Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Please misunderstand me

Please misunderstand me

Tal Becker January 22, 2014

Dr. Tal Becker is a research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute and a member
of the Hartman Institute's iEngage Project.

“Just because I don’t care, doesn’t mean I don’t understand.” – Homer Simpson

Pick a debate within Israeli society, or between Israel and its external critics, and you invariably see the same pattern. Whether on settlements, or Iran, or asylum seekers, or Women of the Wall, people so often seem to be broadcasting on different wavelengths. We may appear to be arguing with each other, but we feel as if we argue across each other. We leave these debates frustrated that we have not been heard, disheartened that we are not understood.

Conventional psychological wisdom tells us of the profound human need to have our feelings and perspectives validated and understood, even if they are not endorsed. Modern psychology places the therapist in the position of “legitimizer” — hearing our voice, affirming our presence. In a world where we can so often feel invisible, the healing power of being understood, of being seen, is considered a critical remedy. A healthy debate, under this approach, is a debate where we genuinely hear the person we disagree with, genuinely engage them; not just wait for them to finish talking so that we can make our point.

But this standard assessment misses something fundamental about the human condition. Alongside the need to be understood is the important function played by being able to claim that we are misunderstood. If we can say that the person we argue against doesn’t “get it,” the problem is not with our position but with their comprehension. We insulate ourselves from scrutiny, blaming the audience rather than the argument.

The capacity to claim that we are misunderstood operates as a kind of fail-safe. Its hidden assumption is that if the listeners understand me, they will agree; if they don’t agree, they must not understand. In so doing, this claim can embody both arrogance and vulnerability simultaneously: it not only assumes the fault is with the unsympathetic audience, but it also fears exposing the argument to the possibility that the audience got your point, but just didn’t agree with it.

This phenomenon was embedded in the idea of hasbara, which implied that all that Israel needed was to explain itself better, so that people would embrace the justice of our cause. The source of the criticism, under this view, was that people had failed to sit down and listen to Israeli representatives speak to them (or at them) for long enough. Exposed to the right arguments, agreement was inevitable.

Israel’s understanding of hasbara has become much more sophisticated since then, and even the term has (rightly) fallen out of favor. But the tendency to blame the listener in our debates has not lost its appeal. One hears the debate about settlements, for example, and the regular refrain remains that the other side just doesn’t understand.

Those who question the wisdom of the settlement enterprise are said to fail to grasp the profound and legitimate connection of the Jewish people to the land, and the dangers of conceding territory under Israeli control. Those who champion the settlements, it is claimed, are oblivious to the costs of this endeavor and to the moral claim of Palestinians to self-determination. Perhaps more attention should be given to a third possible alternative: that those we disagree with have heard our position, and perhaps have some sympathy for it, but have decided that on balance the weight of argument is against us.

There is no doubt much about Israel that its harshest critics fail to appreciate. Some, driven by hatred or deliberate blindness, will likely refuse to listen to anything which undermines their agenda. Similarly, in many of our internal debates, there is usually some measure of truth to the feeling that some across the divide are incapable of grasping the essence of your case. But among those that may potentially be persuaded, the rush to claim that we are misunderstood is too easy, too self-righteous a posture.

More dangerously than that, it is ineffective. Those with whom we are engaged in honest debate will rarely be moved by the mere claim that they have failed to understand us. They are more likely to be influenced by genuinely demonstrating that we have sought to understand them. To effectively and respectfully make our case, we often need to show that we are capable of entering the mindset and worldview of our interlocutors, seeing what they see through the prism of their values and their experience. We need to disarm them of the capacity to claim that they are misunderstood, and hold back on the impulse to make that claim ourselves.

We do no disservice to our positions by recognizing the doubts and costs that may be associated with them. Few of the issues surrounding Israel allow for undiluted conviction or the easy explanation that those on the other side of the debate suffer merely from ignorance or shortsightedness. It is usually more complex than that. Acknowledging such complexity is a measure of integrity, not of weakness. And, at least amongst reasonable people, we are most likely to get others to listen, if not agree, if we demonstrate the capacity to listen ourselves.

