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The Varsavsky Foundation
Avenida Bruselas 7, Planta 3
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Madrid, Spain


The political blog of a social entrepreneur


Is Israel worth the attention?

I am in Israel now. In Tel Aviv. I came to attend Kinnernet, Yossi Vardi’s tech fest.

I hear it’s great. It’s my first time. It starts this afternoon. It takes place at the other end of Israel, but with Israel being so tiny the equivalent of a Los Angeles New York City car drive here takes 2 hours. Last night at Jeff Pulver’s pre Kinnernet party at the Whisky Go Go night club I already got a sense of the crowd that will attend the event. I had a great time with Avi Shechter, of Fring my favorite “don’t get ripped off and keep in touch with your friends mobile app”. Fring works great with FON and 3G and it combines MSN, Skype, Google Talk and SIP all in your Nokia (yes, so far unfortunately only Nokia). I also met the CEO of Fixya the web 2.0 of customer care. Unfortunately in the midst of this (I hate to be always connected) I also learned the bad news that Gizmodo reports that a La Fonera that we gave away in the States had a serious overheating problem. I hope it’s just that one and not a poorly manufactured batch that ended up in the States. So far we had been very lucky with the quality of the La Foneras, all over the world.

But I can’t end this comment about hanging out in Israel with the tech crowd without talking about what it feels like to be in Israel itself, a country that is not recognized by many, that is hated by many, that is at war with many. In Europe, public opinion is very anti Israel. In America pro Israel. Everyone seems to have an opinion about Israel. My family for example, who are Jews in Argentina do not dare to come to Israel as they think it is very dangerous (it is statistically more dangerous to walk around Buenos Aires than Tel Aviv). Now what is surprising is to come here and to get very little sense that you are in a country that is involved in so many conflicts. If this were a hurricane, Tel Aviv would be the eye of the storm but in the sense of the calm that seems to exist in the very eye of it.

For the tech entrepreneurs that I was with, the war is an anecdote. The subject comes up but it’s not dealt with a lot or in depth like, say, in the New York Times. People over here go on with their lives as usual. Now how can they be so relaxed while the whole world writes about the problems of Israel practically every day? Maybe the answer is because the wars of Israel are wars with relatively few casualties that don’t really affect the daily lives of people over here. They are like earthquakes, they happen, some die, life goes on.

The invasion of Lebanon of last summer, which for many including myself and now I learn most of the population of Israel was a big mistake, had an estimated 1200 casualties on the Lebanese side and less than 100 on the Israeli side and that war made headlines all over the world. Now compare this with much more lethal situations that don’t make headlines. In South Africa alone over 1000 people die per day of AIDS and over 18,000 are murdered every year. And that is South Africa which is the success story of Africa. When do we read about these deaths?

Now of course you could argue that everything is fine in Israel, but if you go to Palestine the story is different. And it is. I am on the board of One Voice and have visited Ramallah in the last few years, have met with people from Al Fatah and Hamas and have seen the conditions that the Palestinians live in. And they are bad, especially because of the check point system that the Israelies have built for security purposes that create a lot of inconveniences for the Palestinians. Still when you visit Ramallah, it looks very prosperous compared to Latin America, the part of the world that I grew up in. You don’t see in Palestine the misery you see in Brazil or Argentina. Palestinians live better lives on the average than Africans or Latin Americans. And as far as the chance of dying for a Palestinian or an Israeli, they have more chance of dying in a road accident than killed by members of the other side.

With all this I don’t mean to say that what happens between Israel and the Palestinians is not horrible. It is. It is unfair and it must be solved. Israel pulled out of Gaza, and now it must also pull out of the West Bank, and the Palestinians must get their country, recognize Israel and both people must live in peace. At my my foundation, we frequently deal with this tough issue. But every time I come to this part of the world, I just wonder if global public opinion is not paying a disproportionate amount of attention to this conflict as opposed to other problems that are considerably worse in the region and in the world. In a list of the worst problems of the planet, the conflict between Israel and Palestine is just not worth the ranking that it is normally given by global media.

Posted on March 15, 2007