Israel – daring in quality

Even if Israel is small in body, its scientific head is large.Excerpts from the address of President Shimon Peres at the opening of the winter session of the Knesset on October 8.

The global economy, which is based on science and technology, has made it possible for Israel to free itself from the limits of its camp and to take off to global spaces, both near and far, to participate in a world journey to a new era in which political boundaries have become lower; distances have surrendered to electronic speed; and demographic migration has begun from countries in which there is a surfeit of workers to countries which have a surfeit of work.

In this era, the economic locomotive is a greater mover than the military tank. And parallel to national governments, which are based on laws, on the army and on the police, an enormous economic capability has developed of large companies whose strength is derived from scientific and technological inventions and from good will.

This economic global ability has no precedence and, therefore, no past. And, thus, it does not rely on what has been accumulated, collected and or committed. It faces an open future. It is concentrated on discovering the secrets of nature, establishing new productive systems and developing revolutionary means of organization.

Its power is in vision and not in memory.

And the future obliges it to focus on producing alternative energy, clean water and a synthesis between high technology and clean technology.

Modern economy is global and individual at the same time. Individual talent makes it possible today to establish an economic empire, without the need for an army or a police and without conquering nations or territories.

This era makes it possible for Israel to discover hidden talents, which were not expressed previously and which had to be proven by measuring the size of the country, not only in kilometers but also by the number of scientists per square kilometer.

We have succeeded in an economic take-off and have not yet reached the peak.

[But] the fight against global warming and terror require not only national but also regional and global organization. Pollution is not checked by national customs and poisoned water does not need a visa to cross a border. Unruly weather does not need a permit and the harm to the globe’s ability to cool as opposed to the undisturbed warming by the sun present dangers.

Israel, too, is not immune to this danger and, yet, it can be a pioneering model in the attempt to halt it. Israel owes it also to itself. The Dead Sea is losing its water, and is losing its patience. Polluted water is endangering the cleanliness of the drinking water and is endangering part of the fertile soil of our region, turning it into a desert. Not only are plants becoming polluted but people’s bodies are also being harmed by the accumulated waste. It is our duty to ensure both the cleanliness of nature and the health of man and to initiate activities in all domains in the country, in the region and in the world to harness them on time.

And if we do so, we will make a unique contribution of our own to reduce these dangers.

The uniqueness of Israel is that it is small in size and rich in talents. It prevents her from becoming an industrial country and it enables her to be a research and development incubator of the first order.

Already now large international companies are investing in Israel’s research and development because they assess that even if Israel is small in body, its scientific head is large.

Israel is, for example, a transport island. It does not have an ‘abroad’ to reach by car and, therefore, it is able to be the first country to change its fleet of cars, run on petrol, to those run on electricity. Israel is already involved in this.

Israel is able to be a pioneer in alternative energy, especially solar energy and to be ahead of others in producing water (it has proved this in the past) and manage the cleanliness of the air with new methods. Israel can recruit for this purpose its outstanding potential in the field of nano-technology, to miniaturize the equipment and to make it more economical.

If Israel is able to become a daring world laboratory with a definite pilot plan it will draw back those scientists who have left as well as others to come and work here.

The pull of challenging work is no less attractive than the salary level.

Therefore, parallel to the political negotiations being conducted now, a track must be developed which will promote the standard of living of all people and produce economic peace alongside political peace, because the one will not progress without the other and both will jointly help to attain a lasting peace.

The global era and the regional reality are loaded with dangers and are not without opportunities. Israel with a moral, cultural, political, security, economic and social effort can be a focus of light in foggy days and prevent the concealment of the horizon of hope. It is difficult for Israel to be great in numbers but it is possible to be daring in quality, and to aim for security for all and peace with everyone.

Our position is a result, not of what others will do, but it represents the essence of ourselves from both strength and destiny.

Amplifying the voice of the Middle East’s moderate majority

We’ll send a clear message on October 18th about a two-state solution.The months leading up to the planned US-hosted Middle East peace conference in November have seen a great deal of apathy and skepticism from all sides regarding the conference and the deeper issue – the prospects for a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The general apathy is not surprising, and the skepticism is perhaps not unwarranted. For forty years, the Israeli and Palestinian peoples have waited for their leaders to negotiate a resolution, and for forty years, a top-down peace process failed to yield results. Over decades we have all witnessed the domestic political stalemates, the international diplomatic shortcomings and the prolific violence. We have seen the leaders again and again sit down at the table, and walk away without an agreement.

