Never take your eyes off the Israeli ball

The news about Gilad Shalit again confirms that momentous events take place constantly in the Jewish State. Israel has definitely not stood still in these past three weeks since my last regular blog, and some major good news stories need to be shouted from the Internet’s virtual rooftops.
Firstly, no one surely could have missed the fact that Israel Technion’s Professor Dan Shechtman is the 2011 Nobel Prize winner for Chemistry. You may, however, not have seen two films about him – the first explains his discovery of Quasicrystals. These Quasicrystals are finding their use in tools from LEDs to engines and frying pans. Very interesting, but (in my opinion) a more important film has Prof Shectman discussing his course on Technological Entrepreneurship. The marriage of Israel’s technology innovations, with the business skills to market those products, can only further advance the incredible powerhouse that Israel has become over the past few years. 
Certainly some potentially powerful discoveries have materialized from the laboratories of Israel’s world-class universities and cutting-edge biotech companies in the last few weeks. Scientists at Prof Shechtman’s Israel Technion have discovered the ‘cancer enzyme’ known as LOXL2 and with it a whole new range of drug treatments for cancer and fibrosis. You can also watch this Technion film about Professor Haick’s ‘Nano Nose’ device and how it recognises minute traces of molecules emitted by mutant tumour cells. Not to be outdone, Hebrew University researchers have found a way to block bacterial toxins that cause septic shock and subsequent death to infected patients.   At Tel Aviv University, meanwhile, scientists have restored functions in a brain-damaged rodent using an artificial brain component.
Israeli biotechs have announced breakthroughs in treatments for Alzheimer’s, for Parkinson’s and for hand paralysis brought on by strokes, spinal injury, etc. We can now diagnose bladder cancer earlier and less intrusively. There is new hope for the sick thanks to new drugs for pancreatic cancer and haemophilia.
Moving internationally, Israel has pumped aid and knowledge into Africa. It has been irrigating Senegal, teaching Nigerians how to start-up farms and treating burns victims in Kenya. Meanwhile Ghana has formally restored diplomatic relations with Israel after a 38-year absence.
Israeli women have also made the news, with the election of Shelly Yachimovich as leader of the Labour party. We also read about the first female bomb-disposal operative to join the Israeli police.
Meanwhile, Israel has been saving the lives of Palestinian Arabs. Yes, saving lives – like 9 year-old Ahmed Hneidik, from Khan Younis in Gaza. Born with a congenital heart disease that had already claimed the life of his brother, Ahmed was operated on at Wolfson Medical by surgeons from Save A Child’s Heart.
As if inspired by Dan Shechtman, Israel has been consolidating its scientific prowess. It has laid the foundations for further Nobel Prize winners by launching the Future Inventor and Scientist program for Israeli 13-16 year-olds. And over 1000 Israeli students and teachers broke the world record for the largest scientific experiment by emulating Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon’s final shuttle experiment. Finally, Google Israel linked the old and the new together when it put five 2000 year-old Dead Sea Scrolls on-line. Advanced flash photography was used to produce ultra-clear high-definition images which have proved so popular that the website received 1.2 million hits in the first ten days. 
Advanced photography helped put the Dead Sea Scrolls on-line
Photo: Reuters / Baz Ratner
Another Israeli world record was celebrated with Hanna Maron’s 83 years on the stage giving her the achievement of the longest career as a theatrical actress. We also look forward to seeing the world’s largest buses on Israeli roads, when the 200-seat giants form the key component of the new Bus Rapid Transit System.
Business interests in Israel will be boosted by the arrivals of Citibank and Abercrombie & Fitch and by takeovers of Israeli firms by Intel, by eBay and by Monsanto. Alliances between Mellanox and Microsoft, between El Al and WestJet and between Proctor & Gamble and both Powermat and the Hebrew University all look to continue recent increases in Israel’s Consolidated State of the Economy index and the upwards revision of the forecast of 2011 GDP. Certainly Israel’s economic prospects have impressed Bloomberg and Barclays, both of whom have just recommended clients to invest in the Jewish State.
So with our tiny country passing the population milestone of 8 million, we can virtually count our blessings. And like Yael Mizrachi and her husband, we can also hear them being made. Thirteen years ago, none of Yael’s four unborn sons were given more than a one-in-a-million chance of being born alive. But every one of the miracle quads survived and just a few weeks ago Benzi, Yosef, Shlomo and Yishai sang their barmitzvah blessings at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
All this in three weeks – and we’ve only just begun the New Year. Let’s hope it will be full of more Good News.
 (The final part of the mini-series about Israel’s treatment of its Arab minority will be published next week.)
Michael Ordman writes a weekly newsletter containing Good News stories about Israel.