Future’s Fuel

Israel in pole position leading a competitive pack in hydrogen innovation

Rolene Marks

Countries around the world are looking for alternative solutions to fossil fuels. One of the alternatives is hydrogen. Israel is a leader in many fields and innovation around hydrogen is no different. View Lay of the land Co-Founder, Rolene Marks insert on CNA (Channel News Asia) by clicking on the link below:


Efforts to develop alternative energy solutions in Israel amid climate change | Video





While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

Respect for Freedoms

Israel scores high on Freedom House Global Score

By Bev Goldman

“Freedom House works to defend human rights and promote democratic change, with a focus on political rights and civil liberties. We act as a catalyst for freedom through a combination of analysis, advocacy, and action. Our analysis, focused on 13 central issues, is underpinned by our international program work.”

Freedom House is a non-profit NGO that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom, and human rights in countries across the globe. Founded in October 1941, its first honorary chairpersons were Wendell Willkie, the 1940 Republican nominee for President of the USA, and Eleanor Roosevelt, former and longest-serving first lady of the USA; and it is founded on the core conviction that freedom flourishes in democratic nations where governments are accountable to their people.

A Force for Freedom. A central figure among Freedom House’s early leaders was First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt seen here holding up the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights in November 1949. Eleanor Roosevelt was a strong supporter of Israel from that nation’s founding in 1948 until her death in 1962.

In analysing the countries, Freedom House speaks out against the main threats to democracy while encouraging citizens to exercise their fundamental rights through a unique combination of analysis, advocacy, and offering direct support to frontline defenders of freedom, especially those working in closed authoritarian societies. 

As an independent watchdog organization, its research and analysis focus on the progress and decline of freedom across the globe by empowering human rights defenders and civic activists to advance democratic change.

The 2020 Freedom House Annual Report on Israel is impartial, objective and candid, acknowledging the government’s faults but giving credit wherever it is due, and presenting a picture which to Israel’s enemies would be anathema, but to those who recognise her strengths, it is factual and accurate.

The report begins with an introduction, followed by rigorous analysis of the issues on which they focus: 

“Israel is a multiparty democracy with strong and independent institutes that guarantee political rights and civil liberties for most of the population. Although the judiciary is comparatively active in protecting minority rights, the political leadership and many in society have discriminated against Arab and other ethnic or religious minority populations, resulting in systemic disparities in areas including political representation, criminal justice, education, and economic opportunity.”

The coverage then focuses on the topic of free and fair elections. The report notes that the Central Elections Committee (CEC), which is composed of delegations representing the various political groups in the Knesset and chaired by a Supreme Court judge, guarantees the fairness and integrity of elections, and acknowledges that they are generally peaceful and orderly with results accepted by all parties.

Regarding political pluralism and participation, the reports delineates Israel’s multiparty system as “diverse” and “competitive” but adds that parties or candidates that deny Israel’s Jewish character, oppose democracy, or incite racism are prohibited.  It then includes comments by critics of the 2016 law – which allows the removal of any members who incite racism or support armed struggle against the state of Israel with a three-quarters majority vote – alleging that it is aimed at silencing Arab representatives.

Vibrant Voting. Israel’s “diverse” and “competitive” national elections always attract high turnouts. Seen here are people casting their ballot at a voting station in Jerusalem on March 2, 2020 in an election that at the end of voting, the committee put turnout at 71%. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The report illustrates the fact that while women generally enjoy full political rights in law and in practice, they are somewhat underrepresented in leadership positions and can encounter additional obstacles in parties and communities – both Jewish and Arab – that are associated with religious or cultural conservatism.

It discusses further that Arab residents of East Jerusalem have the option of obtaining Israeli citizenship in order to be allowed to vote, though most decline for political reasons. While these non-citizens are entitled to vote in municipal as well as Palestinian Authority (PA) elections, most of them have traditionally boycotted Israeli municipal balloting.

The report observes that Israel’s basic laws are considered equivalent to a constitution (which the country does not have). It adds that in 2018, the Knesset adopted a new “basic law” – the Nation-State Law – which granted only to Jewish people the right to exercise self-determination in the State of Israel. Those opposing it, according to further research done, claimed that it created a framework for the erosion of non-Jewish citizens’ political and civil rights.

This report was released before the election of the current coalition and stated that no Arab party had ever been formally included in a governing coalition, nor did Arabs generally serve in senior positions in government. But the current government under Naftali Bennett is the first to include an independent Arab Israeli party as an official member of the governing coalition. How things change!

History in the Making. An Arab dentist, Mansour Abbas, leader of the Islamist party  Ra’am, emerged as the “Kingmaker” in the 2020 Israel election and made history by ensuring for the first time an Arab party joined a governing coalition.

Israel’s laws, political practices, civil society groups and independent media are recognised as generally ensuring a significant level of governmental transparency, though corruption cases are not infrequent and high-level corruption investigations are regularly held. Israel’s judiciary is especially lauded in the report for its independence and its regular rulings against the government. As an addendum to this, the Supreme Court is verified as having played a crucial role in protecting minority groups and overturning decisions by the government and the parliament when they threaten human rights; and court rulings are almost always adhered to by the State, involving both Israeli citizens and Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Moving forward, the report commends Israel’s media as being among the most vibrant and free of any country. But while criticism of government policy is uninhibited, vociferous, candid, and forthright, the rules differ for print articles on security matters which are routinely subject to a military censor. Security considerations are behind the action of the Government Press Office which withholds press cards from journalists to restrict them from entering Israel. While a law passed in 2017 allows police and prosecutors to obtain court orders to block websites publishing criminal or offensive content, the report acknowledges that freedom of expression advocates are concerned that the same law could suppress legitimate speech if applied indiscriminately.

The report applauds Israel’s commendable respect for total freedom of religion, notwithstanding the fact that the country defines itself as a Jewish state. In matters of marriage, divorce and burial, Christian, Muslim, and Baha’i communities have jurisdiction over their own members, but it mentions that while the Orthodox govern personal status matters among Jews, this power they wield is often objected to by many non-Orthodox and secular Jews. It is also revealed that while the law further protects the religious sites of non-Jewish groups, the latter face discrimination in the allocation of state resources.

Mention is made of the ever-present security concerns in Israel which forced Israeli authorities to set varying limits on access to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif in East Jerusalem in recent years, affecting worshippers across the broader area. However, in 2018 the government lifted restrictions on Jewish lawmakers visiting the site, restrictions that had been in place for nearly three years, a move much approved of by the citizens.

Jitters in Jerusalem. Freedom of worship is guaranteed in Israel but becomes problematic when praying at places held sacred to both religions as seen with Israeli security forces standing guard, as a group of Jews visit the Temple Mount (Al-Aqsa) compound in Jerusalem, on July 18, 2021. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

With reference to education, all primary and secondary education is national but is divided into multiple public-school systems (state, state-religious, Haredi, and Arabic). A law passed in 2018 bans groups that favour legal action abroad against Israeli soldiers, or that otherwise undermine state educational goals by criticizing the military, from entering Israeli schools or interacting with students.

Israel’s universities are celebrated as being open to all students and have long been vocal centres for argument, protest, and discord; but again, security concerns have resulted in restricted movement and limited access for West Bank and Gaza residents/students. 

Campus Freedom. A clear show of tolerance and freedom, it is no problem for hundreds of Israeli Arab students to demonstrate against Israel on “Nakba Day” at Tel Aviv University.  Arab students registered at Tel Aviv University comprise about 14.5% of the total number of registered students. (Photo: Al Ittihad).