In the meantime, militant absolutists and foreign fundamentalists have successfully used this lack of progress to drive a wedge between the two sides and prey on the situation, wreaking havoc on the region. Moderate citizens who want nothing more than to live their lives, to raise their children in safety and security, have remained silent, disengaged and disempowered, as their lives and destinies are hijacked by the perpetual cycle of violence.

It is a bleak image. But it is precisely this image that inspired the creation of the OneVoice Movement.

A mainstream nationalist grassroots movement with over 3,000 highly-trained youth leaders, OneVoice aims to amplify the voice of the overwhelming but heretofore silent majority of moderates who wish for peace and prosperity, empowering them to demand accountability from elected representatives and work toward a two-state solution. OneVoice counts on its Board over 60 foremost dignitaries and business leaders across a wide spectrum of politics and beliefs, joining as OneVoice against violent extremism and for conflict resolution.

To date, over half a million Israelis and Palestinians have signed the OneVoice Mandate calling on their heads of state to begin immediate, continuous negotiations until a resolution – a two-state solution – is achieved.

It is clear that political leaders, without the backing of their peoples, cannot make peace. Both Palestinian President Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Olmert need public support. That is why on October 18th, the Israeli and Palestinian people in unison will send a message to the world and to their leaders: ‘We demand immediate, uninterrupted negotiations till the completion of an agreement among our heads of State, to be presented to their people by October 18, 2008 – in one short year.’

It will be a clear message to those scheduled to sit down at the table in November, a loud voice resonating in both Israel and Palestine, and echoed by the international community, pledging support for the process and demanding results.

Yes, we have seen peace conferences fail to deliver before. But we – moderate citizens – have also allowed ourselves the luxury of silence and inaction. We must face the reality that we are standing before a quickly closing window of opportunity to change the course of this conflict, to lend our voices to a resolution before extremists succeed in rendering any progress intractable.

The road is not easy. As the Founder of OneVoice, there have been those times when thing seem very dark indeed – when I have questioned the very core of what I have chosen to do with my life, and really wondered whether OneVoice can make a difference. There have been enormous obstacles and setbacks, both on an organizational and on a political level.

But at these times it is necessary to remember there is no alternative but to prevail. Too much is at stake. We will act because there is no other option, and we will succeed because we must.

On October 18, OneVoice and the hundreds of thousands who stand in support of it will do just that – people will take a stand for an end to the conflict, will remind their leaders what is at stake and pledge to support them when they sit down. They will look toward the future – toward the coming year and the coming peace conference – and demand something more of themselves and of their leaders than the usual skepticism. They will demand resolution – NOW, together with one voice.

We need you there with us. The Israeli and Palestinian peoples need your support. Join us.

Tales of an Israeli jeep wife

Overwhelmed by the breathtaking views, I didn’t even notice the bumpety bump of the trail.My husband Ilan has a mistress who has disrupted our quiet familial existence. The mistress is off-road jeeping and Ilan spends his free time enthusiastically planning every meticulous detail of upcoming jeep trips.

Now he wants to build a customized storage unit which would slide into rails which he would solder into the floor behind the jeep’s backseat. He’s already assembled a roof rack, purchased an impressively long picnic table that folds flat and a special cooking pot which can sit right on top of an open fire. All these “toys” are meant to enhance the off-road experience.

I don’t like jeep trips at all. In fact, I detest them. We are one of four families, each led by an off-road jeep enthusiast, who regularly “jeep” together. So, like it or not, I end up being thrown into the arms of Ilan’s mistress every few weeks despite my vow that “this is the last time”.

Different people enjoy off-road jeep trips for different reasons. Some like the lush mountain ranges of northern Israel or the reddish rocky splendor of the Negev Desert. Others enjoy communing with nature. For Ilan, it’s the challenge of “conquering” a particularly difficult trail.

I, for one, don’t understand the point of detouring off a perfectly good road simply to abuse our jeep on trails which are “paved” with boulders. Worse is when one side of the trail is on a cliff with a drop into oblivion. While I do understand that navigating these trails must give the driver a rush of adrenalin, the passengers’ experience is more like that of being knocked around in a washing machine.

I start to get cranky at the mere mention of a jeep trip but when Ilan suggested that we head up to the Golan Heights, I softened. I would move to the Golan in a heartbeat and Ilan knew he had pushed the right buttons by suggesting it.

