Israel is building bridges on the foundations of its tech revolution

 
Erel Margalit
Calatrava Bridge Inaugurated In Jerusalem
We can harness innovation and transform the entire region (Source: Getty)

David Ben Gurion once famously said: “in Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles”.

Israel’s founding father was an unrelenting idealist, and it was thanks to his vision that this tiny nation, built from swamps and sand dunes, can today call itself a high-tech superpower.

Israel is the startup nation. Our ability to turn creative ideas into technological breakthroughs is a model for countries around the world. We have defied the odds on every level, and as we celebrate our seventieth birthday this year, we have immense cause for celebration.

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Today, our startup nation is at a crossroads. The gap between rich and poor is still too wide. The need to integrate the young Arab and ultra-Orthodox communities into the innovation economy is still pressing. And the longstanding conflict with the Palestinians needs a new and novel approach in order to reach a win-win strategy.

I know we can do better, because I was involved in building hubs of innovation throughout the country. In Jerusalem – a city divided between its tribes – innovation is already serving as a great equaliser and producing paradigm-shifting change. Just like London, Jerusalem has learned that creating tech hubs will bring homegrown and international talent flocking.

When we launched JVP, my venture capital firm in Jerusalem, we overcame the poverty and security challenges to allow the young generation to be part of the success. Growth, prosperity and optimism were no longer mere pipe dreams for Arabs, ultra-Orthodox, young women and men.

With 20,000 new technology jobs, Jerusalem was recently ranked a leading global startup city. But the influence of startups can reach beyond city limits. In a bid to eradicate the poverty of our far-flung towns and to help disadvantaged populations tap into progress, Israel is creating seven regions of excellence, reaching from north to south, and is making the innovation economy accessible to all.

We are leading real change in Israel’s north, where the promise of agrotech unites farmers from both Jewish and Arab villages. Down south, the once-impoverished desert city of Beersheba blossomed into a cyber security epicenter where camels used to roam.

Through innovation, we are transforming city after city, building bridges to revolutionise the entire country. In a time when we desperately need fresh thinking, we can harness innovation – Israel’s most profitable export – and transform the entire region.

It’s time for a game-changing approach. For too long, Israel’s political thinking has focused on what we have to give up as opposed to what we have to gain. The old guard of politicians describes Israel as a nation surrounded by hostile enemies, but the modern geopolitical reality has changed.

The battle is no longer between Arabs and Jews; it’s between extremists and the pragmatic countries that are opposing them. Many of our moderate, neighbouring nations – Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, the UAE, and even Saudi Arabia – are as eager to eradicate poverty and foster economic development as we are.

If extremism is a fire, poverty is a dry field. In the next 20 years, this region will need to create jobs for 70m young people. Only true and lasting partnerships across the Middle East will take back the narrative from Isis and the aggressive Iranian regime, and transform the region as we know it.

We are already making this happen: building a cyber security alliance on the civilian level, creating agriculture and food strategy which allows cultivating desert and dry areas, leading water desalination and irrigation projects, and generating technology which deals with new challenges that young entrepreneurs will cooperate on through innovation hubs across Cairo, Jerusalem, Casablanca, and others.

This is possible thanks to shared technology and resources, but it is this shared language – of economic development – that can turn into the political language of hope and create bridges, not walls.

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