By Gal Sitty
2011 was a year in which Israel’s continued contributions to the World received increasing recognition. Whether it was disaster relief in Japan, helping to feed people in sub-Saharan Africa, or ground breaking discoveries in science, Israel was at the forefront of the all the major positive developments of 2011.
Here is a piece by piece look at some of Israel’s impressive achievements in 2011:
Chemist Dan Shechtman became the 10th Israeli to be awarded a Nobel Prize. Shechtman’s discovered chemical structures previously thought to be impossible to exist. His groundbreaking work opened up entirely new fields of research.
The Israeli humanitarian relief agency, IsraAID, was the recipient of numerous awards for its efforts in helping the victims of Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami earlier this year. IsraAID dispatched medical and post-trauma units to three locations in Japan along with over 20 tons of relief items (see video below). IsraAID established a 2-year plan for relief and rebuilding efforts in Japan and has recently sent its fifth delegation to the country. IsraAID also operated in many more areas of need including South Sudan and Kenya.
Israel became one of the first nations to formally recognize the newest country in the world, South Sudan. Israel has pledged extensive aid in helping the extremely underdeveloped country build infrastructure and develop expertise in agriculture and water management among many other things. As such, Israel was one of the first countries that the newly formed State’s President paid an official visit to.
Many technological breakthroughs that may soon greatly improve our lives and our environment were achieved this year in Israel. The company Better Place unveiled the first electric car with “battery switching” technology that allows drivers to switch out the drained battery for a fully charged one in less time then it takes to fill a tank of gas. Emefcy announced its development of a method to generate electricity from the treatment of wastewater; this could have an exponentially beneficial impact on our environment as wastewater treatment has traditionally been very energy intensive.
New developments in medicine may soon save millions of lives. Of the more noteworthy accomplishments is the development of a “cancer vaccine“, currently in clinical trials, which teaches the body’s immune system to attack cancer cells. Israeli scientists also identified a glucose sensing enzyme that can trigger natural insulin production, possibly helping to end Type 1 Diabetes.
2011 was a busy year. Here are some less-reported stories from the Holy Land.
Israel received some new immigrants this month: up to 400 bottlenose dolphins, which have taken up residence along the Tel Aviv and Herzliya shores.
Nablus-based food company Alul became the first Palestinian-owned manufacturer to seek kosher certification, for its tehina spread.
Prof. Nava Dekel of Israel's Weizmann Institute for Science established a link between certain antioxidants found in facial creams and infertility. While Prof. Dekel said that this might warrant "more caution" in using certain face creams, it also points to intriguing research in the field of birth control.
Noble Energy announced it had found natural gas off Israel's coast. The company estimated it could produce 16 trillion cubic feet of gas, making this the world’s largest off-shore discovery of natural gas in the past decade.
A Disney Company affiliate announced plans to open a major new amusement park in Haifa. Construction, estimated to cost $170 million, is planned to begin on 20 acres in 2013.
Israel welcomed 31 of the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped underground for 68 days in 2010. The miners, accompanied by their wives, girlfriends, and children, enjoyed an eight day vacation, courtesy of Israel's Tourism Ministry.
Strangers No More won the Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject. The film tells the story of the children from more than 48 countries, many of whom came to Israel to escape genocide and hunger in Africa and other regions, who attend the Bialik-Rogozin school in Tel Aviv.
Israeli start-up company BioExplorers announced they developed a new bomb detector that uses a unique new component: trained mice. The mice, which work in 4-hour shifts, have been found to be more effective than traditional airport body scanners.
The European Association for Zoos and Aquaria held its annual meeting in Jerusalem, at Israel's "Biblical Zoo" (so called because all of its animals are mentioned in the Bible). Though small, Israel's Biblical Zoo is a world leader in conservation and efforts to return animals to the wild.
Dalal Mughrabi Square was dedicated in the Fatah-ruled town of Ramallah. The square was named after the terrorist who killed 37 Israelis, including 13 children, in a bus hijacking in 1978. The dedication of the square came just two days after the brutal murder of five members of the Fogel family in a Jewish town on the West Bank.
Congolese surgeon Dr. Leon Mubenga visited Israel's Rambam Medical Center in Haifa to learn techniques in treating burn victims, and become the first burn care specialist in Congo. He was sponsored by Israeli charity Moriah Africa, which also donated advanced medical equipment used to treat burns for Dr. Mubenga to bring back home with him.
Golan Heights Winery, based in Katztrin, earned first place at the Vinitali International Wine and Spirits Exhibition, often called the "World Cup" of wine competitions. The winery produces several popular brands of Israeli wines, including Golan.
A 16-year-old boy was killed when missiles fired from Gaza hit a school bus near Kibbutz Sa'ad in southern Israel. The attack was part of a barrage of 45 rockets fired from Gaza in a period of three hours.
Tel Aviv began offering free Internet access in several public spaces downtown, with the eventual goal of becoming an entirely "wireless" city.
Internet travel service Tripadvisor revealed that Israel is its 13th most popular destination, ahead of sites like London and Rio. In 2011, Israeli tourism broke all records, producing a shortage of hotel rooms.