We jeep wives have begun to insist on indoor plumbing and beds instead of sleeping bags and tents, so our group met at a field school in the southern Golan. It wasn’t the Sheraton, but the accommodations met our criteria.

For the first time, Ilan didn’t rush us out to hit the trail at the crack of dawn the next morning (which never fails to set me up for a really grumpy day). And when he mentioned that the entire trail was only about 10 miles long broken up by a hike down to a natural spring, I felt my spirits soar. In fact, I was truly overwhelmed by the breathtaking views offered in the Golan that I didn’t even notice the usual bumpety bump of the trail.

This natural spring was a slice of paradise. The dads and kids swam in the ice-cold water while we jeep wives watched from a shaded distance. Despite the fact that the walk back up to the jeep took me 20 minutes in 90-plus degree weather, I felt exhilarated. The rest of the jeep trail led us right to the shores of the Sea of Galilee where we enjoyed a picnic lunch.

On our way home, Ilan commented that I seemed in unusually good spirits throughout the trip. And I was. The off-road portion was short and the social aspects were many.

Ilan’s already busy planning the next jeep trip which will include three nights in the desert and four glorious days filled with 200 plus miles of Israel’s roughest terrain. What I’m most looking forward to about this trip is that it’s “boys only” so I don’t have to go. This jeep wife will happily wait at home for her husband to return from his mistress who, in small doses, really turned out not to be so bad after all.

An economic miracle in Israel

How Israel has rebounded from its worst recession, and what the rest of the Middle East can learn from it.The very hotels, malls, restaurants, theaters, travel agencies, car dealerships and construction sites that earlier this decade stood eerily empty while terrorism raged in the streets of Tel Aviv are now brimming with customers, turnovers and profits.

Data released this month by the Central Bureau of Statistics indicates that Israel’s GDP soared during the first half of the year 6.6 percent; unemployment dropped since 2002 from 10.9 to 7.5 percent; household spending on durable goods skyrocketed 36 percent; inflation stood at 1.1 percent, interest rates sank below the U.S. Federal Reserve’s level and the shekel’s dollar value swelled this decade 20 percent.

There is an economic miracle lurking behind Tel Aviv’s increasingly Manhattanesque skyline, one that has turned the Promised Land into the Land of Milk and Money, and the Jewish state into the developed world’s fastest-growing economy. How could Israel arrive here a mere five years after the worst recession in its history, and what can the rest of the Middle East learn from it?

The boom’s causes are varied. Cyclically, as the global high tech sector recovered from the so-called Nasdaq Meltdown, the technology sector that had long dominated Israeli exports rode the wave and took with it much of the economy.

Structurally, Israel launched in 2003 market reforms that shook the economy loose: Taxes were cut, public-sector hiring was capped, and an elaborate social safety net was slashed; the jobless were enticed to seek work rather than social security; almost any sellable state asset was sold, from the El Al airliner and the ZIM shipping giant to the major banks, oil refineries and telecom monopoly Bezeq; the seaports were forced to compete with one another; the pension age was raised, and the pension industry itself was snatched from the unions that had dominated and mismanaged it.

Coupled with the reform of 1985, in which Israel defeated hyperinflation by slashing defense spending, abolishing food subsidies, imposing price controls and introducing monetary discipline, this decade’s reforms clearly have contributed to the economy’s rehabilitation. Yet beyond these measures there are two overriding historic circumstances that on the face of it should have placed Israel at a disadvantage, but in fact contributed to its prosperity: minerals and immigration.

When Israel was established, its leaders’ wildest economic dream was that some day, like their neighbors, they, too, would find oil. Yet Israel never found commercial quantities of oil, or for that matter of any commodity, from gold and silver to lead and zinc. Heck, it didn’t even have timber or water, and that’s besides having been largely besieged and hopelessly minuscule. Meanwhile, the fledgling state was compelled to absorb thousands of immigrants, many unskilled and almost all destitute.

As it turned out, Israel’s lack of natural resources, like Japan’s, was a blessing, as it forced it to seek wealth in human brains rather than natural resources. Eventually, reality proved the former more economically reliable than the latter. A byproduct of this attitude was the realization that immigrants can be assets rather than liabilities.

Israel’s current prosperity was also preceded by an immigration wave, in fact the largest in its history.

The arrival between 1989 and 2000 of 1 million immigrants was the equivalent of more than 50 million newcomers landing in the U.S. within a decade. Fortunately for Israel, by the time it faced this challenge it had the wisdom to allow the markets to create the jobs, housing and education this population deserved.

