Sunday, September 2, 2012

Israel: "Just Look at Us Now" - Israel turns Problems into Opportunities



All Israeli medical research starts with some form of health problem to solve. Whist investigating the cause of allergies, Tel Aviv University Professor Sagi-Eisenberg and PhD student Nurit Pereg-Azouz isolated two specific proteins involved in the trigger process for an allergic reaction. These can now be targeted by medications that omit the debilitating side effects of steroid treatments. In another uniquely Israeli study, a team of microbiologists, including Professor Eshel Ben-Jacob of Tel Aviv University (PHOTO), has discovered that cancer cells and bacteria behave in the same way as terrorists do in real life. They spy out the body, manipulate genes, enslave normal cells and become dormant to avoid danger. We now look forward eagerly to new “Mossad” treatments.
Many economic experts say that it was problems due to Israel’s shortage of natural resources that brought about the “can do” attitude of Israelis to overcome extreme difficulties. Israel’s breakthroughs in renewable energy technologies were a ‘natural’ result of its lack of oil and gas. Even now, despite Israel’s massive recent natural gas discoveries, initiatives continue such as the renewable energy program for the Eilat-Eilot region. Laboratories will be set-up for bio-energy, bio-fuels, hydrogen, solar energy and more. Meanwhile, if you can’t afford one of Better Place’s new deals for its revolutionary electric cars, no problem. Check out the electric scooters built by Israeli start-up Green Motors International.

Despite the lack of water, enterprising Kibbutz Neot Semadar has built an organic oasis in the desert. The kibbutz grows several varieties of native date palms and organic grapes that it transforms into sulphur-free wines. It is also said, that “the harshest conditions produce the best wines”, but Israeli wine producers, such as the Golan Heights Winery, have made the most of this fact by harnessing Israeli technology to eradicate viruses; match vines with the best subsoil and use satellite models to monitor the microclimate and ensure correct irrigation and harvesting.

A crisis always brings out the best in the Israeli spirit. When Italian budget airlineWind-jet collapsed, it ruined the holiday plans of 300,000 international customers. However, the Israeli government organised planes to fly the 200 stranded Israeli tourists home from Rome. Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said, “The fact that all of Israel is responsible for one other is something which makes us unique and of which we should be proud”. Staying in the skies, you may have heard that due to a mistake by an on-line travel agent, El Al were forced to sell 5000 return tickets from New York to Israel at a bargain price of $400 each instead of the normal $1600. However, one high flier at El Al then saw an opportunity to recover some of the lost profit. The airline offered the lucky customers the chance to upgrade their tickets to non-stop for an extra $75 each way. This ensured that only El Al planes would be used, rather than its code-sharing partners. It also means that El Al’s low-season flights will be full.

CNN called in Jerusalem Venture Partner's Erel Margalit to suggest a solution to the problems of the ailing US economy. Margalit’s answer is for America to learn from the “Start-up Nation by bringing entrepreneurship back into the game.  A typical example of this entrepreneurship is Israel’s Siano, which has overcome the problems of low quality Internet TV images and regions with poor or non-existent wireless connections. With its “Carmel” miniature digital TV accessory you can watch live, high quality TV broadcasts on your iPhone or iPad in Israel, the UK and much of Europe. You get all the available free channels, without any network connection and don’t even need a TV license. Moving on, and should you have the problem of needing to use a toilet near Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market, you will have the opportunity to visit the ultimate convenience shop. Customers pay three shekels each for a public toilet with a choice of d├ęcor, music and the equivalent standard of service, hygiene and atmosphere of a five star hotel.

Most African countries have been experiencing severe humanitarian problems since the Arab states persuaded them to cut diplomatic ties with Israel in the 1970’s and 80’s. But now many African leaders want to repair the damage and have welcomed Israel’s offers to implement major agriculture, health and education projects. In one small, specific example, five young Israeli volunteers from Project T.E.N. (Tikkun Empowerment Network - a project of The Jewish Agency for Israel) have opened a summer camp for street children in Gondar, Ethiopia.
The media reports constantly that roadblocks are a crucial reason for the failure of the Palestinian Authority to become economically solvent. But Israel has removed more than a hundred checkpoints as “goodwill” measures to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, leaving only ten in the whole of Judea and Sameria. Now – as Abba Eban would say – we wait, to see if our neighbours miss yet another opportunity to take advantage of an opportunity - to make peace.
Finally, my jaw dropped when I read this news story. Vladislav Zaitsev was suffering from severe jaw infection causing loss of bone and inability to eat, drink or speak. Doctors decided to bring in engineers from Israeli company RAFAEL and they used their missile technology to construct a brand new jaw made from titanium. Ironically, before his Aliya in 1997, Vladislav was a missile engineer in the former Soviet Union.
I bet he can’t wait to get his teeth into a new opportunity.
Michael Ordman writes a weekly newsletter containing Good News stories about Israel.
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