The report refers to the persistent threat of small-scale terrorist attacks in Israel which usually involve stabbings or vehicle onslaughts; and this is combined with ongoing rocket and artillery fire from Syria and the Gaza Strip. While Israeli soldiers are always on alert, trying to obtain the truth from the terrorists, the report adds that while the Supreme Court banned torture in a 1999 ruling, it said that “physical coercion might be permissible during interrogations in cases involving an imminent threat. Human rights organizations accuse the authorities of continuing to use psychological threats and pressure, painful binding, and humiliation.”

Freedom of assembly in Israel permits protests and demonstrations which are typically peaceful. However, some protest activities – such as desecration of the flag of Israel or a friendly country – are seen as criminal acts and draw serious criminal penalties.

Education for All. The number of Arab students in Israeli universities grows 78% in 7 years. Seen here are Arab Israeli students at the campus of Givat Ram at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
 

Regarding NGOs, particularly those engaged in human rights – and governance-related work, the report observes that a 2016 law states that NGOs that receive more than half of their funding from foreign governments must disclose this fact publicly. The measure mainly affects groups associated with the political left that oppose Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. But foreign funding for right-leaning groups that support Jewish settlements in the West Bank, for example, more often comes from private sources.

The report deals with additional issues including freedom for labour organisations; due process in criminal and civil cases; freedom of movement; personal and social freedoms; equal treatment of all sectors of society; and equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation among others. However, they were not covered because of space constraints.

True Colours. A clear image of freedom and liberalism is Israel’s annual Pride Parades that attract hundreds of thousands of people from across the world. The parades are the largest in Asia and the Middle East. (photo:Guy Yechiely)

The final summation awarded Israel 73 out of a possible 100 points on the Freedom House Global Score, acknowledging it to be a free state, one of 77 out of 196. Included in those not free, with very low results (some in brackets), are Algeria, China (9), Egypt, Gaza Strip (11), Iran (16), Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Liberia, Oman, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia (7), South Sudan (2), Sudan, Syria (1), Turkey, UAE, West Bank and Yemen. All Israel’s enemies.

The results speak for themselves.


About the writer:

Bev Goldman national president of the Union of  Jewish Women South Africa (UJW), worked for many years in education and journalism, and she holds a master’s degree in Feminist Literature. Prior to joining the SA Zionist Federation where she dealt with media and education for 12 years, she was the editor of the ‘Who’s Who’ of Southern Africa; a member of WordWize which taught English language skills to Russian and Polish immigrants in South Africa; an occasional lecturer in English at RAU (now the University of Johannesburg); and Director of Educational Programmes at Allenby In-Home Studies.  Currently, she runs the Media Team Israel for the SA Zionist Federation; she sits on the Board of Governors of the Rabbi Cyril Harris Community Centre (RCHCC); she is an executive member of the International Council of Jewish Women (ICJW); and she edits and proofs Masters and PhD dissertations.





While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

Blue & White….and Green!

How the Innovation Nation pivots to focus on the fight against Climate Change

By Rolene Marks

Scotland is a country of exquisite beauty, fascinating history and is home to one of my favourite things, good whisky. Over the last few weeks, Scotland has played host to a slew of world leaders, climate activists, Royals, NGO’s, media and innovators as they descended on the picturesque city of Glasgow for the United Nations COP26 conference to discuss ways to tackle the threat of climate change. Israel took a 140 strong delegation with a massive press presence. Unlike some folk who flew in by private jet (sigh), an El Al commercial plane was chartered. Kosher haggis anyone?

Leading the Israeli delegation was Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett. This would not only be an opportunity for the PM to strut our green innovation credentials on the world stage; but also would provide an opportunity for us to see if he could step up to Statesmanship, a challenge issued by Her Majesty, the Queen, in her televised address to world leaders.

And Bennett did exactly that.

Rubbing shoulders with world leaders, Royalty and captains of industry, the message delivered from the Israeli leaders was that the start-up nation didn’t come to play – we came to slay!

This was also an opportunity for PM Bennett to tell the world all about the groundbreaking technology and chutzpah that has earned Israel the reputation of the start-up or innovation nation.

Marrying both his career as a politician and tech company owner, raising capital and awareness seems to be a natural fit. The Prime Minister addressed the plenary to speak about how Israel is poised to become a major player in the fights against climate change using our brain power and boundless energy:

Change of Climate. PM Naftali Bennett addresses the UN Climate Conference in Glasgow with Israel’s message to the world: Don’t panic – we made the desert bloom.

While Israel is relatively late to the climate fight in some ways, in other ways we have been leading for decades. As countries signed the pledge to increase deforestation at COP26, it must be noted that Israel has been planting trees since the inception of the modern state, turning our deserts into flourishing forests. It is roughly estimated that 250 000 000 trees have been planted in this tiny country!

This may even result in a rare sighting of the lesser spotted HAPPY Greta Thunberg! Yes, the scowling-leader-berating teenage climate activist may even crack a smile at this news!

Act Now. Named the “People’s Advocate” of the UN Climate Change Conference or COP26, Sir Richard Attenborough has been using every opportunity to speak out about the climate crisis and implore world leaders to listen to citizens’ calls to act.

International treasure, Sir David Attenborough, he of the dulcet tones and astounding knowledge about the world’s fauna and flora, has called for solutions to many of the challenges facing us today. The nonagenarian has spoken about water as the most valuable resource for sustaining life on earth. It was extremely gratifying to hear Prime Minister Bennett tell the world that Israel is the leading country when it comes to waste water recycling. Living in a desert climate where water is our most valuable commodity, we have learnt to parlay our concerns – and chutzpah – into finding workable solutions.

Meeting Royalty. Prime Minister Bennett chats to HRH, The Duchess of Cambridge about engaging the youth on climate change. (Image GPO)

Workable solutions is what Israel does best! During his COP26 speech, Bennett spoke about Israel’s creation of a “Green Sandbox”, a plan that will attract investment into green technology. The government has also allocated NIS15.5billion towards combatting climate change and President Herzog has set up a fund under his patronage with over 130 innovators, thinkers and NGO’s committed to this as well.

Even Bill Gates sat up and took notice! The Microsoft-founder and philanthropist, acknowledged Israel’s reputation as a leader in innovation and announced his foundation would be working with the Jewish state to find solutions to the challenges we face.

Meeting of Minds. “We can solve climate change if we accelerate innovation,” says Bill Gates (left) meeting with Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on the sidelines of the COP26 UN climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland on November 2, 2021. (Haim Tzach / GPOBill )

This is not just about dealing with change to the climate, but also how this impacts on our regional security. It is believed that the Middle East is one of those areas greatly impacted by the climate crisis. As if we didn’t have enough to worry about!

But it is not all doom and gloom – in fact Israel stands poised to lead in finding sustainable solutions. To date, there are 637 start-ups and growth companies developing climate technologies, and the five challenge areas are:

Climate Smart Agriculture, Clean Energy Systems, Sustainable Mobility & Transport, Eco-Efficient Water Infrastructure, and Alternative Proteins. Most of these innovative companies are young, up to seven years old, with roughly 10 employees.

The Greening of Israel. The Jewish state is one of the only nations in the world that entered the 21st century with more trees than it had 100 years ago. Since its inception, Israel has been devoted to sustainable forest management and afforestation, planting trees mostly in areas with arid and semi-arid climates.

More than 560 private investment entities have invested in Israeli climate companies, mostly venture capital funds, out of which two-thirds are foreign investment entities – and this number is expected to grow.

The next UN Climate Conference, COP27 will be held in Egypt in 2022. This is right on our doorstep! With ties between our two countries starting to significantly warm up, you can bet that Israel will have a significant presence there.

Israel on Board. Ahead of the COP26 Climate Conference bringing over 75 countries to pledge to Paris Agreement goals, Israel announced that it will seek to reduce its carbon emissions by 2050 in order to combat the global climate crisis.