Top 10 ways Israel fights desertification

Top 10 ways Israel fights desertification

Israel has gained a worldwide reputation for its ability to turn barren desert into useful and arable land. ISRAEL21c takes a look at the country’s top 10 eco-strategies.
By Karin Kloosterman 

Palm trees growing in the Arava desert in southern Israel. Photo by Flash90.

This past year’s erratic and violent weather is only a small taste of what’s to come, climate scientists predict, as the impact of global warming starts to hit. Weather will become more unpredictable, flooding will become even fiercer, and droughts and famine more widespread as land increasingly gives over to desert.

With desert covering a large part of its surface, Israel has had to quickly develop solutions for its lack of arable land and potable water. Israeli research, innovation, achievements and education on this topic now span the globe in tackling problems common to all desert dwellers.

“We’ve done a lot of research on ecosystem response to drought because we have this problem on our doorstep,” says Prof. Pedro Berliner, director of Israel’s foremost research center for desert research, the Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research at Ben-Gurion University in the Negev Desert.

ISRAEL21c looks at Israel’s top 10 advances to combat desertification, putting special focus on the work done by researchers at the Blaustein Institute.

1. Looking to the ancients

They lived in the Land of Israel more than 2,000 years ago in the heart of the Negev Desert, yet found a way to survive and thrive. How did the Nabateans build a sustainable community that provided food, firewood and fodder for animals?

This is Prof Pedro Berliner’s area of interest. He has developed a modern-day version of the Nabatean floodwater collection system, Runoff Agroforestry Systems, and travels the world teaching farmers in countries such as Kenya, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, India, and Mexico how to implement it. His low-tech approach redirects floodwaters to dike-surrounded plots or hand-dug pits in which trees or shrubs are planted.

Going one step further than the Nabateans, “In our system we not only plant trees and between them rows of crops, but gave the old a new twist by using legume shrub-like trees which can absorb atmospheric nitrogen through their root system,” Berliner says. Soil fertility is maintained at practically no cost, ensuring the long-term sustainability of the system.

2. Making the most from the sun

In developing nations, people still cut trees for firewood. This causes desertification from lack of vegetation to hold the soil and its nutrients in place. Rain washes away the topsoil, leaving worthless sand behind.

Israel’s advances in off-grid solar energy power plants for individual homes or villages can help change that by offering a clean, renewable alternative. Ben-Gurion Prof. David Faiman has developed a concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) cell perfect for developing nations facing deforestation, and he is just one of dozens of Israeli researchers and companies working in this direction.

“Israel is helping combat desertification by making solar power a viable alternative to the conventional way of chopping down trees for firewood,” Berliner tells ISRAEL21c.

3. Help fish swim in the desert

Vast desert land does not need to go to waste when practical high-value crops –– especially alternative ones like aquaculture –– can very much thrive there. Professors Shmuel Appelbaum and Dina Zilber from Ben-Gurion University helped perfect a system to grow fish in the desert.

Their system takes low-quality brackish water –– water that has a high salt content –– and pumps it up onto land into pools for raising marine fish. This provides an entirely new source of protein, and income, for desert-dwellers. The conditions in some deserts are also optimal for raising aquarium fish, and Israel is starting to harvest attractive guppies for export to Europe.

4. Alternative crops in the sand

As with aquaculture, a number of drought-tolerant crops can thrive in the hot desert sun. Fed with brackish or low-quality water, algae for either biofuels or neutraceuticals present a novel way to grow a high-value product on seemingly valueless land. Several Israeli companies and research institutions are working to create the optimal environment for this plant-based microorganism, as well as genetic engineering to make algae contain more lipids that can be transformed into biofuel.

Ben-Gurion University, the Weizmann Institute and the Technion Israel Institute of Technology have joined forces to accelerate this research. Meanwhile, companies like Seambiotics already have commercial products harvested straight from the desert.

Other alternative crops that Israel is growing in the desert include argan trees for cultivating its prized oil. Formerly the trees could only grow in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. Israel also has a national program for irrigating olive groves with brackish water. “It is working well and definitely the only place where this is being done,” says Berliner


5. Green building

If Israel is known for its expertise in building desert-adapted houses it’s because the blueprints were designed and tested in the desert by the Blaustein Institute. The school’s Desert Architecture and Urban Planning unit focuses on homes that require no air-conditioning, even during the day when the heat is most intense.

