Thursday, May 28, 2015

Helping the Ethiopian Community

An amazing video from a local association ESRA (English Speaking Residents)  that highlights what the English Speaking Residents Association is doing to help the 30,000 plus Ethiopian community in the city of Netanya.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Israel’s first Jordanian PhD wants to bring peace through water

Desalination researcher Amer Sweity’s years at Ben-Gurion University put him in unique position to build bridges — and pipelines


Amer Sweity lives at Midreshet Ben-Gurion in Sde Boker, a tiny community located some 50 kilometers south of Beersheba. He is a Negev desert pioneer, but not in the usual sense. Residing and conducting research at Ben-Gurion University’s Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research, Sweity recently became the first Jordanian citizen to earn a doctoral degree from an Israeli university.

In fact it appears that Sweity, 34, is the first foreign national from any Arab country to have received a PhD in Israel. Sweity, who received the BGU Rector’s Award for excellence upon the completion of his degree this past March, is an expert in desalination. His research focuses on the polyamide membranes used in the process of turning seawater into potable water. Specifically, he seeks to optimize the use of various chemicals that are added to the seawater to prevent scaling on the membranes.
“These chemicals can cause side effects. We want to see whether the chemicals decrease the membranes’ efficiency, or whether they create bacterial growth on the membranes,” said Sweity as he showed this reporter around the lab where he did his PhD research funded by Israel’s Water Authority.
“Also, 50 percent of the water used in the desalination process becomes recovery water and goes back into the sea. This recovery water has double the salt content and contains chemicals, and we need to see what effect this has on the microbial community,” he continued.
Sweity’s interest in water research is not at all surprising given that his home country suffers from a severe water shortage. According to the World Health Organization, Jordan has one of the lowest levels of water resource availability, per capita, in the world. “The pressure from the Syrian refugees is making it even worse,” said Sweity about the nearly 1 million Iraqi and Syrian refugees who have crossed into Jordan because of the Syrian Civil War that has been raging since 2011.
In the Jordanian capital Amman, where Sweity’s family lives, water flows to people’s taps at home only once a week. “It’s like that even in the winter, and it’s been like that for around 20 years,” said Sweity.
Although Sweity has applied for post-doctoral positions in Holland, Israel and several Arab countries, he said he is committed to returning before too long to Jordan to help increase water desalination efforts there. In particular, he’d like to be involved with the Red Sea-Dead Sea Canal Project, a major collaboration between Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority backed by the World Bank to provide drinking water to Eilat and Aqaba and raise the level of the Dead Sea.

When Sweity completed his undergraduate degree in land and water management atThe Hashemite University in Zarqa, Jordan, he knew he wanted to study desalination and that Israel was the best place to do this.  “Five desalination plants were built in Israel and that shifted everything for Israel in terms of water,” he said, referring to Israel’s solution to its historical water crisis.

His parents were not thrilled about the idea their son (the seventh of their eight children and the only one to pursue academia) had of moving to Israel to continue his education. “My family was shocked at first. They were afraid because of what they were seeing in the news and media. There were still tensions from the Second Intifada and they didn’t think it was safe,” Sweity said.
 “It got to the point that I needed to fight with them about this. I really needed this experience. I knew that this kind of chance doesn’t come every day.”
Sweity arrived in 2006 at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies at Kibbutz Ketura to begin in a Masters program. He continued on to Ben-Gurion University, where he acquainted himself well and quickly with other students and faculty, according to Professor Yoram Oren, who was at the time head of the Department of Desalination and Water Treatment at the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research.
“Amer got used to the Israeli scene quickly and his Hebrew is very good. We like him very much and it is a pity that he will leave us,” he said.
Before coming to Israel, Sweity had never met a Jew and knew no Hebrew. Within three years of his arrival, he had taught himself to speak, read and write Hebrew fluently and had made many friends of various religious backgrounds all over the country. When he’s not in the lab, he likes to hike, swim and play soccer.
It took a bit of time for Sweity, from a traditional Muslim family, to become acclimated to Israeli society, which he found to be much more open than the one he grew up in Amman. “Israel was too open for me at the beginning. I wasn’t used to the drinking and partying,” he said.
Sweity’s having lived in southern Israel through three confrontations with Gaza has made him anxious about what he called “the whole situation.”
He is  frustrated by the fact that because Jordan is on high alert because of the instability on its borders with Iraq and Syria, it is forced to invest heavily in security, leaving fewer resources for trying to solve the country’s water problems.

