made a positive contribution far in excess of its physical size, and its supporters span all colours, creeds and continents.

Good news about Israel is available on thousands of websites, but the local media chooses only to focus on the negative political issues, so here for your information, dear readers, is a summary of some of Israel’s most exciting and innovative recent achievements.  I have had great fun researching these and have taken great pride in translating them into print.  I have copied the information from numerous sources, too numerous to acknowledge (I have only mentioned two of them), so if you recognise facts you may have read somewhere else, I take responsibility for “plagiarising” them but make no apologies.

In 65 years, Israel has built a tough and admirable society under a threat spectrum that goes from stabbings and pizza-parlour bombings to rockets and missiles to full-scale invasion to chemical and nuclear capabilities in the hands of its enemies.

Israel today is a bird-lover’s paradise; a world leader in desalination; a world leader in solar power heating; and a model for making the world green.  Israel is developing a toilet that needs no water, and that generates its own power to turn solid waste into sterile and odorless fertilizer in 30 seconds.  Israel invented drip irrigation which has completely revolutionized agriculture across the world, enabling farmers to increase their yields with less water; and Israeli researchers and farmers have combined the best of Israel’s agri-tech and clean-tech innovation to create a new artificial desert oasis that could help feed millions of desert-dwellers.  And there’s so much more.

Israel’s beaches, parks and public spaces are magnificent; the number of trees planted is higher per capita than that of any other country; the agricultural and medical advances have the potential to improve the lives of billions of people on the planet;  the education and military systems encourage imagination which results in incredible invention and innovation; and regular challenges to the establishment are fierce and ferocious yet still fascinating.

An Israeli educational entrepreneur founded University of the People, the world’s first tuition-free, online academic institution offering a recognized bachelor’s degree. More than 3,000 professors from major universities volunteer as lecturers and tutors for students from many countries, including China, Pakistan, Haiti, Rwanda, Mali, Peru, Nepal, Saudi Arabia and South Sudan.

In Haifa, the Rambam Hospital is building the world’s largest underground hospital, proof against bombs, missiles, chemical and biological weapons, so that when Israel’s enemies decide to destroy lives, they will continue saving them.

Thanks to a myriad of innovations, Israel’s $91 billion annual exports make this country the 38th largest exporter in the world, despite having only the world’s 97th largest population.  And the portents are great for improvements in these exports, as a result of the signing of the new Free Trade agreement between Israel and India.  This will expand the market for Israel’s cutting-edge healthcare, agriculture, irrigation, renewable energy, aviation, IT and water management products

We all know that in measures of all levels of education, library usage and book buying, health care, and care of senior citizens, Israel ranks near the top of every international list. Multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious, the Jewish State is officially (and generally personally) tolerant of diversity and dissent.

It warms our hearts to hear that Israel has absorbed immigrants and refugees from societies unfamiliar with indoor plumbing, from the advanced societies of the West, and from everything in between. Israel’s population doubled between 1948 and 1951; the Russian immigration of the 1990s was the equivalent of the US absorbing all of  France; and Miss Israel 2013 was born in Ethiopia. A truly rainbow nation.

Israel’s Technion Institute, where 20% of the students represent Israel’s 20% Arab minority, is lauded and applauded across the scientific world.  And this year eight Israeli companies received the 2013 Red Herring’s Top 100 Europe Award, which is given to Europe’s leading private companies in recognition of their cutting-edge innovations and technologies.

Did you know that Israel is helping the USA meet the economic, environmental and non-military security challenges of the future?  Cyber security – which the Pentagon says could pose a strategic threat to US infrastructure – is a case in point. Israeli systems secure a significant and growing proportion of USA telecommunications, financial transactions, utility and other essential computer-dependent operations. Last year, Cisco paid $5 billion to acquire the Israeli-founded firm NDS, one of the top providers of encryption technology for television and video.

Recently and with much fanfare, the World Economic Forum ranked Israel among the world’s top countries for technological and business innovation. Scores of major US manufacturers – from General Electric to General Motors, Microsoft, IBM, Google, Apple and others – have R&D centers and technology incubators in Israel, where they conduct research at about one-half to two-thirds of the cost in the U.S.

SA could learn much from Israel, especially because this little country is a world leader in micro irrigation, wastewater management and reverse-osmosis desalination. Netafim drip-irrigation products have captured half of global market share in this key tool against the risk of climate change. Israeli breakthroughs in high-tech agriculture are enhancing increases in productivity for farmers and aquaculturists around the world, in turn promoting sustainability and political stability in the developing world.

The British Embassy in Israel recently announced that it was to launch a state-of-the-art medical research programme to provide fellowships for research designed to find cures for the world’s worst disasters.  The multimillion pound bilateral research programme is part of the British-Israel Research and Academic Exchange (BIRAX) Partnership that supports research visits by UK and Israeli researchers to laboratories in both countries.

And how’s this for the doom-sayers?  Israel has just opened a new industrial park in Nazareth to promote economic cooperation between the region’s diverse Jewish, Christian and Muslim citizens.  It is designed to bring together industrial, educational and cultural facilities all in one space to foster innovation, growth and peace.
Israel also provides both emergency and long-term humanitarian assistance to people on every continent and to countries from Haiti to Indonesia. Even wounded Syrians have been taken into Israel for emergency medical care in this horrific war in which the Syrian government and rebel militias share only one thing: their enmity toward Israel.

Problems?  Yes, many!  Perfect society? Definitely not!. But in 65 years Israel has become a democratic country implementing policies of freedom of speech, of religion, association and of movement; civil liberties and human rights and equal education for all; protection and advancement of women and children; legal protection against discrimination and hate crimes; and the protection of all religions.

In the words of Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: “Israel is the sustained defiance of hatred and power in the name of life because we are the people who sanctify life.  Israel has taken a shattered nation and made it live again.”

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