A Green and Pleasant Land

Long-awaited winter rains, plus my recent trip to the Arava in southern Israel are the inspiration for this week’s blog.  The Arava region in Israel’s Negev “desert” now produces 60% of Israel’s exports of food crops, right alongside massive fields of solar panels.  It is a microcosm of Israel’s advanced agricultural technologies that combine with its cleantech innovations to help generate a green and sustainable planet.

My journey south centered around Kibbutz Ketura, just 50km north of Eilat, which hosts the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies.  It also contains a 5MegaWatt solar field, with self-cleaning robots, built by Arava Power, which is now constructing a 40MW field just across the road.  It has a factory growing special algae that makes Ketura the world’s leading source of the natural anti-oxidant astaxanthin.
(Algae growing frames - Kibbutz Ketura.  Photo by M.Ordman)

Two innovative joint research projects have just been approved, involving scientists at MIT and at Ben Gurion University of the Negev.  You can probably guess the goals of “Self-Sustained Agriculture Based on Marginal Water”, but you may have more trouble with “Identification of Epigenetic Quantitative Trait Loci Associated with Tomato Seed Germination”!  Before we leave the Negev, Israel’s Brenmiller Energy has just announced that it will establish a 10MW solar power station in Dimona, capable of generating electricity from solar energy for an average of 20 hours a day.

Heading north we reach a rather wet Tel Aviv, where hydroponics - growing crops without soil - are cultivating lettuce and strawberries in the Central Bus Station using water from the building’s air-conditioning system.  Just around the corner, Israel’s Flux has developed a personal device that helps individuals and small businesses install home-farming hydroponics.

Up in the Galilee, delegates at Kinneret College’s first Water Conference heard how Israel’s BSc graduates in Water Industry Engineering extended a wastewater system under Israel’s main Tel Aviv highway, without disrupting traffic.  Several ex-students currently work for some of the 11 Israeli water companies that recently visited Spain to present technology to help Spanish infrastructure companies recycle more of the rain in Spain.  We now cross the sea to Africa, where students from Tel Aviv University have built a 48,000-liter rainwater harvesting and advanced filtration system that provides 400 children and staff at Nkaiti Secondary School in Minjingu, Tanzania with safe drinking water.


Israel’s newly launched relationship with India is on the crest of a wave.  Israeli water company Netafim has been selected to partake in a $60 million micro-irrigation project in the Indian state of Karnataka.  The project will help 6,700 farmers in 22 villages, increase crop production and save 50 percent of their water consumption.  Meanwhile, Israel’s Water-Gen is bringing its pioneering air-to-water technology to the urban poor of India, where over 150 million people are not connected to a water supply.  In addition, the Israel pavilion entitled “Israel Innovation in India” opened at Vibrant Gujarat 2015, showcasing advanced Israeli agriculture technologies.

Just in case anyone thought that Israel had abandoned Haiti, five years after the devastating earthquake, IsraAID’s work there includes the agriculture program “Haiti Grows”, supporting local farmers with Israeli technology.  Closer to home, the Israeli government has sponsored Palestinian Arab strawberry farmers to upgrade facilities and train them in strawberry cultivation.  Annually, Israel trains 1200 Palestinian Arab farmers.

There has been some good news emanating from Europe recently.  Nine Israeli cleantech companies attended Leipzig’s Green Ventures Forum,where they held over a hundred meetings with companies from over 30 countries.  Over in Italy, Israel has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Fiat Chrysler, Iveco and Magneti Marelli for co-operation in the development of natural gas based technologies.  And even the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) was appreciative of the five-day MASHAV workshop in Israel, teaching successful renewable energy practices and energy efficiency technologies to 23 experts and policymakers from across Eurasia.

Back in Israel, the Environment Ministry has just announced that it will provide $1.6 million for local authorities to encourage commuters to use public transport or bicycles in congested Israeli cities.  It includes new bicycle rental stations, cycle paths and a subsidized station taxi service.  And I won’t say “no” if someone wants to donate to me one of the new INU electric scooters launched by Israel’s Green Ride It folds automatically, recognizes its owner and has a range of 40km at speeds up to 25km/hour.


Before I put on my hat and coat, there is just room to include Jacob Richman’s excellent image of the new Israeli stamps featuring some of Israel’s beautiful winter flowers.  And I conclude with a puzzling phenomenon.  After an absence of 20 years, flocks of synchronized starlings have been forming spectacular sights of dancing clouds in the skies of southern Israel.  Are they also enjoying Israel’s new blue-sky thinking?