The university’s eco-architect Isaac Meir specializes in passive low-energy architecture (PLEA) for hot, arid climates. Factors such as wind direction, sun angles and daily temperatures are taken into consideration. Climate Responsive Architecture – A Design Handbook for Energy Efficient Building, the book he co-authored in 2001, has garnered attention globally.

6. More crop per drop

You can’t talk about Israel’s success in making the desert bloom without mentioning drip irrigation and the companies that have made Israel a farmer’s best friend in hot, dry climates. These companies include Plastro, Netafim and NaanDan Jain. Unlike much of the innovation in Israel that starts in the lab or research institute, modern drip irrigation was pioneered in the field by farmers, and is widely used across Israel to get the best crops using the least water. Israeli drip-irrigation techniques are constantly shared with other countries through the Foreign Ministry’s MASHAV Center for International Cooperation.

7. Roots of research

The government-owned agricultural research organization, the Volcani Institute in Beit Dagan, is known for producing genetic variants of plants that perform very well in less than ideal conditions. The center’s scientists not only study drought resistance in plants, but also breed new varieties of vegetables and fruits to get the maximum yield of product per volume of water used. This enables Israeli farmers and seed-sellers to find a wide market for their wares.

The center has also done remarkable research on ancient strains of wheat, such as the emmer variety eaten during biblical times, as well as pest resistance and biological control methods that use fewer resources and chemicals.

Unrelated to the Volcani, but located nearby in Rehovot, is the Faculty of Agriculture of the Hebrew University. Scientists here have done incredible work on improving Israeli tomatoes and field crops,
among other projects.


8. Afforestation

If done correctly, tree planting can reverse desertification by supporting the earth as plant life grows its roots into the sand, and helps to create a cycle of nutrients that nourish the soil.

Israel is the only country over the last 100 years to see a net gain of trees. Donating money every year to plant trees via the Karen Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund is a worldwide Jewish priority, and a model that many countries have copied as they attempt to afforest their lost lands. KKL-JNF also conducts research to understand what trees grow well in the desert, surviving on winter runoff alone, and which do better in wetter, more temperate zones like the Galilee region.

9. Rain dancers

Back in the 1950s, the Israeli government under Golda Meir founded MASHAV in order to share Israel’s newfound expertise in desert agriculture. MASHAV runs a variety of programs, but is best known for its training seminars in Israel and wherever needed –– Africa, the Middle East, South America, Central America, India, China — on techniques ranging from greenhouse management and irrigation to fish farming and dairy farming. The MASHAV-sponsored program TIPA has so far helped more than 700 Senegalese farming families earn a living using drip irrigation.

10. Wastewater management

Almost all of Israel’s successes listed above rest on the fact that Israel has been able to excel at wastewater management on a scale that no other country has ever matched. A whopping 50 percent of Israel’s irrigated water comes from recycled wastewater, according to Berliner, and much of this recycles through JNF planted forests. The country that comes closest to Israel’s level of water reuse is Spain, which only reuses about 20% of its liquid resource.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Fairytale triumph: Filipina caregiver Rose Fostanes wins X Factor Israel


Philippines President Benigno Simeon Cojuangco Aquino III calls the win a ‘victory also of the Filipino people.’
Primary caregiver Rose Fostanes got her wish to change her life when she won last night’s first X Factor contest in Israel. From her first audition, the judges and viewers dropped jaws when the diminutive Fostanes sang soulful renditions of contemporary and classic songs.

Judge Rami Fortis, a well-respected rock musician in Israel, told Fostanes right at the beginning of the contest that she has the “X Factor.”

Throughout the contest she often told the cameras that she “would try her best” but wasn’t sure she’d actually win. Now the 47-year-old Fostanes is being called the Susan Boyle of Israel.

“One thing that came out in this contest is that in Israel you can make it wherever you come from, no matter how old you are,” Philippine Ambassador to Israel Genoroso DG Calonge tells ISRAEL21c. “Rose is 47. It brings to mind Susan Boyle, who was 52 when she showed the world her excellence. Israel is a multicultural country, a country that recognizes talent. Whoever dares to compete and has the talent has the chance to win.”

