It is often said that Israel turns its challenges in to opportunities, and this is particularly relevant in the success of its innovation and technology.
The dry climate was the inspiration for Netafim, one of the world’s most successful irrigation systems, which drips just the right amount of water to crops, exactly where they need it.
The climate has inspired a machine that draws moisture out of the air to make drinking water. The reality of water shortages has also prompted Israel to make major advances in terms of water recycling technology and desalination.
Some 87% of Israeli wastewater is recycled and used for agriculture, more than in any other country in the world. As such, almost a third of the water used for agriculture comes from wastewater.
In desalination, Israel’s Sorek plant is the largest family in the world turning seawater in to drinking water, and can produce 20% of domestic water needs in any given day.
Aside from the lack of rain there is another aspect of Israel’s climate that has led to advances in technology: the strong sun. The use of solar panels for heating water is very widespread in households — around 90% of all homes — and there are constantly new solar innovations, one of which has been the world’s first window that is also a solar panel.
Israel has been dubbed the Start-up Nation, due to the success of its high-tech ventures, especially those of small companies (start-ups) established on a creative idea, which achieves widespread success.
Google, IBM, Microsoft, Intel, eBay, and many other big companies have set up research centers in Israel, in order to tap in to the skilled Israeli workforce with a flair for innovation. Israeli companies work on mobile computing, cybersecurity, data storage, financial technology and a range of other areas. The satellite navigation system Waze was so successful that Google paid more than $1 billon to acquire it in 2013. Intel paid $15.3 billion to acquire vehicle sensor developer Mobileye in 2017.
Aside from climate, which propels innovation in water technology, another of Israel’s hardships has led to Israel’s innovation edge. It is the country’s volatile security situation, which results in a late army where young citizens learn resolve and gather valuable experiences.
Israel has fought more than 10 armed conflicts since its establishment in 1948. In contrast to many countries, where the army is made up of people who choose to enter the military, in Israel there is a mandatory draft. This means that upon finishing school, most people are expected to serve for two to three years.
In the tech-savvy Israel Defense Forces many acquire skills that make them successful innovators when they rejoin civilian society. Many top execs in high-tech companies served in an elite intelligence unit known as 8200 — to the extent that it is referred to by some as the “hothouse” of the Israeli tech scene.
Sometimes, defense technology is actually repurposed to help in civilian settings. The very same algorithms that help to power the Iron Dome missile defence system have been integrated into irrigation and disaster-management systems. Advanced thermometer systems to stop the spread of the coronavirus were based on heat sensor tech used by soldiers.
Agricultural technology is an important part of Israeli high-tech, and the help it gives to farmers in the developing world is a source of pride. Many of Israel’s agricultural technologies are now being rolled out in developing countries, especially in Africa, where farmers face the challenges of low rainfall or poor soil.
Israeli-made computers are widely used to coordinate complex day-to-day farming activities, for example setting fertilizations levels based on environmental factors. Innovations also help with sowing, planting, harvesting, collecting, sorting and packing.
The tech scene unites Jews and Muslims
Initially the Israeli technology scene almost exclusively consisted of Jewish innovators, but increasingly involves both Jews and Muslims. In 2008 there were just 350 Israeli Muslim high-tech engineers, almost exclusively men. Now, there are around 7,000, and notably, around a quarter of them are women.
This reflects a large increase in young Muslim citizens, who tend to come from more economically disadvantaged backgrounds than their Jewish counterparts, attending university and specialist high-tech training courses, in part due to pro-active recruitment programs, and also due to initiatives like the US Embassy’s partnership with Israeli businesses, civil society organizations, former participants in US exchange programs, and the Israeli government.
Together with its partners, the US Embassy provides funding for the training of engineers, which creates an opportunity for disadvantaged people to understand the environment of modern technology. The embassy also works to encourage the establishment of new high-tech companies in Muslim cities.
It is widely suggested that economic endeavors that unite Jews and Muslims help pave the way for peaceful relations. In 2018, then-US ambassador to Israel David Friedman told the audience at an economic conference in the Muslim city of Nazareth: “In the long term, peace in this region depends on the economic development and cooperation of people like you, Muslims, Jews, secular, religious, Israelis and Palestinians.”