Sweity himself acknowledged that his motivation to complete his doctorate and to conduct research in desalination goes well beyond merely bringing pride to his family.
“I want to do something for the coming generations in all the countries in the region. Science doesn’t stop at borders,” he said.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Thousands of Gazans Treated In Israeli Hospitals

Thousands of Gazans receive treatment in Israeli hospitals every year, the Associated Press (AP) reported yesterday.

According to the report, Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Unit (COGAT) has issued roughly 27,000 permits for Gaza residents—including both patients and their families—to receive medical treatment in Israel and elsewhere. According to the World Health Organization, in 2013, the most recent year for which there are statistics, 3,840 Gazans were treated in Israel.

The AP story focuses on teenagers Ahmed and Hadeel Hamdan, who require kidney dialysis and have been treated at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa since 2012. When not at the hospital, they receive treatment at home with equipment provided by the hospital. Their mother has been trained in how to use the equipment.

The children were initially treated in hospitals in Gaza, Egypt and Syria before receiving a medical referral to Rambam. That first lasted three months. The hospital would not let them go back to Gaza until Hadeel was able to walk again after being incapacitated for a month.

“I thank them very much because they exerted tireless effort, especially with the girl,” their mother, Manal, said.

Since then, doctors said a special treatment called automated peritoneal dialysis was the only way to keep the children alive, pending a kidney transplant. Without any machines or technicians in Gaza, Rambam worked with Palestinian officials to get the equipment installed at the family’s home and trained their mother how to operate the machines.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev told the AP that despite the frequent rocket launches and terror attacks launched by Hamas, the de facto government in Gaza, Israel’s efforts to treat the ill is a humanitarian matter. The arrangements for the medical care are made with the Palestinian Authority.

Over the past year, a number of relatives of Hamas officials have been treated in Israeli hospitals, including the mother-in-law and daughter of prime minister Ismail Haniyeh and the sister of spokesman Moussa Abu Marzouk.

Gazans were admitted for care in Israel even while Hamas was firing barrages of rockets at Israel last summer during Operation Protective Edge. During that time, Israel set up a field hospital on the border with Gaza, but Hamas prevented Gazans from accessing the hospital.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Arab Street's Changing Attitudes

One of the most positive strategic developments for Israel of the past few years has been its marked improvement in relations with significant parts of the Arab world. Three years ago, for instance, the most cockeyed optimist wouldn’t have predicted a letter like Israel received recently from a senior official of the Free Syrian Army, who congratulated it on its 67th anniversary and voiced hope that next year, Israel’s Independence Day would be celebrated at an Israeli embassy in Damascus. Full report at  

Yet many analysts have cautioned that anti-Israel hostility in the “Arab street” had not abated. However a new poll shows this, too, is changing.

The ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey, which has been conducted annually for the last seven years, polls 3,500 Arabs aged 18 to 24 from 16 Arab countries in face-to-face interviews. One of the standard questions is “What do you believe is the biggest obstacle facing the Middle East?”

This year, defying a long tradition of blaming all the Arab world’s problems on Israel,
a)  only 23 percent of respondents (27% in 2012) cited the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the region’s main obstacle., this in spite of last summer’s war in Gaza.
b)  In fact, the conflict came in fourth, trailing ISIS (37 percent), terrorism (32 percent) and unemployment (29 percent).
The poll also highlights another encouraging fact: The issues young Arabs do see as their top concerns  a) ISIS, b) terrorism, and c) unemployment–are all issues on which cooperation with Israel could be beneficial, and in some cases, it’s already taking place.

For instance, Israeli-Egyptian cooperation on counterterrorism is closer than it’s been in years–not only against Hamas, but also against the ISIS branch in Sinai, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis.

Israel and Jordan cooperate closely on counterterrorism as well, and it’s a safe bet that quiet cooperation is also occurring with certain other Arab states that officially have no relations with Israel.

Egypt and Israel have also ramped up economic cooperation, even manning a joint booth at a major trade fair earlier this year.

In short, the issues currently of greatest concern to young Arabs are precisely the issues most conducive to a further thawing of Israeli-Arab relations.