The bottom line of all this is that there are ways to thrive in the Middle East, even without oil. For now, Arab governments – whose collective economic performance is the world’s worst, after sub-Saharan Africa – treat immigrants as liabilities, social mobility as a strategic threat and minerals as eternal money spinners.

That is why a country such as Syria has pretty much no contingency plan for the moment its oil dries up, which is imminent. That is why the gulf region’s underpopulated states turn back immigrants from overpopulated Egypt, despite their being fellow Sunni Arabs.

That is also why they don’t even allow their own poor to rise socially, preferring instead to hire imported Asians as their hewers of wood and drawers of water.

To change any of this, it would help if objective parties, such as the European Union and United Nations, would tell Arab governments that their economic condition is self-inflicted, treatable, and in fact may hold promise; all they need to do is look at Israel a little less emotionally, and learn from its efforts and their results.

(Originally appeared in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

Reasons to be thankful in Israel

As we launch Israel’s 60th birthday year, the glass is much more full than empty.As Rosh Hashana approaches, Israelis can step back and reflect on the year that was, and pinch ourselves. We’re still here!

The summer war (Lebanon Part II) that was supposed to take place never materialized. Instead, tourism to Israel returned with a vengeance, reaching levels of pre-2000 Intifada. You couldn’t walk down a street in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv without seeing massive tour groups, hearing English, and getting swept up in the jovial atmosphere.

That doesn’t mean that a war won’t break out next month – but it does mean that Israelis weren’t sitting around waiting for doom. They were out having fun and enjoying the 90 degree plus sunny weather that’s a staple here from June through August.

Vacationing near Nahariya last week – the target of many Katyusha attacks during the war last summer – I was struck by the hustle and bustle, the ‘normalcy’ and the resilience of the residents. If war was looming over their heads, they sure weren’t showing it.

That was the feeling farther south as well – film festivals, music festivals, sporting events and arts and crafts fairs around the country were all packed with attendees, basking in the cultural mosaic that makes up the Israeli landscape.

Israelis didn’t spend the past year just out on the beaches or at concerts – the year also saw the country’s economy booming. Data released last week by the Central Bureau of Statistics indicates that Israel’s GDP soared during the first half of the year 6.6 percent. And that means good news not only for Israelis, but for everyone, as innovative technologies continued to emerge from the incubators and startup that provide the breeding ground for the country’s future.

Deep Breeze Medical Diagnosis received FDA approval for their revolutionary Vibration Response Imaging (VRI), a noninvasive, radiation-free imaging system which uses lung sounds to create dynamic images of the lungs. This ‘ultrasound’ for the lungs is going to help millions of people around the world with the early diagnosis of lung diseases.

Another Israeli device was also approved by the FDA for use in the US – the Velashape cellulite treatment device developed by Israeli company Syneron Medical Ltd. which can temporarily remove unsightly cellulite. (Good one since we’re spending so much time on the beaches).

And in one of many high profile visits to the country this year, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison in his first trip here, praised Israel’s technological success and resourceful manpower, saying that “Israel has always had a wealth of intellectual talent.”

Looking ahead to a new, cleaner environmental future, Israeli holding company, Israel Corp. has decided to invest $100 million to produce a new electric car. The project is being spearheaded by innovative Israeli entrepreneur Shai Agassi, who left German software maker SAP to focus on environmental policy and alternative energy.

Looking outward, our policy of helping other countries in need continued unabated, with most recently Israel sending teams to help rescue efforts following an earthquake in Peru and to help fight the devastating forest fires in Greece.

There’s no shortage of topics to be concerned about in this country – among others, our soldiers are still being held by Hizbullah and Hamas, Sderot and other southern communities are still under attack by Kassam rockets fired by Palestinian terror groups, the number of Israelis under the poverty line is ridiculously high, the problem of dealing with the refugees from Darfur has not been solved, and you’re still putting your life on the line when you get into a car.

But, as we enter the year of Israel’s 60th birthday, there is reason to believe that the glass is much more full than empty. We at ISRAEL21c pledge to continue providing the coverage of the news that makes up the volume of that glass.

With our stories now being regularly translated into French, Spanish, German, Russian, and yes, Hebrew, people all around the world are learning about the innovations that Israel brings to their lives.

On behalf of the board and staff of ISRAEL21c, our best wishes for a ‘Shana Tova’.