Israel – it’s a breath of fresh air.

Michael Ordman writes a free weekly newsletter containing positive news stories about Israel.
For a free subscription, email a request to michael.goodnewsisrael@gmail.com

Version 2 of the Startup Nation

In reading about the Children of Israel leaving Egypt, it is easy to imagine that Moses was the original CEO of the very first Startup Nation.  Today, the “company mission” - to become a light to the nations - is certainly being fulfilled by the prolific recent achievements of the Jewish State and its current generation of young startup companies.

Israeli startups dominate the Life Sciences market, as attendees from 60 countries will experience at MEDinISRAEL in March, where medical solutions from 120 Israeli companies will be on display.  Lifesaving products include the tiny patch pumps from Israeli startup ToucheMedical that deliver meds directly into the bodies of diabetics and Parkinson’s sufferers.  Or MediSafe’s medication reminder app that sends you an alert if a dependent forgets to take vital medication.

Lighting up the nations takes on a new meaning with Israeli solar technology.  Thanks to Israeli startup Energiya Global, the new 8.5 MegaWatt solar field at the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda will add 6 percent to the East-African country’s electricity production.  Meanwhile at the site of the huge fields of solar panels at Kibbutz Ketura in Israel’s Negev desert, Israeli-designers are developing mud huts with solar panels in their roofs.

Anyone with a mission knows the importance of “staying on message” – being focused and consistent with your ideals.  Two Israeli startups have literally incorporated that message into their products.  Glide has developed video messaging that is so fast, you can begin watching a video on the other side of the world before your friend has finished recording it!  And years after an Israeli startup invented ICQ (the world’s first instant messenger) another Israeli startup has invented Music Messenger – already a huge hit in the music industry.

Israel is rated one of the world’s most innovative countries and the global potential of Israeli startups has certainly been recognized by the world’s multinationals. Johnson and Johnson together with Takeda have launched FutuRx an Israeli biotech startup incubator in Rehovot’s Weizmann Science Park.  Samsung invested in eight Israeli startups in 2014.  Five more recently graduated from IBM’s Alpha Zone accelerator.  And a further eleven have just graduated from the Microsoft Ventures cyber-security and medical accelerator program.

The demand for Israeli innovation was highlighted strikingly last month when overseas companies invested over $900 million in Israeli startups in just one week!  Acquisitions include Amazon’s of Israel’s Annapurna Labs for $370 million and Harman’s of Israel’s Red Bend Software for $200 million.  The Economist reported that Tel Aviv is the world’s no. 2 startup ecosystem.

Although the USA and Europe are still Israel’s biggest customers, there has been a massive increase of interest in Israeli startups from the Asian market.  Two $100 million-plus Chinese-based funds have recently been launched, investing in Israeli startups.  Next, Startup East is the first Israeli-Asian accelerator aiming to connect startups in Israel with East Asia. Finally, the “Israel Innovation in India” pavilion opened at Vibrant Gujarat 2015, showcasing Indo-Israeli cooperation, with special focus on advanced Israeli technologies in the fields of agriculture and homeland security. 

If you had any doubts about the democratic nature of the Jewish State, you should take note that Israeli-Arabs Aziz Kaddan and Anas Abu Mukh were just 19 when they started development of Myndlift - an app that teaches ADHD children and adults to concentrate by using their brainwaves to display a bright image.  Another Israel-Arab, Technion’s Professor Hossam Haick, is looking to incorporate his NaNose cancer “breathalyzer” technology into a mobile phone, called appropriately the “SniffPhone”.  And Israel’s Economy ministry has just awarded NIS 10 million to two organizations, Tsofen and ITworks, for the training and integration of Arab, Druse, and Circassian academics into the hi-tech sector.

Finally, the fact that the Start-up Nation is still in its infancy can be measured by the fact that Iddo Gino heads up the startup RapidPay, a year-old company providing a mobile payment platform for customers without a credit card.  Iddo studies at the Hebrew Reali School in Haifa and hopes to obtain a degree in computer science at the Open University next year.  Iddo is just 17 years old.

Israel – we’ve only just begun. 

Michael Ordman writes a free weekly newsletter containing positive news stories about Israel.
For a free subscription, email a request to michael.goodnewsisrael@gmail.com

Israel is Getting it Together

In this week’s blog, I will illustrate how the Hebrew word “beyachad” (together) typifies the Israeli approach to innovating a better world.

