- - Wednesday, July 25, 2018


By Avi Jorisch

Gefen Publishing House, $27, 273 pages

Israel is known as one of the world’s pre-eminent start-up nations in high-tech, with famous innovations such as Waze, a widely used app for navigating in traffic, anti-breaching cyber security software and the Iron Dome anti-rocket defensive system. What are less known, but as significant, the author of this important book points out, are a series of highly clever Israeli high-tech innovations that are “repairing the world” in areas such as agriculture, water conservation, medicine and energy.

What is responsible for the innovative success in these areas by a small country such as Israel? Avi Jorisch points to factors such as renowned universities and research institutes, a military that faces continuous threats by larger adversaries, a supportive government, as well as a “dearth of natural resources,” all of which pressure its citizens to strive for continuous innovation in a culture that “encourages its citizens to challenge authority, ask the next question, and defy the obvious.”

To discuss Israel’s innovations in these areas, Mr. Jorisch’s book consists of more than a dozen fascinating biographical profiles of leading Israeli innovators whose inventions have had worldwide impacts in their respective fields.

In agriculture, Shlomo Navarro, an Israeli food storage expert, developed the Grain Cocoon, a relatively inexpensive hermetically sealed bag that stores rice, grain, spices and legumes for long periods of time and prevents insects, rodents and other pests from infiltrating the bags and destroying their harvest. Another innovator, Simcha Blass, created an irrigation system that saves an enormous amount of water and fertilizer in areas affected by drought by building a device that delivers smaller amounts of water directly to the base of a plant, which still allows it to grow and yield significant crops.

With desert fruit plants, such as dates, considered rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber, Israeli agro-scientists discovered several ancient seeds that belonged to the Judean date palm, an extinct plant variety that had vanished some 2,000 years ago. Succeeding in bringing these seeds back to life, they are considered useful for modern medicine, especially as anti-inflammatories.

In the medical field, Michael Revel created Rebif, one of the world’s leading multiple sclerosis (MS) drugs, which interferes with and delays the virus’ ability to multiply within a host cell. In a related innovation, Gavriel Iddan developed the PillCam, a nano “video camera” that allows physicians to provide detailed images of an entire small intestine, which is a more comfortable experience than an endoscopic procedure, although it is not intended to replace the endoscope, which can remove polyps.

Important medical innovations have also been developed by Israel’s Arab community. Imad and Reem Younis, a married couple from Nazareth, developed their company’s Alpha Omega nano devices as a “GPS inside the brain” to guide doctors to the required location to enable them to implant a permanent electrode stimulation to treat all kinds of neurological diseases that couldn’t be reached through other means. Both Younises, the author writes, are extensively involved in promoting greater participation by Israeli Arab youth in high-tech initiatives.

With Israelis constantly threatened by warfare, military medicine is an important field. Here, an Israeli scientist, Bernard Bar-Natan, developed the Emergency Bandage, a life-saving product that instantly controls massive bleeding and prevents infections in emergency trauma situations, such as shootings.

To aid in the rehabilitation of wounded citizens, in another breakthrough, Amit Goffer created ReWalk, a robotic exoskeleton that hugs users’ legs as stabilizers, along with crutches, to allow paraplegics to walk.

And in the area of emergency medical response, although Magen David Adom (MDA) is the country’s pre-eminent ambulance service, Eli Beer established United Hatzalah (United Rescue), a fleet of refitted motorcycles as mini-ambulances operated by a highly trained network of paramedics whose quick arrival via customized GPS technology at the scene of an injury enables them to shave off the few critical minutes to save a victim’s life until MDA arrives at the scene to provide full medical treatment and transport to a hospital. This success has been replicated for Israel’s Arab citizens, with Arab-based United Hatzalah chapters operating in their communities, where Jewish medical services may not be as welcomed for political reasons.

To address Israel’s lack of energy resources in oil and gas deposits, Israel became a leading developer and supplier of solar energy. This was introduced by Harry Zvi Tabor, a physicist and engineer, who created a contraption called the solar collector, which harnesses solar energy to power the energy needs of households and factories.

Mr. Jorisch concludes that these and other types of Israeli high-tech innovations have led industries and countries around the world to look to Israel to help them solve their various challenges, some of which may appear insurmountable at the time. “Thou Shalt Innovate” is a valuable guide to understanding the outstanding results of Israel’s innovative culture and how it can serve as a model for other countries’ high-tech development efforts.

• Joshua Sinai is a senior analyst at Kiernan Group Holdings (KGH), in Alexandria, Va.

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