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Israel was in my impression as a country of violence and war. As I can recall when I was small, everyday, on the daily TV news report, there would be at least 1 section about the tension between Israelis and Palestinian, there would be a rocket flare up here and there near the Gaza Strip or the West Bank. There would be some people were killed and some were injured by a bomb somewhere in Jerusalem territory. That’s why it took me by surprise after I finished this book “Start-up nation”by Dan Senor & Saul Singer. It urges me to read more about this interesting country and honestly I would love to travel to Israel one day in near future.

The first Kingdom of Israel was established around 11th century BCE. And its famous city Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world. Moreover, Jerusalem is considered the holy land to the 3 major religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. (That is really fascinating, I will read more and will have another blogpost about it). During its long history, Jerusalem has been destroyed at least twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times. Throughout these events, the Jews was mass slaughtered, forced to be slaves, forced to exile from their homeland. These events scattered the Jews all around the world.

The worldwide Jewish population reached 16.7 million people before WWII but approximately 6 million Jews were systematically murdered during the Holocaust by the Nazi. The Jews during that time have to run away for their life but no country want to take them in, a clandestine movement known as Aliyah Bet was organised to bring Jews back to their original homeland (which occupied by Palestinians).

On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency, proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel, to officially establish a country, a home for Jews all over the world. The country shares land borders with Lebanon to the north, Syria in the northeast, Jordan on the east, and Egypt to the southwest. It contains geographically diverse features within its relatively small area (20,000 km2, compared to Vietnam 332,000 km2). Although the U.S supported the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine, they do not want to intervene too deep between the tension between the Jews and the Arabs. The British, who held a colonial mandate for Palestine at that time, opposed to this creation because they want to keep good relations with Arab countries. War broke out immediately after the independence day, 5 Arab armies from Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Saudi Arabia join force and invade the territory in the former Palestinian mandate. The fighting keep going on for years and the tension has never gone away for this country and this region.

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Despite the chaos politics and military tension with their neighboughs, Israel has risen as one of the top countries that provides most successful startups companies in the world. Tel Aviv ranks at number 2, only after Silicon Valley in the ranking of startup ecosystem. After United States, Israel has more companies listed on the NASDAQ than any other country in the world, including India, Korea, Singapore and Ireland. Almost half of the world’s top technology companies (Google, Cisco, Microsoft, Intel, eBay…) have bought startups or opened research and development centers in Israel. Cisco alone has acquired nine Israeli companies and is looking to buy more.

“Why is all this happening in Israel? I’ve never seen so much chaos and so much innovation all in one tiny place” an NBC universal vice president sent to scout for Israeli digital media companies wonder.

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You must read the book to understand how this could happen. In short, since the country is relative small, and the population is small (only around 8 millions), borders surrounding by enemies, their most valuable asset is their people. They are people with different races, speaks different languages, from all over the world, most of them share the same religion (75% Jews, 20% Muslim Arab, 5% Others), come together to build the nation from ashes. And miracle always happens from those challenging situations. Israel built their own military and air force, produce major weapon systems, such as tanks and jet fighter aircraft because they want to avoid to rely on foreign arm supplies an not dependant on anyone else to provide one of the most basic elements for national survival. Their army model is so good that Singapore government has asked for help from Israel to build their army. Along with compulsory service and a career army, Singapore also adopted elements of the Israel Defense Forces IDF’s model of reserve service. Every soldier who completes his regular service is obligated to serve for short stints every year, until the age of thirty three.

In 1988, Israel launched their first satellite into space, which mark their elite advanced technology and let them join the group of leading countries in aerospace technology.

They challenge the nature to make their agriculture revolution. 95 percent of the country is categorised as semi-arid, arid, or hyperacid, as quantified by levels of annual rainfall. Meaning that those lands severely lack of water, to the extend that prevent growth and development of plant and animal life. However, Israelis take that disadvantage and turn it into opportunity. They spend money and effort in research and innovation. Israel now leads the world in recycling waste water; over 70 percent is recycled, which is 3 times the percentage of the Spain, the country in second place. They  turn the area taken by desert, into agricultural fields and planted forests. Now there are an estimated 240 millions tress, millions of them planted one at a time. Satellite pictures show the forest sticking out like a visual typo, surrounded by desert and drylands in a place where it should not exist.

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Intel set up shop in Israel in the 1970s is a striking event, in the context that Israel just went through a few wars just a few years before that. This marks a new era that Israel transform itself from an isolated state in Middle East to a thriving and technologically sophisticated country. There are more and more headlines about Israel startups that attract more and more attention and Israel’s technology success stories is becoming more widely known. In a world seeking the key to innovation, Israel is a natural place to look into.

I recommend this book to whoever want to understand where this entrepreneurial energy comes from, where it’s going and how to sustain it, and how we can learn from this extraordinary startup nation.

Steve Pham

19/12/2015

 

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