Israel is ready to plant her flag firmly in the fight to meet the challenges posed by climate change

Our flag is there waving in the wind-turbined air – proudly blue, white ……..and green!






While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

Planting the Seeds to City Survival

Is urban farming a solution for South Africa?

By  Kenneth Mokgatlhe

It is estimated that nearly half of the adult population of South African live in poverty.

It was reported in April this year, 2021, that of the 60 million South Africans, 10.2 million experienced hunger on a weekly basis according to the Nids-Cram and approximately 2.4 million faced perpetual hunger. One viable way to address this is by developing backyard and rooftop gardens that are inexpensive to maintain. 

The rising unemployment figures and effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have worsened the hunger situation in South Africa. It is evident that hunger threatens social stability as evidenced by increased criminal activity as a direct effect of poverty.

It is time to think out of the box. Recently, the Jewish National Fund of South Africa (JNF-SA) hosted an important webinar:

Survival in our cities, food and water security – A South African crisis, is urban farming a solution?

It is unacceptable and should be embarrassing that our country has such an alarming number of its people enduring hunger.

Food for Thought. Israel and South African experts provide fascinating insights on the problem of food security in South Africa.

The National Income Dynamics Study Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (Nids-Cram) has collected data on a broadly nationally representative sample of South African households covering the period from May 2020 to March 2021. This is the period wherein the country has been under lockdown regulations with vast number of people losing their jobs or having had to take salary cuts.

Stressing the importance of food security as well as the quality of the food, webinar panelist Dr. Naude Malan, a senior lecturer at the University of Johannesburg’s Development Studies, said:

Supermarket food is pretty expensive compared to the food which we produce for ourselves. A farmer can actually make a really good living by selling food at less than retail/market prices and still dominate the competition. You will capture the market and create a livelihood.”

Through ConvenesiZindaba Zokudla (Conversations about Food), Dr.Malan is working with the local communities around the province of Gauteng to create opportunities for urban agriculture in a sustainable food system. 

Urban Renewal. Dr. Naude Malan from the University of Johannesburg’s Development Studies is working with the local communities around Gauteng to create opportunities for urban agriculture.

One of the beneficiaries of this noble project is a family from Orange Farm, south of Johannesburg who own a state-sponsored house referred to as “RDP”  – a house that was built as part of a government-funded social housing project. The family have converted their parking space into a garden which they are using to feed themselves and sell the surplus to the community for profit.

Panelist Siyabonga Ndlangamandla, a BSc in Biological Science graduate, is one of the vibrant young South Africans who are using their knowledge to solve hunger problems in many struggling black communities. He is a board member of an enterprising and innovative organisation called Makers Valley whose priorities are food security and social matters.

Back to Basics. Through Makers Valley (above), SiyabongaNdlangamandla is encouraging the local inhabitants to develop small gardens in their backyard.

What is disturbing for me is the food waste that we are experiencing in our cities. While there is so much food coming to our cities so much is not being consumed. That is one of our biggest challenges in the food system,” said Ndlangamandla.

Through Makers Valley, Ndlangamandla, has encouraged the local inhabitants to develop small gardens in their backyard. “Low-income communities are more likely to install a shack to rent it out than start a garden.” Over and above the food problem, “There is also a water problem in South Africa,” reminded Ndlangamandla.

Orange Alert. A project underway at the Orange Farm community 40km South of Johannesburg where the township  – one of the largest informal settlements in South Africa, with most estimates giving a population of 1 million people – faces challenges of poverty, low levels of literacy, lack of basic services, lack of health care facilities, unemployment  and increasing crime.

Not only a scarce resource in South Africa, water is also expensive  – especially in cities. Most, if not all community protests regarding service delivery are mainly about shortage or lack of water. This makes gardening or agriculture challenging for the weaker sectors of society.

Contributing to the panel discussion from Israelwas Dorit Chassid, a Sustainability Manager at Dizengoff Center shopping mall in Tel Aviv. She illuminated a path forward by presenting a whole host of the work that they are doing on the rooftop of the mall named after the city’s famous and first mayor, Meir Dizengoff.

Today, Dizengoff Center houses a variety of activities in the field of urban sustainability like hosting school kids for planting trees activity, investing in energy saving systems, a center for hydroponic urban gardening on the Centre’s roof and more.

High Rise Solutions.  Roof top cultivation on Dizengoff Center in Tel Aviv.

Not having access to land is no excuse for not starting a garden project; there is the option of doing it on top of the roof on tables, with or without soil. 

We have school children whom we teach about sustainability; we have lots of tools and we bring people to see the work that we are doing,” explains Chassid. “We have bats and we teach people about the importance of bats into our ecosystem. We also have beehives on the rooftop; we do them in a natural way. We do not harvest honey, we do not do anything to harm the bees; we just let them be there,” said Chassid

We bring about 1, 500 children each year to plant small trees on the rooftop of the mall which we sell when they are ready for planting, and the money is donated all over Israel,” Chassid added.

Leading Light. Panelist from Israel, Sustainability Manager at Dizengoff Center shopping mall in Tel Aviv, Dorit Chassid.

No less inspirational was the insights and suggestions from the founder of Green Roof Designs (a specialized environmental design company), Dr. Clive Greenstone, who works on various projects that deal with urban design, sustainable development, urban ecology, urban resilience and urban landscape activation designs.

Offering tailor-made greening solutions to enhance building functionality and design, Green Roof Designs provides a complete greening scheme including green roofs and ground level planting schemes.

Dr. Greenstone said that there are large, flat, and empty rooftops that are abundant throughout South African cities on institutional, private, residential, industrial, municipal, and commercial buildings.

These underutilized spaces are ideal locations to rethink urban spaces and create urban greening advancements. Very little research has been done in reimagining the socio-environmental benefits of developing these underutilized spaces to improve human-environmental relations within the cities.”

Going Green. Dr Clive Greenstone (right) with his Green Team Green Roof in Ixopo, KwaZulu-Natal in ‎2011.

Listening to these panelists on the JNF (SA) webinar, it was evident to this writer that one of the main ways to combat hunger in my country of South Africa is to develop backyard or rooftop gardens. Food that we buy from our supermarkets is not as cheap nor as healthy as the food we could and should grow ourselves in our backyards or rooftops. Every family should start a garden that will serve the family and the surplus could be sold to those who do not own a garden.

This is one of the sustainable ways to deal with the hunger and labour market challenges facing South Africa today.



About the writer:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Kenneth-Mokgatlhe1.png

Kenneth Mokgatlhe is a freelance writer and political commentator from Zeerust, North West Province, South Africa.








While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

Zzapping Malaria

One of the most dangerous creatures in the world is one of the smallest – the mosquito. Coming to the rescue is one of the smallest counties in the world – Israel.

By Kenneth Mokgatlhe

Who is not afraid of sharks but in 2019 they killed only two people, which is below the average of four. Yet malaria, carried by mosquitoes, kills more than 400,000 people per year, most of them babies and toddlers in sub-Saharan Africa. While much of the world is obsessed with the danger that which kills two a year, Israel, whose Jerusalem-based start-up, ZzappMalaria, aims to eliminate malaria – a mass killer – by applying Artificial Intelligence (AI). Towards this lifesaving goal – particularly for Africa where I am from – the company has grabbed the world’s biggest prize for innovation – the XPRIZE.

Meet the Team using AI to Eradicate Malaria. The ZzappMalaria team (left to right): Eugene Rozenberg, Lea Leiman, Michael Ben Aharon, Founder and CEO Arnon Houri-Yafin, Arbel Vigodny, Yonatan Fialkoff

For those unfamiliar, XPRIZE is a non-profit organization whose mission is to bring about “radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity” through incentivized competition.