What the poll shows, in a nutshell, is that young Arabs have reached the same conclusion Arab leaders made glaringly evident at the last year’s inaugural session of the Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate: Israel simply isn’t one of the Arab world’s major problems anymore, if it ever was. Now all Israel needs is for the West to finally come to the same realization.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The folly of the international community on the Palestinians

Pushing both sides into a forced settlement will lead to disaster, and a Hamas takeover in the West Bank;

Dror Ben Yemini:  05.15.15,  

The formula is a familiar one: The more right-wing the government of Israel appears to the world, the easier it is for the anti-Israel campaigners to do their work. An increase in Israel in statements and incidents of an anti-Arab nature leads to a fall-off in support for Israel among Jewish students on US campuses, and the more organizations like Breaking the Silence and B'Tselem create the distorted impression that Israel is committing crimes on an ongoing basis, the easier it is for the BDS activists to tout their case.

The starting positions are problematic – not only due to the composition of the new Israeli government, but primarily in light of the geopolitical situation. The absurd thing is that under current circumstances, Israel's control over the territories is the lesser evil.

A hasty political settlement – to which the US administration and EU are leading, with the encouragement of a bunch of Israelis who support the Palestinian demand for unilateral recognition of statehood – would be a disaster for the Palestinians. A Hamas takeover would only be a matter of time.

This has nothing at all to do with the composition of the government. Isaac Herzog would encounter the same geopolitical situation; and Tzipi Livni, too, would encounter Palestinian opposition to any peace deal. After all, the Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert governments made very generous offers to Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas respectively – to no avail.

Nevertheless, all is not lost. Assuming that Israeli control over the West Bank is not going to end anytime soon, a right-wing government can still promote a series of measures that would better the lives of the Palestinians but would not undermine Israeli security in the slightest – in the field of water infrastructure, for example. Funds have been donated for rehabilitation projects; a start can be made.

And the same goes for projects in the fields of health, construction and infrastructure. Israel hasn't been the one to delay development. On the contrary, since the beginning of Israel's control over the West Bank and Gaza, there have been huge improvements in most areas.

In 1967, for example, just four Palestinian communities were hooked up to running water for domestic use; by 2004, however, 643 of the 708 communities were on the water grid. But there is still much to improve. It's not only a Palestinian interest, but an Israeli interest too.

There's something foolish about the fact that the international community is pushing the sides into a political settlement that will only make things worse for the Palestinians. But there are some things that can be done even without a peace agreement. Whether or not improving the situation is in the Palestinians' interests remains unclear. An improvement is clearly in Israel's interests.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Haifa University Research Cooperation with Shanghai

The University of Haifa and the East China New University (ECNU) of Shanghai inaugurated their joint Shanghai-Haifa research center in a festive ceremony. This is the first center of its kind in Shanghai for Israeli and Chinese academia, and it will enable researchers from both countries to submit research proposals to Chinese research funds. The Chinese government, who finances these funds, invests an estimated 40 billion dollars in grants each year. "It was very exciting to see the University of Haifa's logo on the signs of the magnificent Chinese campus. We are joining the world's leading universities, such as NYU, Cornell and others who are already collaborating with ECNU. This attests to our world-renowned academic excellence and excellent reputation in many fields, "said University of Haifa President, Amos Shapira.

The ceremony was immediately followed by a first joint research seminar, attended by 11 neuroscience researchers from the University of Haifa and by local researchers from the field. According to the agreement, brain research is only one of many fields in which the two universities will be collaborating. Other fields include technology of teaching mathematics, computing and data management, and environmental management. A student exchange agreement was also signed between the universities.

In recent years ties between Chinese and Israeli academia have been growing stronger, and founding this joint center is another step in strengthening this academic tie. As mentioned, according to estimates, the Chinese government invested some 40 billion dollars in 2013 in academic research funds, which indicates the importance it gives to the field. ECNU is known for its prestigious international ties: NYU has an academic branch there (NYU Shanghai). Joint research centers, similar to the center opened with the University of Haifa, already exist with Cornell University, the University of California, the University of Manchester, the University of London (King's College) , École Normale Supérieure in Paris, the University of Tokyo and more.

"The University of Haifa is proud to be the first university in Israel to open an academic research center in Shanghai. This is an important step for the institution. It represents the importance of international collaboration with the world's leading academic institutions, and the high regard that China has for Israeli research and academia. This is another step in the University of Haifa's international activity, opening up new horizons for the university's researchers, both in terms of the developing academic knowledge and ability of the Chinese academia, and in terms of research infrastructures and resources", said the University of Haifa Rector Prof.
David Faraggi.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Aquaponics: farming with the fish

(By Rivka Borochov)

Israeli fish farmers are known for developing large, sustainable aquaculture systems that maintain livelihoods in many countries. Now a technique has emerged from Israel that is taking fish farms to a whole new level. Aquaponics is to fish farming what hydroponics is to vegetable farming.  