Filipinos in Israel and abroad cheered for Fostanes. Even the Philippines President Benigno Simeon Cojuangco Aquino III sent a congratulatory message.

“We are very very proud that [Rose] has given the Philippines pride in the showcase of her talent,” Philippines Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said in a press briefing in Manila. “That is a victory also of the Filipino people.”

Fostanes earned standing ovations for her renditions of Frank Sinatra’s My Way, Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, Shirley Bassey’s This is My Life, Lady Gaga’s Born this Way, Kelly Clarkson’s Because of You, Alicia Keys’ If I Ain’t Got You, and Sweet Dreams by the Eurythmics.

Funnily enough, Fostanes’ final song, My Way, is said to bring bad luck when sung in karaoke sessions in the Philippines, according to a report.

And the winner of X Factor Israel is... Rose Osang Fostanes, a Filipina caregiver with a powerful voice. (Tal Givony)
Making a better life

Fostanes came to Israel six years ago to work as a caregiver, after stints in Egypt and Lebanon. Like millions of other Filipino workers abroad she sends money back home to her family and her girlfriend.

“It’s a big change in my life because before nobody recognized me, nobody knew me. But now everybody, I think everybody in Israel knows my name. And it is very funny,” she told AP.

The 1.50 meters-tall Fostanes gave a face to the thousands of foreign workers in Israel – and became a celebrity for Filipinos everywhere.

Shiri Maimon, a judge of the show and a former reality TV contestant herself, served as Fostanes’s mentor on the show. Maimon said Fostanes had received dozens of letters and emails from fans abroad.

Ambassador Calonge says he heard rumors during the contest about how the Filipino community in Israel didn’t believe a foreign worker would come out on top of an Israeli contest. “I had faith in the judges and audience and those who voted by text messaging,” he tells ISRAEL21c. “I can feel and I saw it with my own eyes, she had a big Israeli following.”

Israeli model Bar Refaeli hosted the show. Though she towered over Fostanes when announcing the winner, the focus never shifted from the true star.

“One thing that came out in this contest is that in Israel you can make it wherever you come from, no matter how old you are. Israel is not different from the most developed countries of the world where open competition is really open,” said Calonge.

Reshet Television, the company that produced X Factor, surprised Fostanes just before the final round by flying in her sister and long-time partner for moral support.

Fostanes scored another first when Interior Minister Gideon Saar gave an unprecedented okay for her to work as a singer in Israel. The X Factor winner had been in the country on a work permit that allowed her to work as a caregiver only. When she won, Reshet executives were in a quandary as to how to proceed with Fostanes’ fame. Now, according to a Ynet report, she has been cleared to sing in Israel and get paid for it — and it looks like Fostanes is on her way to packing out Israel’s concert venues.

Eviatar Banai’s journey to wholeness

Eviatar Banai’s journey to wholeness

By Yossi Klein Halevi

Something good is happening to Eviatar Banai, one of our most gifted singers and songwriters. And that’s good news for Israeli culture and, perhaps, a sign of hope for the healing of Israeli society.

Since leaving the secular world to study in a haredi, or ultra-Orthodox yeshiva, Eviatar has had an uneasy relationship with his previous life, unsure of how much to incorporate into his new religious identity. It’s a common phenomenon among the many former secular Jews who have entered the haredi world. The tendency is to suppress rather than integrate, to dismiss the value of all that came before as at best mere prelude.

In recent years Eviatar seemed to be heading toward greater separation from modern Israel. That was expressed, in part, by a rejection of much of his own former work from his secular life – exquisite songs of emotional transparency. His audience, which had once embraced him as the voice of youthful angst, stayed loyal to him, and he continued to write songs of such enduring power that they seemed to have always been with us.

Still, fans couldn’t help worrying: Was mainstream Israel losing Eviatar Banai? Were our most sensitive spiritual seekers destined to disappear into the haredi world? Would we lose the chance to create an indigenous Israeli spirituality?

The answer came at his concert this week in the Jerusalem club, Zappa. Eviatar, in big black kippah and long tzitzit, shifted seamlessly between his more recent songs expressing longing for God and for spiritual purity and his older songs exposing the inner life of an alienated young man searching for love and his place in a deranged world. Eviatar allowed himself to be a rocker again; instead of the uptightness of recent performances, there was exuberance, joy.