Developing a mobile app and dashboard to help eliminate Malaria, ZzappMalaria, won first place in the IBM Watson AI XPRIZE Competition, as well as the People’s Choice Award for the Most Inspiring Team. As part of the award, the company received a $3 million prize to continue its efforts to eliminate malaria from the world.

Tiny Terrors. Image of mosquito larvae in stagnant water by James Gathany of the CDC in PLoS Biology, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. AI helps zap mosquito larvae before they become a problem.

The Zzapp team is deeply grateful to Xprize and IBM Watson for acknowledging the importance of the fight against malaria,” said Arnon Houri-Yafin, CEO and founder of ZzappMalaria. “We will dedicate the prize money to one ambitious goal: demonstrating that rapid malaria elimination is possible in Sub Saharan Africa.”

Making the World Safer. ZzappMalaria COO Arbel Vigodny speaks at IBM Watson AI XPRIZE at TED in the TED World Theater, February 12, 2020, New York, NY. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED

So how does it work? Zzapp uses AI to provide specific malaria-control strategies depending on the needs of each village or neighborhood. Then, it breaks down those strategies into clear and manageable tasks. Tasks are allocated to fieldworkers via its mobile app designed for local needs, such as battery consumption, internet access, and more. To date, the app has been tested in six African countries and has succeeded in increasing the effectiveness of operations designed to tackle Malaria.

Brought to Task. The Zzapp app assigns tasks to field workers based on AI analysis of mosquito breeding conditions. (Photo courtesy of Zzapp Malaria)

Attracted by ZzappMalaria’s aim to eradicate malaria worldwide by developing a system to “plan, execute, and monitor large-scale and cost-affecting malaria elimination campaigns”, the 2016-founded company has won grants from the Gates Foundation and the Innovative Vector Control Consortium (IVCC) and has been conducting anti-malaria operations in Ghana, Zanzibar, Kenya, and Ethiopia.

It is very gratifying to know that our technology is saving lives on a daily basis. In fact, our pilot product currently protects more than 300,000 people,” said Houri-Yafin. “ZzappMalaria’s app – which is GPS-based and works offline – is suited to work in the harshest conditions.”

Scanning for Safety. A field worker uses ZzappMalaria to scan bodies of water set for treatment. (Courtesy)

“It simplifies our work considerably,” says Dr. Abebe Asale from the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology, a research body in Ethiopia which specializes in malaria. “Despite the technology’s sophistication, the app and the dashboard are very intuitive and user-friendly. In an operation in the Amhara region in 2019, we located all of the water bodies, which is usually a great challenge. The technology saved us time and energy, and in prioritizing severely affected villages.”

Although malaria is not a major public health problem in South Africa as yet, the country needs to be better prepared in order to ensure that the disease does not burden our over-extended public health care sector. It can do so by adopting efficient measures such as the AI method developed by ZzappMalaria. The notion of “prevention is better than cure” should reign supreme in our heads to ensure that our public health is prepared.

The Beauty of the App. The Israeli app can be used without internet connectivity by workers in fields. (Photo: ZzappMalaria)

About 10% of South Africa’s population (4.9 million) is at risk of contracting malaria, largely in the provinces of Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Kwazulu-Natal. This is a significant number that should be a concern to all of us in South Africa. Malaria is a curable and treatable disease as long as it is diagnosed as quickly as possible. However, it is fatal if not done so in the earlier stages. That is where this new app becomes so vital. So, while many countries of Africa are increasingly availing themselves of life-saving Israeli technology and expertise, South Africa should too for the health and future health of its people.  

Acting on Info. With the information provided, spraying mosquito larvae in Ghana. (Photo by Arbel Vigodny/ZZapp Malaria)
 

As the world is facing a life-threatening Covid-19 pandemic, we are able to see the importance of life-saving discoveries in reducing casualties. It is clear that failure to avail ourselves of new available technologies, the price to be paid would be higher than what we are paying presently

ZzappMalaria has inspired confidence in those who were in despair and had accepted malaria as part of their being. Now, thanks to this Israeli company, there is much greater hope that malaria would be eradicated in our lifetime.


About the writer:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Kenneth-Mokgatlhe1.png

Kenneth Mokgatlhe is a freelance writer and political commentator from Zeerust, North West Province, South Africa.







While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).



On High Ground

The Hills of Yodfat are Alive with the Sound of Hebrew

By David E. Kaplan

It is a Kaplan family Bar Mitzvah in the quant intimate shul (synagogue) at Yodfat, a moshav in northern Israel in the picturesque high mountains of the Lower Galilee. The shul is packed – mostly with animated children of all ages. Following my brother Sidney  as both a Cohen and grandfather to the Barmitzvah boy Yoav being called up first for an Aliyah  – I followed.

The Children are our Future. The children of Yodfat singing a song to the Bar Mitzvah boy – Yoav Kaplan. His grandsfather, Sidney Kaplan (right) was a founding member of the nearby South African moshav – Manof.

I made my way, maneuvering the short joyful journey between children sitting on bunk benches in the isle, I ascend the Bimah and before reciting the blessing for the reading of the Torah, I look up and to the right of the ark out a wide window and saw the green valley leading to the mountain-top fortresses of Yodfat.

It is no ordinary vista that this shul looks out on!

Embedded into the physical landscape of modern Israel, it is in the psychological landscape that this ancient Jewish fortress  stands as a stark and dark reminder of those enemies that may come to try erase Jewish life from this land. It happened 2000 years ago and began the process of exile until 1948, but the same battle persists. “Rome” has other names today.

I recite the prayer; the Barmitzvah boy reads from the Torah and I smile as I look at all the children who are armed to their teeth with sweets to later throw at Yoav when he has completed his Haftarah, to wish him a “sweet” life as he makes the transition to adulthood. I then momentarily reflect on who was armed to the teeth at this very same spot 2000 years earlier – ROMANS – and not with sweets!

War and Peace. Looking out from where the Roman legions were positioned 2000 years ago to modern day moshav Yodfat in the background where the synagogue is perched on the crest of the hill.

What bloodily played out on these ochre hilltops created a narrative that continues to caution and inspire ensuing generations of Israelis.

Walking to the shul earlier, I breathed in the fresh country air and feasted my eyes on the valley with its vineyards and orchards, olive trees, and goats roaming in the distance tended by a young shepherd. The scene was pastoral and peaceful – a far cry from the cataclysmic clash of arms that occurred at this exact spot in 67 CE when heroic Jewish fighters took on the might of the Roman Empire.

Time to Rejoice. Grandfather Sydney Kaplan speaking in Hebrew to his grandson Yoav at the Bar Mizvah reception in a garden overlooking the site of the tragic Roman siege 2000 years earlier.

In early June of that year, a force of 1,000 Roman cavalrymen arrived at Yodfat to seal off the town, defended by Jewish forces commanded by Yosef Ben Matityahu (the future Flavius Josephus). Prior to the Roman assault, Ben Matityahu had fortified nineteen of the most important towns of the region, including Yodfat.After a failed attempt to confront the Roman army at Tzipori, he retired to Tiberias, but soon thereafter established himself at Yodfat, drawing the Roman legions to the town. A day later at the foothills not far from the shul where we were proudly celebrating Yoav’s Barmitzvah, stood the amassed Roman legions of the Fifth, Tenth and Fifteenth as well as auxiliaries consisting of Arabian archers and Syrian slingers led by General Vespasian and supported by his son Titus, who would both emerge as future emperors of Rome.

These Roman “occupiers” meant business. Literally ‘Dressed to kill’, they aspired to crush an uprising that would become known in history as “The Great Jewish revolt” or “The Jewish War”. This was 2000 years ago and long before anyone ever heard of Palestinians!

