Some of the earliest maps of the world placed Jerusalem right at its center. Today, the world maintains a central media spotlight on tiny Israel. So following the annual commemoration of Earth Day, which promotes global sustainability, I thought that I’d take you on a virtual tour, focusing on the Jewish State’s central position and how it works to sustain the planet and its inhabitants.
Israel itself commemorated Earth Day in Jerusalem with the opening of the Cool Globes exhibition, which consisted of 18 one-ton models of the Earth each highlighting a solution to environmental problems. This was followed by the world’s first full-length movie screening, powered by solar energy. Then after the sun had set, the lights were turned off, to highlight the need to save energy. Even the Israel Defense Force published an Earth Day summary of how it protects not just the people of Israel, but its environment too. This includes wastewater recycling, solar power, re-using water from air-condition units, filtering bacteria from ship water, recycling engine oil and switching to natural gas.
Israel’s Weizmann Institute has developed some literally “groundbreaking” technology to repair the earth that grows our food. Eco-friendly catalysts are introduced into the soil to break down the dangerous chemicals in pesticides into inert compounds. Israeli start-up Catalyst Ag Tech is now commercializing the system. Meanwhile, 24 Israeli companies including Mekorot, Amiad and Blue I promoted Israel’s technologies to prevent polluting the earth. They flew to the Wasser Berlin trade fair to market their water and wastewater and management solutions.
Israelis are frequently at the center of environmental projects all over the Earth. A delegation from Ben Gurion University’s Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research toured the Galapagos Islands and signed a cooperation agreement with the Directorate of the National Park to promote the conservation of the endangered biological diversity of the islands. Closer to home, Israeli and Jordanian authorities worked together to save a rare Egyptian vulture. The bird was born in Israel but flew into power lines in the Jordan valley. The Jordanians contacted Israeli nature organization SPNI, which obtained permission from both governments to collect the vulture. The injured bird is now recovering at Ramat Gan Safari Hospital.
The needs of the Earth’s population occupy much of Israel’s time and resources. Israeli biotech SciGen developed and manufactures the most effective Hepatitis B vaccine on Earth. It is soon to be authorized for use in most countries where it should prevent many of the 1.2 million deaths from the virus each year. Israel’s success in vaccine development has encouraged the US National Institutes of Health to fund a two-year study at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev into why the measles virus persists in its target cells and establishes chronic infection, long after resolution of its acute phase. A recent measles epidemic in the UK city of Swansea highlights why this research is so important.
World Health Organization director general Margaret Chan praised Israel’s national health infrastructure on her first visit to Israel. She said, “I’ve come here to learn from your excellent health system”. She also visited Gaza children at Tel Aviv’s Dana-Dwek Children’s Hospital. And the Israeli director of Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Professor Kevin (Ilan) Tabb, found himself at the center of attention when his staff treated 24 victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, plus the surviving Chechen bomber. Professor Tabb is also a board member of Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem.
Israeli universities are world-recognized centers of scientific excellence. Scientists at Israel’s Technion Institute have just developed the first photonic topological insulators that prevent light from scattering irrespective of any defects in the materials that they flow through. The transport of photons of light is central to today’s computing and electronic communications. Meanwhile, 40,000 students have signed up for the new 9-week on-line course “Synapses, Neurons and Brains” presented by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In addition to the USA, Europe etc., its central fascination has attracted registrations from Lebanon, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Morocco and Algeria.
Finally, the adoption by the Israeli Government of Europe's “Open Skies” policy will bring even more tourists to the Jewish State than the current record numbers. But Jorgen Nilsson kept much closer to the ground during his recent journey to the Center of the Earth. Jorgen - a knight in the Hospitaller Order of St. Lazarus - arrived at Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem after a six-months, 4,500-kilometer (2,800-mile) pilgrimage from Sweden to Jerusalem.
Michael Ordman writes a free weekly newsletter containing Good News stories about Israel.
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