At Zappa, Eviatar was reintroducing the severed parts of himself to each other, like a reunion between quarreling brothers. A song from his haunting new album, Yafa Kalevana, Beautiful as the Moon, reveals this new, more mature phase: “It seems that I still don’t believe that I’ve changed/The change was too fast, external/It seems I still don’t believe that You forgive/And now I need to inhale it for real.”

This is not the voice of religious triumphalism. Through all his phases, what made Eviatar unique in Israeli music was his relentless, even brutal self-scrutiny. He has carried that capacity from his secular into his religious life. Now he sings of the emptiness of fame, how the artist’s devouring ego and craving for the stage destroys spiritual growth. “I’ll show them, you, everyone…/ until I’ll exist the most existing in the world.”

Hearing his “secular” songs in the context of his religious life give them renewed meaning and urgency. At Zappa he sang his beloved old ballad, Yesh Li Sikui (I Have a Chance): “Even now I’m less angry/ …I feel something changing/The depletion will pass, the light will rise.” And the stunning definition of madness: “I was always afraid of going mad/that the heart will freeze and empty.”

In affirming the ongoing relevance of those old songs, Eviatar is acknowledging the validity of his past. Eviatar the secular Israeli was not an empty vessel waiting to be filled, but a seeker with profound spiritual insights. Then too he craved authenticity, a meaningful life. When he now sings, “I have a chance to be saved, I think,” he is saying: Each phase of my life has had its spiritual opportunities and dangers; will I be true, as a religious Jew, to my deepest self?

Eviatar Banai reminds us how fluid the secular-religious divide has become in today’s Israel. The audience at Zappa – knitted kippot and shaved heads, kerchiefs and tattoos – embodied the growing ease and mutual influence between Jewish tradition and modern Israel. A new mainstream is being created, where secular and Orthodox and points in between and beyond all categories are sharing the same music, the same vitality. Eviatar’s uncle, the poet balladeer Ehud Banai, who also now wears a kippah, put it this way in his last album: “I don’t belong to a sector, I don’t fit into a drawer… I stand on the Bridge of Halakhah/ searching for the Path of Peace.” (The Bridge of Halakhah and the Path of Peace are names of exits on the Tel Aviv highway.)

Hebrew music, once the carrier of the secular Zionist ethos, is now a central force in re-Judaizing Israeli culture – thanks in large part to the extraordinary musicians of the Banai family. They include Eviatar’s brother, Meir, a major force in Israeli rock in the 1990s and later a pioneer in reviving piyut, the prayer songs of Sephardic Jewry.

Eviatar is writing contemporary prayer, Israeli piyut: “Abba, I need to know that You love me, stam kacha, just because, Good Father.” Eviatar intuits that contemporary prayer must be authentically Jewish but no less authentically Israeli, a meeting between traditional language and Hebrew slang. There were moments, during Eviatar’s concert, of such intense longing for God that I felt I was in a place of prayer – the Zappa Great Synagogue.

Israeli society is in radical flux. The old ideological and cultural identities are blurring. As a people, we have barely begun to confront the multiple Jewish shatterings of the last two centuries. The great work of our generation is to try to make sense of our story. In part that means allowing our fellow Jews the freedom to grapple with their Jewish identities, without judging each other by external uniforms or the absence of uniforms.

Life is dynamic; no one is permanently sealed. Think of Matisyahu: the courage it took for a teenager from Long Island to put on the black hat and the courage it took for the Chabadnik he became to remove it. We are shifting in and out of identities, exploring Jewish possibilities – because we must, because we can.

What is true for individuals is true too for communities. Secular Israel is changing, haredi Israel is changing. There are restless souls in every camp, straining against limits, trying, like Eviatar Banai, to be whole.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

How Israelis are beating the high cost of living

How Israelis are beating the high cost of living


Kenny Sahr is marketing director at Nubo Software, 
a BYOD startup located near Tel Aviv.

While Secretary Kerry globetrots the world in the pursuit of peace in the Middle East, Israelis are focused on the high cost of living. Our dairy companies milk the public even more than the cows. Food costs 25%-50% more in Israel than in the US and Europe. The prices of L’Oreal, Neutrogena and Old Spice products are 3 times what they should cost. Why does Listerine cost 5 times more in Israel than at Wal-Mart? Steimatsky sells CDs for 70 shekels ($20) apiece. It’s no wonder Israelis are addicted to the MP3.