Hill of Hereos. The ancient town of Yodfat was positioned on this isolated hill hidden between high peaks, surrounded on three sides by steep ravines.  During the “Great Revolt” in year 67 CE – Yodfat, the last stronghold of Jewish resistance after the fall of Zippori – was besieged by three Roman legions and resisted for 47 days before the city fell.  

I return from the Bimah to take my seat next to my brother. We exchange comments about the lively atmosphere with loving parents battling to keep some decorum amongst their animated kids – mostly friends of the Barmitzvah boy. It’s a sheer Shabbos delight. And then I contrast this image of an imagined one of Jewish kids 2000 years earlier looking down at the Roman legions with their frightening coloured attire and menacing siege machines. It was laughter today; it was fear then. It should never again be the other way around – ever!

Romans came Prepared. A typical Roman siege machine that the defenders at Yodfat would have faced.

Vespasian had pitched his own camp north of the town, facing  the only accessible side, while his forces surrounded the city. An assault against the wall on the second day of the siege failed, and after several days in which the Jewish defenders made a number of successful sorties against his forces, Vespasian changed tactics.  He instructed for the building of a siege ramp against the city walls, and when these works were disrupted by the Jews, Vespasian set 160 engines, catapults and ballistas  – backed by lightly armed troops, slingers and archers – to dislodge the defiant defenders from the walls. These were in turn met with repeated sallies by the besieged, but work on the ramp continued, raising it to the height of the battlements and forcing Ben Matityahu to have the walls themselves raised.  Roman measure was met with Jewish countermeasure and the battle ebbed and flowed…..

Peace and Tranquility. The only connection today of Yodfat to the times of conquering Rome is that its pastoral beauty is often described as “Shades of Tuscany”.

As always with such sieges, water was an issue for the defenders on top of a high hill so Ben Matityahu had Yodfat’s limited supply of water rationed before the siege began. The Romans had heard of this and began to use their artillery to target any efforts to draw water, hoping to exacerbate an already difficult situation and bring a swift end to the siege. The defenders, in a far-in-the-future future Mossad type of maneuver, cunningly confounded the Romans by wringing out their clothes over the battlements until the walls were running with water, leading the Romans to believe the Jews had some hidden supply of water.

According to Ben Matityahu, later writing as Josephus, this taunting had a twin effect – one negative and one positive. It strengthened Roman resolve but it also steeled the mettle of the defenders to fight, preferring to die by the sword than from thirst or starvation.

Man with Menace. A statue of Emperor Vespasian who in 66 AD was appointed to suppress the Jewish revolt underway in Judea.

There was of course an atmosphere of inevitability where this was ultimately heading. “Proportionality” was never a consideration in Vespasian’s battle plans to expunge a Jewish presence at Yodfat.

With the completion of the assault ramp, Vespasian ordered a battering ram  brought up against the wall. The defenders responded with ingenuity.  They lowered sacks filled with chaff to absorb the blows, they set fire to the ram and as chronicled by Josephus, one of the defenders, renowned for his strength, cast a huge stone on the ram from above, breaking off its head.

This infuriated the Romans. A physical act but it was also symbolic – decapitating the “head” of a war machine. This shortly took on a new meaning when the “head” – the future Emperor Vespasian himself was wounded by a defender’s dart. The Romans were so incensed driving their assault to a fever pitch but still were beaten back.

Eventually, on July 20, 67, a band of Romans reportedly led by Titus himself, stealthily scaled the walls, cut the throats of the watch and opened the gates, letting in the entire Roman army.

What followed was a slaughter. While the descendants today of some of Rome’s conquered like in modern day Britton may cherish the famed Roman baths, Yodfat records only a Roman blood bath!

According to Josephus, 40,000 were slain or committed suicide and 1,200 women and infants were taken into slavery. Vespasian ordered the town demolished and its walls torn down and prohibited burial of the fallen. It was only a year or more later when Jews were allowed to return to bury the remains in caves and cisterns.

Yodfat Today.  Enjoy the fun of Yodfat today by visiting “Boacha Yodfat” (literally, “As you approach Yodfat”) – a recreation and shopping center, located in a grove of oaks, providing stunning views. Here you will find stores, a gallery, a jewelry studio, a delicatessen, a dairy café, a bakery and a nearby “Monkey Forest”.

So even on this day 2000 years later, the sound of innocent chatter and laughter soliciting reprimands from the rabbi, were to me like music to the ears.

If the few surviving children of ancient Yodfat were cruelly sold off into slavery never to return, Jews did RETURN and today’s young children in the shul of modern Yodfat on this Shabbat were sending a strong message – this was our home 2000 years ago and is our home today.

Nothing more audibly conveys this message than that Latin  – the language of Rome –  is today a dead language while the hills of Yodfat are alive with the sound of Hebrew!


L’Chaim – “to Life”. Two thousand years later, there is much to toast about at Yodfaf as seen by these visitors enjoying the good life at “Boacha Yodfat”






While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

Tel Aviv is Alive, Well and Pedaling

By Stephen Schulman

These times are troubled and turbulent with the Covid-19 Virus taking its toll, reaping illnesses and deaths and like the rest of the planet, Israel has not been immune. There have been and still are lockdowns with businesses closed, people losing their livelihoods, being confined to homes, and much attendant suffering.

Nevertheless, in spite of restrictions on movement and being limited to a certain radius from their homes, Israeli citizens have been allowed a respite; to leave their domiciles for sporting activities and exercise provided that it is not done in groups. Throughout the length and breadth of the country many people have taken advantage of this proviso and with gusto, have filled the paths and trails from Kiryat Shmona in the north down to southerly Eilat.

North to South. The writer participating in the Israel Road Cycling Challenge that crosses the Golan, connecting over 850 miles (1400km) of single track and dirt tracks from the snowy peak of Mt. Hermon in the north to the sun-soaked Red Sea city of Eilat.

Alongside their pedestrian paths, many cities and local councils with a growing awareness and appreciation of this sport have also paved parallel cycle lanes and Tel Aviv and its metropolis is no exception to the rule. Moreover, possessing a cosmopolitan ambience with a round the clock activity, with its flat topography, large parks, seaside promenade, multitude of cycling lanes and many hire bike stations, the city has become a Mecca for cyclists. In this difficult period, there has been a two wheeled renaissance as many Israelis have discovered and rediscovered the joys of cycling. Bicycle shops are bustling, the demand is great and many disappointed customers have found that cycles are in short supply.

Two-Wheel Fun in the Sun. Ideal weather for most the year, Israelis  have taken to cycling in a huge way. (Photo via Shutterstock)

Tel Aviv boasts a great cycling path that runs alongside the sea. It starts from the Old City of Jaffa, continues along the Herbert Samuel beach promenade to the Old Port of Tel Aviv, then turning north via Reading power station stretches until the Tel Baruch beach and then goes even further, ending at the marina in Herzlia. This picturesque route is daily thronged with cyclists of all ages and all sizes riding a wide variety of bikes ranging from folding models with small 20 inch wheels and laid back balloon tired boulevard cruisers to expensive top range mountain and road bikes. It has become so popular that on Friday and Saturday mornings there is something akin to a traffic jam!

Coasting Along. Taking in the breeze off the Mediterranean, cycling on Tel Aviv beach promenade.

Tel Aviv off-road pedallers wishing to be closer to nature and get away ‘far from the madding crowd‘ do not lack for choice. The Yarkon River that runs through Tel Aviv with its effluence at the Old Port has single tracks aplenty. In many places, the path winds through bamboo growing along its banks and it is an inimitable experience speeding down tunnels created by their leaves and stems growing together over your head.