University of Maryland Dr. Michele Gelfand, who studied the rigidity of social norms in 33 countries, found that Israel is one of the world's "loosest" countries socially, with high levels of tolerance, acceptance and ease with other cultures. This is due in no small part to Israel’s melting pot society comprised of immigrants from over 80 countries.
Jerusalem unveiled dramatic First Temple-era archeological sites, including the remnants of a gate house, a royal structure, and a fortification tower. The oldest remain found in the new sites, a clay fragment, is believed to be 3,400 years old.
Israelis participated in a mammoth, five-day security simulation designed to test emergency responses in the case of missiles being fired on Israel's cities.
Jamal Hakroush became the first Muslim appointed as Israel’s Deputy Police Inspector General. Hakroush said: "I am proud of Israel Police for choosing me based on my qualifications and nothing else. My religion and origin are facts I do not ignore, but I have never, in all my years of service, felt discriminated against or hurt by it."
Israeli aerospace engineer Meidad Pariente invented the "Mayday" app – using GPS technology to send out a distress call when users suffer an automobile accident. Inspired by a family member's car crash, the app senses when there is a sudden deceleration in speed, and asks if the user is okay. Upon failure to respond, Mayday sends emergency messages to five pre-selected recipients.
Hamas set up an appalling Facebook campaign to "abduct a wife” for kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. (Shalit was freed on October 18, 2011, after five years in captivity in Gaza.)
Kibbutz Ketura, a few miles north of the Israeli city of Eilat, completed a solar field consisting of 18,000 solar panels which can pump out 4.9 megawatts of electricity per hour of direct sunlight.
An Iranian swimmer pulled out of the Shanghai FINA World Championship because of the presence of an Israeli in the competition.
Israel became one of the first countries to recognize the new state of South Sudan after it declared independence on July 9. The date also saw joyous street parties among the many South Sudanese refugees who call Israel home.
Seven hundred college students from across North America came to Israel for an intensive 2-week program of Israel activism training. Aish’s Hasbara Fellowships trains students and provides them support to run successful pro-Israel activities on their campuses.
For the third year in a row, Scientist Magazine ranked the Weizmann Institute of Science as the world's best place to work in academia.
Online encyclopedia Wikipedia held its annual conference in Haifa, which beat out New York, Toronto and other cities to host the international event.
As rocket fire from Gaza rained down on Beersheva, 17-year-old Arina Shestopolov Censor became a national hero. Along with her father, she left her bomb shelter, braved raging fires outside, and saved the lives of two injured men. She relied on what she’d learned at age 12 in a first aid book to fashion a tourniquet and save the life of Nati Hagshor, 24, who was so seriously injured she initially thought he was dead. In recognition of her bravery, Ben Gurion University awarded the girl a full scholarship.
Roie "Jinji" Sadan, a 29-year-old bicyclist who spent four years cycling 40,000 miles through 42 countries around the world, celebrated the end of his epic trip with a ceremony at the Western Wall.
The Jewish Agency reported that 21,300 people made aliyah to Israel, a 20% increase from the previous year. The new immigrants came from countries all over the world, including Suriname, Thailand, China, Honduras and Congo.
Journalist-turned-politician Shelly Yachimovich became the first woman to lead Israel's Labor Party since Golda Meir.
Israel welcomed the debut of Hala TV, its first full-time Arabic-language TV station.
Israeli actress Hannah Maron set a world record for the longest continuous acting career. She began acting in 1931 at age four in her native Germany. She lost a leg when Palestinian terrorists attacked an El Al flight she was on, but she continued her acting career. As she marked 80 years on stage and screen, Maron was preparing for her upcoming role at Tel Aviv’s Carmai Theatre.
Prof. Daniel Shechtman of Israel's Technion Institute won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his discovery of quasicrystals.
Moshe Ami, a 56-year-old father of four, was killed by a rocket fired from Gaza into the Israel city of Ashkelon. Scores of rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza by the Iranian-backed group Islamic Jihad.
Iranian Chess Grandmaster Ehsan Ghaem Maghami pulled out of aninternational chess tournament in Corsica, rather than play Israeli Grandmaster Ehud Sachar. Calls were made to bar Iran from next year's Olympics in London unless they agree to compete against Israeli athletes.
“Drivia” became available as an iPhone app; it keeps sleepy drivers awake by bombarding them with trivia questions.
The Israel Philharmonic announced plans to celebrate its 75th Anniversary, and the 50th Anniversary of Zubin Mehta as conductor, with a series of live concerts streamed on the Internet.
Shyne, the former bad-boy rapper now living a chassidic lifestyle in Jerusalem, teamed up with an Israeli record company in a new initiative aimed at bringing Israeli musicians and educators to inspire at-risk youth around the world with music education. The project will kick off in Shyne's native country, Belize, hoping to use music to help some 500 at-risk youth get off the streets and get away from drugs and gang violence.
Apple, the maker of iPods, iPads and iPhones, announced it will open a research and development center in Herzliya, Israel's version of Silicon Valley, as Apple's first R&D center outside California. Meanwhile, Google's Israel R&D center announced it will open an incubator where Israeli entrepreneurs can grow their ideas into great products.