How are Israelis dealing with the high cost of living? The startup nation is no less innovative when it comes to dealing with high prices.

Free Shipping

Smartphone chargers and basic mobile/electronics items are ridiculously priced in the Holy Land. Every Israeli under 50 that I’ve met knows about Deal Extreme, AKA “DX.” Deal Extreme has cheap, generic Asian brands. You won’t find Samsung or Armani, but you will find mobile accessories for $1-$20 that costs 5 times that here.

Another hugely popular site is Alibaba, the Amazon of China. Not everything ships to Israel for free, but the deals there are incredible. Israelis are buying kitchenware, home and office supplies from Asia instead of handing over money to local tycoons and cartels.

Book Depository is replacing our two local bookstore chains. This site ships to Israel for free. I have friends who buy children’s books from Book Depository for a fraction of the cost that Steimatsky or Tzomet Sfarim charge. The David Baldacci books that I enjoy reading cost a third to half of what they cost here. Israeli stores are known for “1+1” discounts, while the popular online stores offer discounts from the first item purchased.

Overseas Shopping List

Israelis flying to the US put Santa’s shopping list to shame! We can’t exactly take road trips to Lebanon or Syria, so we fly a lot. From the moment we buy flight tickets, we open the notes app on our smartphones and start to work on a shopping list.

It begins with what we can get at Wal-Mart and Costco (find a family member or friend with a membership card) and moves on to Best Buy and other electronics and mobile device stores. We all have guilty pleasures (buying every possible release of The Who’s Tommy is mine) and things we need (M&M’s and Keebler cookies). Even M&M’s cost a few times what they should cost and you’ll never find the super-size packaging here.

What about clothes? Is there any reason that jeans and polo shirts cost 3-4 times what they cost in the US? On the high end, Factory 54 sells Armani Jeans for 1,200 shekels ($340). The same jeans cost $95 in Florida, $50 at the end of the season (September – perfectly matching the rush of Israelis flying overseas for Rosh Hashana).

Changes on the Horizon?

The older generation in Israel should be called “the passive generation.” They pretty much accepted things the way they were. When Israelis protested, it was about peace and war. This generation is different. They know what things cost overseas and have higher expectations for their country.

One day we will wake up and Tnuva (the dairy cartel) will be split into 3 companies. As they currently control over 50% of the market, those new companies won’t exactly be small.

I wonder how much of our potential GDP is lost because of the high cost of living? How many billions of dollars of products are shipped and flown to Israel every year?

Until then, you can expect Israel’s young generation to keep finding innovative ways to beat the cartels!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Appreciation: A salute to Ariel Sharon

Appreciation: A salute to Ariel Sharon

Originally published Jewish Journal

Maj. Gen. Ariel Sharon stands near the Suez Canal during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. 
Photo via Newscom

In January 1985, as a colonel in the Israeli Air Force, I was running a course for high-ranking officers of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), focused on lessons from Israel’s wars. One of the case studies to be discussed was the battle of Um-Katef/Abu-Ageila, in the Six-Day War, when the division of Gen. Ariel Sharon broke the backbone of the Egyptian army and enabled the breakthrough into Sinai, thus paving the way to Israel’s great land victory. This highly complex combined operation, executed impeccably at night, has been studied since in many military academies all around the world as a model for generalship at its best. Needless to say, I was going to invite Sharon to speak about this battle.

The problem was that Sharon was in New York at that time, suing Time magazine for libel. The trial was nearing its end, so I called Sharon’s hotel in New York, hoping to speak with his close friend and confidant, Uri Dan. Instead, Sharon himself answered. “Of course,” he said immediately. “I’ll be in Tel Aviv in a few days and will speak to your course.” Then he had a very strange request: that an officer should wait for him at the airport, to take him straight to the IDF History Unit. When he arrived after the long flight, instead of going home, he spent six hours studying the details of the battle he had fought 18 years before.

