Lisa Ohayon

Urgently Needed: The Start-up Nation’s greatest innovation yet

Surely a country with this number of Ph.Ds can apply its formidable problem solving talents to achieving peace

In recent weeks, seeking a distraction from the war and its horrific sequelae, I have become addicted to The White Queen, a drama series revolving around the War of the Roses that took place over the throne of England in the fifteenth century. I am I admit a sucker for a rollicking historical drama, replete with elaborate costumes, intrigue, and steamy bedroom scenes. Watching this drama unfold on my small screen I was struck by how little the basic themes of the world have changed. Struggles for power, shifting alliances, finding a space for one’s interests within a particular political landscape, the role played by hubris and the impossibility of escaping our ubiquitous cognitive biases. While we no longer strike each other off horses in battle, the grand narratives are the same, and in spite of my desire for distraction I was brought back sharply by these musings to our current situation in the Middle East.

Here we are again. Parts of Gaza flattened to dust. 64 of our sons whose absence will be forever felt. Thousands of grieving mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters in Gaza and at home, indeed in the world at large, demanding that the hand of justice be brought down upon Israel, upon Hamas, upon whomever it is deemed should pay the atrocious price of this war. If we walk away from this with a ceasefire deal with Hamas, resembling the stalemate agreed to in 2012, then we have all lost too much to contemplate.

What has been made clear by this current round of violence is that alliances have shifted, political landscapes have changed, interests have moved, diverged and merged; Israel needs to be in step strategically to capitalize on these shifts. Israel has to initiate, to innovate, to see all the angles and above all to act. To be active. Hamas drove this round of violence. They initiated it and they determined the tone and the pace of it. When they agreed to cease firing the hostilities stopped, and when they wanted to continue the firing began again. Hamas drove this war, and Israel must now drive the peace.

I know that our Prime Minister is a cautious man, a man who loves the status quo, who means to preserve it, and our nation at all costs. I beseech him to understand that now is not the time for standing still. I know too that most Israelis are tired and anxious, and have no desire to gamble on their security. Many want to circle the wagons. But it would be a grave mistake. The larger forces of radical political Islam are marching our way. We cannot face them in isolation and we need not do so. Though they make for strange bedfellows, we have natural allies all around us, those who feel equally threatened by the IS and their allies. Those that just like us would do almost anything to ensure that Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons capability.

Mr Netanyahu, your representatives are in Cairo right now. Tell them to broaden these talks, to bring in the Jordanians, the Saudis, Abu Mazen and all the states of the Arab Peace Initiative outside of Turkey, Qatar and Syria. Their proposal for full recognition and normalization has been on the table since 2002. It was offered again last year for the third time, with that in hand we need to throw off the yoke of the three NO’s of Khartoum and to understand that as it has been throughout history, so it is now. All will act according to their common interests, all will align with those who can help them stave off the enemy and preserve their way of life.

We do not subscribe to their particular way of life, as is certainly the case with the Saudis, but nevertheless these are our neighbors and we must act together. I am not talking about touchy-feely peace processes. The time for reconciliation will and must come, but not now. I am talking about pragmatic interests and alliances that can be to our benefit and the benefit of the entire region.

We are a country of innovators. We perceive a problem and we find a solution, often a remarkable, paradigm-shifting solution. Not enough water to feed the crops? We invent the drip irrigation system, Netafim, now operating in 112 countries. Want to check what’s going on in a patient’s stomach without being invasive? We invent PillCam, now the gold standard for intestinal visualization. Want to sleep soundly but you’re worried about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome? We invent Baby Sense to monitor a baby’s breathing and movements through the mattress during sleep. Too much traffic, not sure which is the best route to take? We invent Waze. Want to stop the rockets overhead from crushing your way of life? Here’s the Iron Dome.

It is undoubtedly our greatest challenge, but a nation that can come up with the most remarkable ideas when it comes to technology and war has to believe it can innovate a workable resolution to this conflict. We must put our heads together, this nation with the highest number of PhD’s per capita in the world, this stiff-necked people who make a habit of defying the odds, and figure out how to overcome the cognitive biases, the aversion to future losses, the psychological and emotional barriers that are preventing us from seeing what is staring us in the face.

We all know that more armed conflict cannot yield a workable, sustainable outcome, yet we find ourselves in another round and another round over and over ad nauseum. I don’t know any more if the two state solution is the answer to this conflict — there are many on both the left and the right who are advocating for one state. I think the law of return is a major stumbling block to this, as is the natural human inclination to self-determination. But I honestly don’t know.

What I do know is that we need as a nation and as a state to take matters into our own hands, we need to understand and to be certain that change is both necessary and possible. There is now an imperative to formulate clear, coherent policies that would make that change happen. More of the same is not working and will not work no matter how much our fear and uncertainty wills it so.

Milan Kundera in his book the History of Laughter and Forgetting said “We must never allow the future to collapse under the burden of memory.” Yes we have been attacked, our existence denied, our annihilation threatened, but No that does not mean that we are eternally stuck in this conflict with no way out. We can and we must shift the paradigm. In the words of the great peacemaker Nelson Mandela — everything is impossible until it is done.

About the Author
Lisa Ohayon is a South African born clinical psychologist with a Masters in Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution. She is a mother of four and has been living in Israel for the past seventeen years.