Aquaponics most likely started in Asia, when a rice grower found that the rice in the paddies grew better when fish were swimming in them soon after the fields were flooded. The waste from the fish gave a nutrient boost to the rice. Similar effects were discovered by the Aztecs in Central America.  

An Israeli company mission is to use today’s high-tech tools and knowledge of advanced methods in ecology to build better aquaponics systems beyond the hobby farm. They are creating systems that are easy to manage, control and give maximum yield.  

LivinGreen Urban Ecosystems, builds, manages and in some cases maintains aquaponics farms. 

In 2014, LivinGreen led an educational project in Ghana, Africa, together with the Solar Garden. Systems were built using local materials and the teachers in the schools were given training courses. 

Also in 2014, LivinGreen took part in an FAO project in which model hothouses were set up in several villages in Ethiopia. The university of Addis Ababa and local universities were involved in the project. Aquaponic systems were built in local agricultural schools, accompanied by training courses. Training workshops were also offered to delegates from various places in central Africa.  
In China, in a collaborated venture between LivinGreen and the Chinese company AgriTech, this closed-system farm approach is being implemented commercially to raise fish such as Tilapia, catfish and carp together with tomatoes, Goji berries, lettuce and more.  

The best of both worlds 

Aquaponics has several advantages over traditional farming, aquaculture or hydroponics alone. It takes the best of all these worlds and puts them together.

Water for the fish can be obtained from brackish sources, and the ecosystem is easily purified over and over by the plants that live in the water-filled medium with the fish. It’s a kind of symbiosis: The plants feed off the ammonia and nitrogen in the water, while the fish enjoy the clean, oxygen-rich environment that the plants create.  Now we are fine-tuning a practical method to make aquaponics tools the best they can be.”  

It is estimated that just a fraction of the water is needed to grow crops such as lettuce and tomatoes compared to land-based farming. Very little energy is needed, too. The system is powered by a small pump to circulate and monitor the water, and this can be fueled by biogas or solar panels. And it’s not just about making great salads. At the end of the day, the goal is also to create tasty fish for food, an important source of protein for a resource-dwindling planet.  

Natural fish populations worldwide have dropped, and nutrition and health experts are begging for new solutions not just in developing nations, but also in the West, where protein consumption is accelerating. Farmed fish using this method could be a good mercury-free alternative.  

Farmed fish have bigger, fatty livers due to their diet and lack of natural movement. They are also prone to certain diseases when they live in captivity. Working on natural “cures” and ways to improve the conditions for fish on farms.

LivinGreen has built hundreds of aquaponics units in Israel and abroad, and has consulted for some of the world’s most prestigious organizations working toward improving the odds for people living at the base of the pyramid.  

In the food pyramid, aquaponics seems to be able to offer a win-win situation, but the company cautions that it’s not a solution for everywhere, all of the time. It is good for urban environments like in Cairo, and it’s also good in places like Africa that are far from the sea where there is limited water availability and no regular access to protein. It’s also good for the West on rooftops and in backyards.  

LivinGreen could answer some of the commercial needs of a planet in transition.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

200 Gazan farmers tour Tel Aviv Agritech

 In order to increase farming equipment imports and opportunities to export crops, some 200 Gazan farmers came to Tel Aviv on Thursday to engage in a face-to-face dialogue with a senior defense official.

“We can overcome this problem,” said  quality control manager, Esaam Dawwas, 
for the Beit Lahiya Cooperative Association, following the discussion. “We need the Israeli government to deal with facilities for farmers, open the checkpoints and send us all the machines for agriculture and fertilizer for the farmers. We can solve this problem.”

Dawwas and his colleagues came to participate in the third and final day of the annual Agritech International Agricultural Exhibition and Conference at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds. They took part in a conversation in Arabic with the head of the civil department at the Office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. Among the key issues to arise was the need to boost agricultural trade allowances, and to increase the availability of supplies crucial to farming.

The Gazans were among 35,000 guests from 117 countries who attended the event, organized by the Agriculture Research Organization’s Volcani Center. Further, about 400 Palestinians from the West Bank also attended the exhibition.

“The agriculture sector is very important in Gaza,” said Mohammed Skaik, Gaza programs manager at the Palestine Trade Center. “We have faced many problems, in terms of three wars, blockade and siege.”

Acknowledging that Israel has improved trade facilitation and the transfer of agricultural goods through the Kerem Shalom crossing to the southern Gaza Strip, Skaik stressed that the status quo is still insufficient.

“If you compare this amount to before the closure in June 2007, now it’s only about 5 percent,” Skaik said.