The following day, he arrived at our course and gave a mesmerizing lecture. Escorting him to his car, I couldn’t help asking why he needed to refresh his memory about a battle he had probably known by heart. He looked at me and said: “Young man, I just spoke to a group of serious people. You have to prepare for that.” Then he added: “Whatever you do, do it properly.” (“Kmo she’zarich,” in Hebrew.)

Actually, for Sharon, kmo she’zarich wasn’t exactly “doing things properly;” in his dictionary, the more precise translation was “doing things as they should be done,” with Sharon himself deciding the criteria. Sixty years ago, when the newborn Jewish state fell victim to ceaseless terrorist infiltrations on its Jordanian and Egyptian borders, and the IDF seemed incapable of stopping them, Major Sharon established Unit 101, a semi-partisan band of warriors who spread havoc in Jordan and Egypt using highly unconventional methods. Many in the IDF and the Israeli government felt that this wasn’t the proper way to do things, and Sharon would pay a price with his military career, but Israel regained its deterrence.

Retiring from active duty in the summer of 1973 and hungry for a political career, Sharon was confronted by the hostile Laborite establishment, which had ruled Israel for ages and had viewed the charismatic general with suspicion. Instead of bowing to the existing powers, Sharon surprised them by establishing the Likud Party, which, four years later, snatched the hegemony from Labor.

During the Yom Kippur War, he did a lot of things that his superiors thought were improper — so much so that they even talked about firing him. Luckily for Israel, they didn’t. His performance during the first dark days of the war, when he calmly and expertly led his troops in containing the invading Egyptian army, will go down in our history as the quintessence of Israeli resilience. Not to mention his crossing of the Suez Canal, which turned the tables on the Egyptians.

In 1982, as defense minister, when he felt he’d had just enough of the Palestinian intransigence coming from Lebanon, he manipulated Menachem Begin’s government into the first Lebanon War. Again, was it done kmo she’zarich? Depends on whom you’re asking. The Kahan Commission of Inquiry, established after the Sabra and Shatila massacre carried out by Lebanese Christians, then Israel’s allies, obviously thought it wasn’t, and sent the defense minister home. Sharon, on the other hand, believed that he had done the right thing by kicking Yasser Arafat and his terrorist apparatus from Lebanon, thus hammering in the message that you can’t mess with Israel for so long and get away with it.

Ten years later, as housing minister, he was entrusted with the awesome task of accommodating 1 million Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union (the equivalent of accommodating 50 million immigrants in the United States in one year). He stood up to the historic occasion. Did he do it properly? The state comptroller, who had investigated it later, didn’t think so and reprimanded Sharon for ignoring budgetary constraints and normal government procedures. Yet, by giving these people a home in Israel, Sharon achieved one of the greatest feats in the history of our country.

Finally, as prime minister, he came to the conclusion that Israel shouldn’t be ruling millions of Arabs, and that it has to adjust its borders accordingly. When he met opposition within his own Likud Party, he again broke away from the impasse by creating a new party, Kadima. The way in which he disengaged from Gaza was not the proper one: He should have given Gaza to Abu Mazen, instead of letting it fall into the hands of Hamas. But, again, this was Sharon’s way: He didn’t believe that there was a credible Palestinian partner and therefore did what he thought was good for Israel, unilaterally.

Today, when many Israelis feel that their political leaders can’t accomplish much in any given area, the imminence of Sharon’s final departure, even after a long illness, is especially painful. Controversial as he was during his lifetime, Israelis today salute a warrior and a leader who — for better or worse — knew how to do things kmo she’zarich.

Col. Uri Dromi, who now serves in the Israeli Air Force Reserve, is director general of the Jerusalem Press Club. From 1992 to 1996, Dromi was director of Israel’s Government Press Office, serving as chief spokesman for the Rabin and Peres governments. As former prime minister and retired Gen. Ariel Sharon’s health was in serious decline this week following eight years spent in a coma, the Journal invited Dromi to reflect on Sharon’s legacy.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Top 10 Israeli Medical Advances to Watch in 2014

Top 10 Israeli Medical Advances to Watch in 2014

ISRAEL21c compiles a list of the 10 most extraordinary medical devices and pharmaceuticals that promise to revolutionize global healthcare.

Prof. Hossam Haick with the Na-Nose prototype.