Cycling Comrades. The writer Stephen Schulman (right) with his cycling companion Adrian Wolff.

To their credit, the mayor and the city council identify with and encourage sport. In addition to the annual marathon, there is the Tel Aviv Rondo – the largest cycling event in the country. Every September, (except for lockdown 2020!) on an early Friday morning, well over 10,000 pre-registered cyclists assemble at the Exhibition Grounds to complete a well organized, closed off 20 km loop in the city. Experienced riders are permitted 3 circuits and even the young are well catered for with an 8km route. Nothing can compare to the experience of riding down the freeway with the wind at your back and before you, a colorful phalanx of thousands of joyful pedallers stretching far into the distance!

Sea Breeze. A group cycling tour of the coast seen here at Herzliya marina.

There are many other organized cycling events throughout the country ranging from off-road charity rides to pelotons for serious ‘roadies’. Even hilly Jerusalem has its devoted riders and hosts both off and on road events. Possibly the biggest and most traditional is the annual Ride around the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) where, on a November Saturday morning, with the sea on their right, thousands of cyclists, both young and old, from all over the country congregate to complete the more demanding 65 km circuit to then relax and picnic with family and friends on the large lawns beside the lake.

Peddling Pleasure. Seen here some years ago at the One-to-One Charity Ride Round the Sea of Galilee in aid of children who were victims of terror attacks, is the writer (left) together with former South Africans living in Israel.

Israel offers a great choice of well mapped and marked cycling routes, many of which have been planned and executed by the local and regional authorities together with a growing number of volunteer enthusiasts. A Trans-Israel cycling path is also under development.

 In the Holy Land, the range and variety of landscape is unparalleled. My cycling buddy and I have been on challenging descents on the Golan Heights, climbed single tracks in the verdant and wooded Galilee and bounced over rocks in the arid and dusty Negev Desert. But what gives us even greater pleasure is watching the growing number of keen cyclists. In our well over two decades of pedaling, we have been witnesses to how once limited to a relatively small number of groupies; the sport has mushroomed into a national pastime.

Tough at the Top. The writer participating in a grueling assent of the majestic Golan Heights.

Cycling has also become firmly ensconced within the national consciousness.  We now proudly possess a national cycling team – Israel Start-Up Nation – that has successfully competed in many prestigious international events including the Giro d’Italia  and the legendary and grueling Tour de France. About two years ago, the team, dressed in their blue and white jerseys – the color of the Israeli flag – rode in a peloton across Israel and was greeted by enthusiastic and cheering crowds along the way. How do I know? I was among them!

From Jerusalem to Rome. Elia Viviani of Italy wins the 2nd stage of the Giro d’Italia, in Tel Aviv on May 5, 2018. ( Roy Alima/FLASH90)

With the aid of mass vaccinations and some public cooperation, Israel is now slowly emerging from the lockdown and attempting to return to a normalcy.

Hopefully, the road to full recovery will not only lead upward but also be full of fellow cyclists!  

Hello from Israel. There has been a “cycling revolution” in Israel in recent years with Israel Start-Up Nation / Israel Cycling Academy competing in both the Giro d ’Italia and the Tour de France.
 



About the writer:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Stephen-Schulman1.png

Stephen Schulman is a graduate of the South African Jewish socialist youth movement Habonim, who immigrated to Israel in 1969 and retired in 2012 after over 40 years of English teaching. He was for many years a senior examiner for the English matriculation and co-authored two English textbooks for the upper grades in high school. Now happily retired, he spends his time between his family, his hobbies and reading to try to catch up on his ignorance.





While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs

“Winter of Our Discontent”

By David E. Kaplan

Little did we think when we watched a year ago the final season of ‘Game of Thrones’ and joked that “Winter is Coming” that the show’s most memorable marketing metaphor of impending doom descending on the landscape would step out of our TVs into our very lives.

Portend Poster. Advertisement of the ‘Game of Thrones’ final season – ‘Winter is Coming’.

Corona affected everyone everywhere. And like in the award-winning mythical saga of demons, dragons and the demented, in our wonky world of 2020, people perished, much of our commerce suspended or died, and a powerful leader of the most powerful nation on earth – confounded by the science, fell – to the dismay of his mega-million followers.

“Winter” came with a vengeance and we wonder if our lives will ever be the same again.

No doubt when folk turn on their TVs to watch the countdown to midnight on the 31st December and observe the fireworks first in Sydney; and then illuminate across cities circumnavigating the globe, they will be praying for some semblance of “life as we knew it.”

Diminished social intimacy and wearing masks for fear of ‘the next virus’ is not something we want in our proverbial luggage as we travel into the future!

Still, we do have to marvel.

Colouring the Future. Fireworks in Sydney, usually the first country people watch on television  heralding the New Year.

With all the pain and discomfort,  we have to tip our hats to those brave souls who day in and day out returned to the terrifying trenches, helping the inflicted and preventing those from being inflicted at great risk to themselves and their families.

The death toll from Covid-19 has surpassed the number of Americans killed in World War I and the Vietnam War combined. And this December 2020, the number of daily Covid-19 deaths in the US now surpasses the number of people who died on 9/11.  How sadly ironic that so many of the first responders in 9/11 are falling victim to Covid-19!

New York’s Finest. Retired New York Fire Marshal John Knox in 2017 is among dozens of first responders who answered the call during of 9/11 only to die of Covid-19.

First, it was the horror of that tragic day as first responders ran into the fire as debris rained down. Then followed months of grueling work to remove the bodies and clear the pile as toxic dust inevitably filled their lungs. Then came the illnesses – asthma, cancers and COPD.

And in 2020, nearly two decades later, the coronavirus pandemic – which, in so many cases, feeds off the underlying conditions like the ones 9/11 survivors developed – has finally taken their toll and in many cases, their lives. For those with already weakened lungs and immune systems, this latest challenge has been too great to endure. Beset by Corona, the list of 9/11 victims continues to grow.

And as with the 9/11 first responders, so too have been the healthcare workers on the front lines of the global effort to care for patients with COVID-19 putting themselves at risk for infection. Thousands from a multitude of countries, professions, and specialties have died, and we honour them all.

Signs of Exhaustion. Overworked medical staff catch some sleep between shifts at Chinese hospital. (Image credits: Astroboys2019)

See the Light

As in the story of Hanukkah, which Jews around the world are presently celebrating where we are reminded of miracles   – a small quantity of oil to light the Temple’s menorah miraculously lasted eight days – even today’s cynics and skeptics have to marvel as to how humanity has miraculously responded to this pandemic with rapid resourcefulness.

Questions were raised as to how we might achieve the impossible.

It was said that “it usually takes 10 years to develop a vaccine”.

I recall endless opinions and comments in the news media along the lines of from “The grim truth is that a vaccine probably won’t arrive any time soon”  to  “Our record for developing an entirely new vaccine is at least four years — more time than the public or the economy can tolerate social-distancing orders”.

Breaking News.  The first batch of Pfizer vaccines arrive at Ben Gurion International Airport with the Prime Minister reassuring the Israeli public that he would be the first  to take the vaccine.

And yet, as we in Israel saw Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein attend the arrival of a DHL freight plane transporting the first batch of Pfizer vaccines at Ben Gurion Airport on December 9, 2020, we had to marvel how this vaccine has gone from the drawing board to imminent distribution in such a short period of time.

Hands On. Light at the end of the tunnel, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu places his hand on the first batch of Pfizer coronavirus vaccines at Ben Gurion International Airport on Dec. 9, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/JINI via Xinhua)

No, it did not take years but months as people in Israel will start receiving their doses from the 27th December, four days before New Year 2020. Coronavirus czar, Nachman Ash, said he hopes Israelis will be able to celebrate Passover 2021 in an almost restriction-free manner.