Israel and the US continue to move closer together economically. The Israel-US Binational Industrial Research and Development (BIRD) Foundation recently approved $8.3 million in new funding for 11 projects where US and Israeli companies are working together.  Next, the new Israeli branch of US technology innovator Bell Labs is promoting itself as a new avenue for Israeli PhD graduates to pursue research careers in Israel.  Then, American Internet and media giant AOL announced that it is investing $5million in a joint US-Israeli video research project at the Technion-Cornell Institute.  AOL already has an Israeli R&D center.  And finally, US camera-maker Kodak is looking to acquire Israeli tech startups to help rebuild the company as a leader in digital printing.

Many countries realize that they need to get together with Israel if they are to tackle water scarcity and wastewater problems.  The University of Chicago has sought out Israel's Ben-Gurion University to help develop radical new approaches that may one day rejuvenate the world's water-starved regions.  Scotland’s BDS idiots must be “drowning their sorrows” following the successful UK pilot project of the recycling technology from Israel’s Applied CleanTech for wastewater - at Scottish Water!

Israeli biotechs are developing treatments that work together with the body’s immune system in order to beat cancer.  Israel’s cCAM has just received US FDA approval to commence trials of its CM-24, which targets a protein that blocks the immune system’s ability to destroy cancer cells.  Israel’s Compugen has several candidate drugs that target these proteins and has enlisted John Hopkins University in the US to help assess them.  And Israel’s Vaxil Biotherapeutics has reported that its cancer vaccine, ImMucin (that boosts the immune system to prevent cancer returning) triggers an immune response in about 90 percent of all types of cancer.

Many Israeli innovations are successful due to the way they use a combination of technologies.  Take for example Israeli startup BrightWay Vision, which has developed “BrightEye” – a unique night-vision system that gives drivers a clear, panoramic view of the road, five times beyond the range of headlights.  The system sends out a pulse of light that is reflected back to a synchronized camera that only accepts images that the pulse generated. 

The Israeli startup, SolView, works with solar panel installers to check instantly whether a particular roof could generate sufficient solar energy to justify installation.  SolView takes data from Google Earth to power its automated rooftop scanning technology.  Another Israeli startup HealthWatch Technologies connects your heart instantly to your cardiologist by means of a washable T-shirt with printed electrodes.  It can read a patient’s vital signs, which are then transmitted to the specialist – speed being the key to preventing heart attacks.

Despite what you hear from Israel’s enemies, Israeli society is increasingly “getting it together”.  In a recent survey, 65 percent of Arab citizens said they were either “quite” or “very” proud to be Israeli in 2014, up from 50 percent the previous year.  The majority had faith in the Supreme Court, Israeli police and in the IDF.  And we can all be proud of the IDF’s performance in humanitarian medical rescue missions – just watch this inspirational presentation by Brigadier General Professor Yitshak Kreiss describing the leadership, medicine and the personal dilemmas faced when putting back together the lives of those injured in overseas disasters.

There is no denying the togetherness that Israeli Jews and Diaspora Jews share.  Unfortunately, these are troubled times for the Jews of Europe. 226 Ukrainian immigrants landed in Israel including dozens of families of refugees from eastern Ukraine. And as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said to the youngsters at Taglit-Birthright Israel’s 15th anniversary event, “In Israel, every Jew can say, ‘I am a Jew, Je suis Juif,’ out loud and proudly, without fear. Come to Israel… This is your land.”  Israelis Michael (92) and Marion (90) Mittwoch know all about troubled times and are now experiencing the good times.  They have just celebrated the birth of a new great-grandchild – their 100th!  After escaping Nazi Germany, the Mittwochs immigrated to Israel where they got together to become the first couple to be married at Kibbutz Lavi.  All children and grandchildren live in Israel. 

I will conclude with two apparently inanimate examples of Israeli togetherness.  In the first, you can watch Tel Aviv and Jerusalem getting closer together (at least in travel time) by selecting full screen view to see an amazing video tour of the new road construction along the highway to Jerusalem, together with the Biblical locations along the way.

And lastly, when filmmaker Micha Shagrir donated a 1667 Hebrew Bible to Haifa University, staff discovered that a Bible written by the same person was already on the library's shelves.  An Egyptian Armenian gave Shagrir his Bible in gratitude for his film about the Armenian genocide and Shagrir’s gift reunited the two holy books after 350 years.

Yes, in Israel, everything’s finally coming together.

Michael Ordman writes a free weekly newsletter containing positive news stories about Israel.
For a free subscription, email a request to michael.goodnewsisrael@gmail.com