Destination of the Month: Israel

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Israel is a tiny country––only about 29,000 square kilometers––and yet, it is a place of amazing variety, with globally unique contrasts. For example, central Israel is the most populous place on earth, and yet, having planted over 240 million trees, it is the only country that ended the 20th century with more trees than it started with! Israel’s location, bridging Africa, Asia and Europe, has blessed it with four bio-geographical zones––Mediterranean, steppe, desert and African – make it unique worldwide in terms of its combination and variety of climate, flora and fauna.

israelculinaryIsrael has virtually no rainfall for some eight months of the year, which has spurred it to develop alternative water sources. Seventy-five percent of Israel’s water is recycled after use, and the world’s largest desalination plant is located in Ashkelon. Israel has pioneered arid land agriculture, and has hosted more than 200,000 people from 130 developing countries for training in agriculture and other fields.

Israel’s achievements in hi-tech go back to its early days: In 1954, WEIZAC, one of the world’s first computers, was designed and built at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot. Twenty-four percent of the members of Israel’s work-force have university degrees, the third-largest number in the industrialized world. It also has the world’s highest count of engineers per capita, and 4,000 high-tech startups, the most per-capita in the world.

Israel has produced a number of outstanding sportsmen and women––in tennis, windsurfing, judo and track and field, the latter mainly thanks to the influx of newcomers from the former Soviet Union. In the 2007 Special Olympics, Israel’s team of 39 competitors garnered 42 medals: 11 gold, 22 silver and 9 bronze!

On the medical front, two out of the top three medications to treat multiple sclerosis were developed in Israel; Israeli microbiologists developed the first passive vaccine against the mosquito-borne West Nile virus, and an Israeli company developed the first ingestible video camera to help diagnose cancer and digestive disorders, so small it fits inside a pill! Israel also developed the world’s first pill to deliver a daily dose of insulin to diabetes sufferers.

Perhaps most meaningful of all, some say it is the variety of Israel’s people that makes it unique in so many other ways––only around 7.3 million, but hailing from over 30 regions and countries the world over.

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