I assume that in March-April we’ll already return to significant activity. My hope is that we can celebrate Passover in an almost free manner.”

Tides Turned. Israel signs agreement with Moderna for 6 million coronavirus vaccine doses.

How we in Israel recall that it was during Passover 2020 – falling during the initial outbreak of the pandemic – that the government ordered an overnight curfew, confining Israelis to their homes for the first night of the holiday.

A festivity all about celebrating FREEDOM, Passover 2021 may be the momentous milestone when we all return to FREEDOM.

Now that’s something to cheer about –  “L’chaim!”  (Hebrew “to life”) 

Israeli Foresight. “Israel was one of the first countries that believed in us,” said Chief Medical Officer at Moderna Therapeutics, Dr. Tal Zaks,  a graduate of Ben Gurion University of the Negev. Speaking to Globes,  Zaks revealed, that it was thanks to the advance agreement signed with Moderna that Israel will be among the first countries to receive doses of the company’s vaccine against Covid-19. The advance that Israel paid, said Zaks, “helped to build the company’s production lines.”
 





*Feature pictute credit: Illustration by Joseph McDermott


While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (O&EO).

A System for All Seasons

Plants having “A Field Day” in South Africa thanks to Israeli expertise

By David E. Kaplan

While South Africa poured cold water on the recent groundbreaking United Arab Emirate’s deal with Israel – expressing it was “regrettable” – Israeli companies are only too happy to provide water solutions to South Africa.

One such Israeli company is the startup SupPlant that develops a sensor-based system that autonomously waters crops according to gathered data, while optimising water consumption and alerting farmers of the status of their crops, the soil and the air.

SupPlant’s motto imbedded in its brand:  

More Produce, Less Water

One of the biggest problems in agriculture is weather.

While South Africa’s regional rainfall pattern for the 2020/21 agricultural season is encouraging as the bulk of southern Africa is expected to receive an adequate rainfall throughout the growing season, previous years of substantially less rainfall resulted in adverse impacts on agriculture, water resources and hydropower generation in much of the region.

Very hard hit were South African farmers.

The SupPlant system processes hyper-local weather forecasts and provides the farmer with irrigation recommendations for a week ahead. As an example, when a large heat wave is approaching, its system will alert the farmer and recommend the necessary steps needed to overcome this heat wave without suffering crop damage while maintaining a reasonable use of water. SupPlant has accumulated years of experience in dealing with extreme weather events around the world – including South Africa – and thus is well positioned to advise its farmers globally.

Back to the Roots

Founded in 2012 and headquartered in Afula in Israel’s picturesque Yezreel Valley, SupPlant has been active in the South African market since 2017. It started with two farms in the Western Cape that yielded impressive results in citrus and apples then subsequently expanded to the  county’s northernmost province of Limpopo.

Gamechanger. SupPlant changing the nature of agriculture.

SupPlant’s system assists farmers by providing the tools to maintain a correct irrigation regime all year long. It focuses on the needs of the crops and the changing conditions in the environment. “Using our system, farmers can manage their precious water resources correctly, prevent plant stress, reduce fruit loss, improve production, and maximize their crop potential year after year,” says Ori Ben Ner, the CEO of SupPlant.

In South Africa, “We have been able to decrease water usage by 37% in apple crops, increased lemon yield by 60% and Macadamia nuts have been increased by 21%. This is worth $4500 savings per hectare,” says Ori.

SupPlant CEO Ori Ben ner

Apple Does Not Fall Far From the Tree

CEO Ben Ner is following in the footsteps of his revered grandfather, Avner Ben Ner, who was born and raised to be a farmer in a small village in the northern part of Israel. It was  “Grandfather Ben Ner”  who came up with the original concept based on his experience – literally and figuratively –  “in the field”.

At 88, the elder Ben Ner is today still actively farming.

Very proudly CEO Ori reveals that “all of the experiments and R&D is done on grandfather’s original plot.”

All in the Family. (left-right) The farmer with ideas, “Grandfather Avner” Ben Ner, President & Founder Zohar Ben Ner and CEO Ori Ben Ner.

Today, with climates so unpredictable that can change so rapidly, “we have to rely on the available technologies to communicate with plants and prepare them for any scenario,” says Ori. “Our mission,” he asserts, “is to equip farmers and agri-businesses to manage their water challenges with the most relevant and potentially effective agronomic insights.” 

Today,  SupPlant is a world leading company in the field of “IOT” (“Internet of Things”) relating to agriculture. By shifting away from antiquated irrigation methodologies, SupPlant’s unique technology significantly saves water and improves productivity. 

How it works is that its artificial intelligence system analyses the data from the crops acquired through sensors which it then processes to provide irrigation commands.

Under Strict Surveillance. Strategically placed sensors monitor the growth of the fruit, the contractions of the stem or trunk and leaf temperature.

A lot of farmers talk about “sensing the needs of their plants” but what SupPlant has found is a way to scale the sensing: “We place sensors strategically which transmits data to the cloud on what the plant is sensing. It then translates that data through the use of artificial intelligence and big data to irrigation recommendations,” explains Ori. “We use all the data we have accumulated about 31 crops from 14 countries to create the best knowledge base.”

Look Who’s Talking. Farmers can now simply place sensors in the field and let the plants do the talking.
 

SupPlant has partnered in South Africa  with Nulandis  to service the country’s agricultural sector by assisting its farmers achieve  two goals:

– increasing crop yield

– reducing water usage 

Listening to the Plants

Farmers can now listen to their plants and hear directly how they are feeling or even likely to feel! SupPlant’s new mobile app will allow farmers to monitor plots and control their water budget from anywhere. The mobile app will  also send real-time alerts to the farmer in case the plants show a high stress level as it continuously monitors plants stress. In addition, it will alert when the soil is too moist, or a technical malfunction has occurred and will send advance notice  and recommendations  for dealing with extreme weather conditions.

A New Dawn. CEO Ori Ben-Ner at a SupPlant’s autonomous irrigation technology presentation at the UN in July 2019 says “a day where all growers in the world will be able to grow more produce and saving water – that day is now closer to reality more than ever.”  

This more intimate relationship between  man and his crops reminded me of in the 1969 musical western classic Paint Your Wagon with Clint Eastwood singing “I Talk To the Trees”.

Who would have thought that in 2020 the trees are now talking to the farmer!






While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs

Israel’s Earth Shot

Tiny in size – giant in efforts to protect the environment, Israel is leading by example

By Rolene Marks

Israel is this extraordinary geographical dichotomy of sprawling desert beauty and snow-capped mountains, with forests and coastline and so much more packed into a tiny piece of land barely the size of New Jersey. Whether you are looking to snorkel or ski, the Israeli landscape has everything you want.

Israelis are imbued with a great love of the land and a sense of responsibility for it.

Fertile Future. Under the stewardship of the JNF (Jewish National Fund), Israel’s landscape had been transformed from parched earth to carpets of green forests.

Saving the planet and what we all can contribute to this effort has been the subject of a lot of discussion and coverage over the last few weeks. Global treasure, Sir David Attenborough, he of the dulcet narrative tones and exceptional commitment to conservation, released his documentary “A Life on this Planet” which is currently on streaming giant, Netflix. Described as his witness testament to the state of our planet, Attenborough not only shares the alarming truth of the destruction wreaked on our natural world but offers practical solutions to what can be done to fix the problems.  HRH, Prince William, released his documentary, “A Planet for Us All” which echoes the call for everyone to be involved in helping to heal Mother Earth and followed this up with his Earthshot Prize. The Earthshot Prize, aims to find solutions from around the world to help – and comes with hefty financial prizes for those who find solutions in the stated categories. The categories are:

protect and restore nature, clean our air, revive our oceans, build a waste free world and fix our climate.

