On the eve of its 70th Independence Day, Israel will hold its annual torch lighting ceremony on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. Each year, a theme is chosen for the ceremony’s 12 torches, symbolising the ancient 12 tribes of Israel, and those chosen to light them representing 12 different facets of modern Israeli society. This year’s theme is “Heritage of Innovation” and proudly featured as one of the torches is Israel’s International Development Cooperation Agency — MASHAV.
Founded by then foreign minister, Golda Meir, under the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs merely 10 years after the establishment of the state of Israel, MASHAV is celebrating 60 years of development cooperation this year. As the previous head of MASHAV, I am extremely proud to witness the nation’s recognition of development diplomacy and MASHAV’s role in defining Israel as a nation of innovation.
In 1948, after struggling for its independence, the modern state of Israel was reestablished in a land with abundant historical significance yet extremely limited natural resources. Astonishingly, despite its hostile neighbourhood, within decades Israel was able to develop within its borders a thriving state. This included a bustling economy, a self-reliant agricultural sector, education and health systems, academia and industry with R&D as the link between them — all of which rest upon the interweaving power of innovation and technology.
Israel’s innovative outlook stems from its people’s mind power and diversity. Israeli society is a mosaic of cultures from around the world, reunited in an ancient homeland after 2,000 years of exile. This rich melting pot of world views and ideas combined with the Jewish tradition of learning through questioning everything is what led to the innovative thinking behind Israel’s world-renowned start-up scene. Innovation has also been an integral part of making the Israeli desert bloom, the engine behind Israeli academic and scientific excellence, and a bridge to nations worldwide.
Every lesson Israel has learned in the process of its nation-building, it has offered to share with its friends and allies around the world. Israel readily exchanges its knowhow and technology in a variety of fields with all who seek to develop their own countries through innovation for a better future. This has been a driving force in the forging of relations with many countries, with India a prominent example among them. Anyone familiar with the history of the 26 years of relations between India and Israel knows the key role of development in our growing partnership. As early as 1993, Israeli drip irrigation found its way to Indian farms and laid the foundation for a fruitful agricultural partnership. Today this partnership manifests in 22 centres of excellence across nine states in India, with another seven states set to join the Indo-Israeli Agricultural Project.
Over the years, more fields of development have joined agriculture on the table of Indo-Israeli relations as Israel has become India’s technological partner. Fields such as water and education, innovation and technology, defence and cyber were at the forefront of President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visits to India and President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visits to Israel. The underlying understanding that innovation is crucial to all fields of development has made it a priority in countries looking to shape the future such as India and Israel.
In promoting innovation, we acknowledge that development is infinite. In today’s world, no country reaches a developed status and stops. We are all developing, growing, looking to improve the lives of our peoples. At a certain point, we shift from building foundations and creating infrastructures to ensuring sustainability and integrating technology. This is what being an innovative country means. At 70 years young, Israel continues to develop in itself and with the world. Israel has learned many lessons over the last seven decades; among the most significant ones is the importance of cooperation and mutual learning with the world. As Israel looks to the future, it sees by its side like-minded countries such as India, both eager to grasp the future in pursuit of a better world for all.