In June 2007, Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip from the PA, prompting Israel and Egypt to seal their borders with the territory.

Basic raw materials necessary for agriculture are lacking, while Gazans have only recently gained the ability to export two types of produce to Israel, Skaik said. In March, the Israeli government began to authorize the export of tomatoes and eggplants to Israel – the first such movement of produce from Gaza to Israel in almost eight years – in order to help meet the needs of the shmita sabbatical year.

Another particularly problematic issue that Skaik cited is the location and operational capacity of the Kerem Shalom crossing, which he descried as “far away, deep in Gaza.” Exchanging commodities there requires loading and unloading for three different truck transfers, which is costly and hurts produce quality, he explained.

Meanwhile, the 1-meter loading pallet height – which Israel limits due to security concerns – provides less space for crops and tools, Skaik said. The height could be raised while satisfying Israeli security concerns by employing special scanning devices that the Palestinians received from the Dutch government, he argued.

As for exports to places outside of Israel, Mahmoud Khlael, chairman of the Agricultural Cooperative for Farmers of Strawberries, Vegetables and Flowers, expressed concerns that checkpoint limitations have curbed the amount of Gazan produce exports in general.

“We used to export 1,500 tons per season of strawberries, and because of restrictions at the crossing, this has now been reduced to a few hundred tons only,” Khlael said.

Before 2007, Gazans exported about 200 truckloads daily of vegetables, fruits and flowers, according to Khlael. The restrictions decrease quality of life and cause costs to escalate, he explained. “We need free trade,” Khlael said. “We want to go back to the period prior to 2007.”  (Ed - Before Hamas??)

In response to the concerns of the Gazan farmers who attended the dialogue, Col Yakubovich of COGAT stressed that many obstacles still exist to improving the status quo – in particular due to the fact that the residents of the Strip “have to deal with Hamas.”

“They said to me throughout the lecture that we are not dealing with politics,” Yakubovich said. “I said that this is an issue of security, and we have to make sure there is security. They want to live their lives and we understand that.”

Regarding increasing the height of the loading pallets, Yakubovich explained that a terrorist could hide or a bomb could be concealed in the infrastructure.

“We understand that it would be cheaper for them, because it would be easier for them to export more,” he said, noting that defense officials would examine the idea of raising the pallet height.

As far as further crop exports from Gaza to Israel are concerned, Yakubovich explained that the Agriculture Ministry authorizes the marketing of produce to Israel, requiring compliance with certain health and quality standards.

“All the things that came from the tunnels [from Sinai into Gaza] in the last decade were uncontrolled,” Yakubovich said. “We don’t know what came from Africa, what type of diseases entered. We checked the products and some were not authorized because of concerns.”

After continuous evaluations, some products have not received clearance for export simply due to the unregulated nature of what grows inside Gazan soil and the resultant concern for Israeli public health, he explained.

“I understand their demands, but on the other hand, they need to understand that there are certain international rules for export,” Yakubovich said.

As for increasing approvals for farming equipment and raw materials to build structures such as greenhouses, he cautioned that in the past, Hamas has built tunnels under greenhouses and used tractors meant for farming for its own activities.

“There’s always tension between their agricultural needs and between the security needs that we have to face,” Yakubovich said. “Hamas is responsible for them but has no problem abusing their facilities.”

For Yakubovich, the reality that 200 Palestinians were able to come out of Gaza to Agritech to speak with him was crucial to improving the relationship between neighbors. While the government is striving “to do more” for the farmers, security is still a paramount issue and demands a return of the PA to Gaza, he explained.
“It’s important for us to hear and listen to the problems of the people on the ground,” Yakubovich said. “Now we will start thinking about new ideas or new commitments.”

Skaik said that meeting with Yakubovich was “very helpful” and allowed the farmers to “think aloud about what on-the-ground Gaza needs. “When we meet people face-to-face we can get actual information about daily life,” Skaik said, stressing the importance of raising Gazans’ income. “If we have good income, we will have good peace.”

“We conveyed our message to the Israeli government represented by [Yakubovich],” Zwayyid added. “So the people talked freely and talked about their demands and their requests. And we are waiting for the response.”

Khlael expressed hope that speaking directly with an Israeli official would help solve the agricultural problems in Gaza, while Dawwas said that Israel’s move to allow four buses to enter could help bring about an understanding.

“The people are happy today,” Dawwas said. “We hope that in the future, the Israeli government will help the people in Gaza to solve all the problems and to feel like one family.”