Modelled on JFK’s Moonshot which aimed (and achieved!) putting a man on the moon, this necessary and ambitious endeavor, aims to inspire the same dedication and ingenuity

What is seldom discussed is how Israel is a leader in the fields of conservation and environment protection. With signature start-up prowess coupled with understanding of our limited resources and a deep love for our environment, Israel has made extraordinary strides in these fields.  Below are a few small snapshots of some Israel’s projects and achievements.

Greening the Desert

Did you know that today Israel has the rare honour of being one of the only countries (if not the only one) that has more trees today than when the country was founded in 1948? By the early 20th century, Israel’s indigenous forests had been almost totally destroyed by centuries of continuous grazing and cutting of trees. When Israel was established in 1948, there were fewer than 5 million trees in the entire area. Today, over 200 million trees have been planted in an active reforestation programme spearheaded by the Jewish National Fund (JNF). Many of us remember putting money in the ubiquitous “Blue Box” that helped raise the funds to plant these forests.

 Field of Dreams. While farming is not an easy task, Israel offers creative techniques to make the task easier and the desert bloom.

Evergreens have been planted in the hillier parts of the country and eucalyptus in the south.  Today there is more species diversification and forests feature a wide variety of species: oaks and carobs, terebinths and cypresses, eucalyptus, Judas trees, acacias, olive, almond, and many more. Many of these species harken back to biblical references.

Preserving Species

Rhinoceros are not a species that you would associate with Israel. More suited to the vast savannahs of Africa, these almost prehistoric looking beasts are finding a new lease on life in the Holy Land. Rhinos are on the list of endangered species because they are being mercilessly poached for their horns. Israel is successfully breeding rhinos in captivity. The Ramat Gan Safari Park just outside Tel Aviv, started their rhino conservation programme in 1974 and to date, an estimated 31 calves have been born in captivity. The first baby rhino, born in September 1978 was a girl named “Shalom”. The birth of this little calf coincided with the signing of the Camp David Accords – the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt.

Africa in the Heart of Israel. Rhinos basking “safe and secure” under the Israeli sun at the Ramat Gan Safari Park outside of Tel Aviv.

In recent years, the park has celebrated the birth of baby Terkel, Tupak, Tashi and Timor, all rare white rhinos born to their South African immigrant mother, Tanda.  Calves have also been born to Keren Peles, another rhino who was named after Israel’s singer-songwriter.

Celebrations have also been conducted for babies Rami, Kipenzi and many more!

This rhino breeding programme is part of a global conservation effort to increase rhino populations and world renowned South African conservationist, Braam Malherbe, lauded the efforts being made by the Park and believes it is a model that should be implemented globally. In the quite sanctity of the Ramat Gan Safari Park, they are assured that the only place a horn belongs – is on a rhino!

A Birder’s Paradise

Israel is a birder’s paradise. Every year, thousands of tourists “flock” (pun intended) to Israel’s north to watch the millions of birds migrating. Like a magnificent feathered, sky born ballet, it a feast for the eyes for anyone who wants to observe the different species and flight patterns. As much as Israel is engaged in protecting animals or the endangered species list, this also extends to birds, and specifically raptors. Although fully protected by the law, Israel’s raptor population has severely declined in the last 50 years, because of poaching, continued use of pesticides, and extensive loss of habitat. 

Israel for the Birds. Tens of Thousands of cranes seen in the Hula Valley, northern Israel on February 28, 2014, Tens of thousands of cranes stay in the reserve on their way to Northern Europe. photo by Edi Israel/Flash90.

There is a concerted effort by conservationists to protect Israel’s birds of prey and this entails preserving nesting and foraging habitats, increasing wild populations of endangered raptors by breeding and releasing, establishing supplementary feeding stations for scavenger species like vultures where food is more scarce and increasing awareness and education with the citizens of the country.

Israel has successfully managed to increase the populations of Griffon Vultures, Lesser Kestrels and is making great strides with the Spotted Eagle, the Imperial Eagle and the Black Vulture.

On the ground and in the sky, Israel is answering the call of the wild.

Genetic Conservation of Plants

Feed the world! It is not just Israel’s animal and bird species that are being preserved but agricultural plants as well.

Israel’s location in the Mideast heartland of genetic diversity for many major agricultural crops and its geographical and climatic diversity has created a particularly rich ensemble of habitats and plant species. Tiny but mighty, Israel includes one of the largest and most accessible collections of wild wheat, barley, oat, and legumes in the world, as well as a smorgasbord of wild fruits and other important crops.

The importance of preserving Israel’s exceptionally rich plant genetic resources for the improvement of growth, yield, nutrition and disease, pest, drought and salt tolerance of major crop varieties has long been recognized. As early as 1909, Aaron Aaronson of the Jewish Agricultural Experiment Station in Haifa, who discovered wild emmer wheat in the Galilee, began collaborating with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on research for plants, particularly wheat varieties that could be introduced into the United States. Israel’s landmark studies on conservation in wild wheat populations have continued to draw considerable international attention.

The collected plant species that are indigenous to Israel are largely concentrated in the Israeli Gene Bank for Agricultural Crops which was set up in 1979. Scientists from government, academia and Israel’s seed industry have joined forces in the gene bank to ensure that Israel’s native varieties – its genetic heritage – are not lost to future generations. Could this be a possible solution to challenges posed by lack of food security?

Saluting the Sun

Israel’s sunny climate is not just great for beach sports and being outdoors but our greatest natural resource, the sun, is proving invaluable in helping the country to become more reliant on solar energy thus reducing costs and promoting renewable energy. Some experts estimate that by 2030, Israel could be fully reliant on renewable energy. In 2019, the largest solar powered energy field was inaugurated in the Negev Desert.

Israel is a Powerhouse. The Tower of Power energy project in Ashalim in Israel’s Negev Desert.. (courtesy of BrightSource Energy)

Environmental Minister at the time, Yuval Steinitz said:

Since I assumed office, I have used every possible means to increase the scope of renewable energy production, and by doing so, I expect to meet the government goal of 10% by the end of 2020. I believe that alongside natural gas, renewable energy is of paramount importance in reducing air pollution for the benefit of the health of all of us, and this policy is reflected in the “Plan 2030” that we are leading in order to stop the dependence of Israel on polluting fuels. The breakthrough in this field enables us, in addition to stopping the use of coal, to significantly promote the renewability goal for 2030.”

A Country of the Future

There is hardly a day that goes by without newspaper articles sharing the latest innovations from Israeli super brains. Whether it is meat grown in a lab that tastes exactly like the most mouth-watering steak which helps in the decrease of cattle consumption or piloting rechargeable roads to reduce carbon emissions, saving wildlife, reducing dependency on fossil fuels, reforestation, de-salination and recycling sewage for clean water, creating water from air and a myriad of other daily inventions, Israel is a country firmly focused on the future.

The examples above are just a fraction of the work that Israelis are doing in various fields. As the global conversation centres more and more on what we can be doing to help repair the planet, Israel is in the vanguard to ensure that future generations inherit a healthier environment. The opportunity presented by the Earthshot Prize for the global community to share their ingenuity is audacious and remarkable. This is like catnip to Israeli innovators! Challenges are what drive Israelis to achieve.  This, coupled with the most noble mission, to repair our planet is where we thrive.

I think that Sir David Attenborough and Prince William will approve.

David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet | Official Trailer | Netflix In this unique feature documentary, titled David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet, the celebrated naturalist reflects upon both the defining moments of his lifetime and the devastating changes he has seen.