In our recent “Top 12 most amazing Israeli medical advances,” we promised a top 10 list of the most exciting Israeli medical-device and pharmaceutical developments just around the corner.

Like the top 12, this list was also very difficult to narrow down, because Israeli breakthroughs in this field are a near-daily occurrence. Our top 10 is just the tip of the iceberg.

Watch for new health stories on ISRAEL21c every week for a broader picture of how Israeli ingenuity is changing the face of healthcare worldwide.

1. Na-Nose can detect lung cancer from exhaled breath and will be commercialized in a joint venture with Boston-based Alpha Szenszor – after a few more years of development and testing by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Invented by Technion Prof. Hossam Haick, Na-Nose (the “na” is for “nanotechnology”) has been proven in numerous international clinical trials to differentiate between different types and classifications of cancer with up to 95 percent accuracy.

2. Hervana non-hormonal, long-acting contraceptive suppository won a $1 million development grant last year from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Gates Foundation is banking on the product’s potential to provide a more accessible, cheaper and socially acceptable family planning option in developing countries, though it would be marketed in the United States and Europe as well.
Hervana founder Rachel Teitelbaum with Bill Gates.

3. Vecoy Nanomedicines nano-scale virus-traps (“vecoys”) capture and destroy viruses before they can infect cells, offering a huge advance over antiviral medications and even vaccines. Through the MassChallenge startup accelerator program last November, Vecoy’s platform was chosen to be tested in zero-gravity conditions on an upcoming NASA space mission.
Treating viruses with vecoys.

4. CartiHeal Agili-C cartilage regeneration solution for knees can regenerate true hyaline cartilage (the most abundant type of cartilage in the human body) after six months, according to clinical results so far. Based on research at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, the implant has earned the European Union’s CE Mark of approval. Further clinical studies could lead to FDA approval in the coming years.

5. Oramed Pharmaceuticals seeks to change Type 2 diabetes treatment from a daily injection to a daily pill. Its oral insulin capsule recently received patent approval in the EU, and is in Phase 2 clinical trials under an Investigational New Drug application with the FDA. Jerusalem-based Oramed is also moving forward with clinical trials of a capsule to treat Type 1 diabetes.
Finally, an oral medication for diabetes?

6. Premia Spine developed the TOPS (Total Posterior Solution) System, aiming to revolutionize the spinal implant market with an artificial joint in the same way that total hip and total knee replacement systems made hip and knee fusions a thing of the past. TOPS is available already in Austria, Germany, the UK, Turkey and Israel. An FDA study is now in the follow-up phase.
TOPS is revolutionizing the spinal implant market.

7. Mapi Pharma recently won US patents for two promising slow-release platforms for drugs to treat multiple sclerosis symptoms and pain. “We believe in two to three years they could be in the final stage of development, and about three years to market,” says Mapi Pharma president and CEO Ehud Marom. Another slow-release platform for a schizophrenia drug is next in the pipeline.

8. Discover Medical introduced the SomnuSeal mask for CPAP machines – used widely by sufferers of sleep apnea – in Europe. If sales are successful, the US market will be next. Because SomnuSeal is more comfortable than the current masks used with the machine, compliance could be much greater. Plus, the device does not put strain on the heart as the current mask does.
A more comfortable, safer mask for treating sleep apnea.

9. Real Imaging is in the midst of European clinical trials of RUTH, its radiation-free, contact-free, inexpensive and advanced imaging system for early detection of breast cancer. The system, which has won patent approvals in several countries, analyzes 3D and infra-red signals emitted from cancerous and benign tissue, generating an objective report that needs no interpretation. Founder and CTO Boaz Arnon presented RUTH at the most recent conference of the Radiological Society of North America. Initial release of the product will likely be in Europe sometime in 2015.
RUTH, a hands-off breast cancer detection alternative.

10. NeuroQuest has started clinical testing in the United States, under the auspices of Harvard Clinical Research Institute, for its groundbreaking blood test to detect early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. Initial trials in Israel showed NeuroQuest’s test – based on research by Prof. Michal Schwartz of the Weizmann Institute of Science – to be 87 percent accurate with an 85% specificity rate in detecting Alzheimer’s and ALS, two common neurodegenerative diseases.