How Israeli Technology Transformed an Inhospitable Strip of Desert into an Agricultural Powerhouse

Despite early Zionists’ focus on creating farming communities, the Jewish state’s economy is now more closely tied to software than to produce. But the old slogan of “making the desert bloom” remains a reality—and part of the story of Israeli technological innovation. Abigail Klein Leichman reports from an agronomic institute in the southeastern part of the country:

Maayan Kitron, coordinator of flower and herb research at Arava R&D, also provided visiting reporters with tastes of cherry tomatoes, peppers, and strawberries raised in this strip of the Negev desert stretching down Israel’s eastern border from the Dead Sea to Eilat. This is a place of long, punishing summers—hardly hospitable conditions for agriculture.

“The average summer day is 40-plus degrees” Celsisus, or 104 Fahrenheit, “and at night the temperature drops only 10 degrees” [50 Farhenheit], says Kitron, who also has a family farm in the central Arava. Nevertheless, the R&D center’s greenhouses grow Gulliver’s spinach (a spinach-like leafy green that thrives in hot climates and keeps in the fridge for a month), Momordica (a bitter melon containing potential nutraceutical substances including a “natural insulin”), cherry tomatoes, eggplants, melons, cucumbers, and exotic crops like kiwano (horned African melon).

Kitron says the average annual rainfall in the Arava Valley is 50 millimeters (2 inches). This year, less than 20 millimeters fell. “Our water comes from about 60 wells we’ve drilled, all connected to one control system in Eilat,” she says, adding that now they’re also getting some water piped from a desalination plant in Ashkelon.

The saline well water must be treated, but the upside is that irrigating with saline water results in sweeter produce. (Kitron explains that’s because of osmosis: the salt concentration of the water causes the plants’ roots to release more sugars.) . . . Drip irrigation, an Israeli innovation, makes this workable. But the heat and the not-particularly-fertile soil are also challenging.

Read more at Israel21c

More about: Israeli agriculture, Israeli technology, Negev

How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus