‘Thou Shalt Innovate’ chronicles Israel’s contributions to science, tech, medicine

Author photo: 2016 Elysées Eye Productions

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

“To be a realist in Israel, one must believe in miracles.” 

— David Ben-Gurion, Founding Prime Minister of Israel

Avi Jorisch, senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council and a widely published Middle East expert, has just produced something of a rarity in recent public discourse: a positive book about the State of Israel.

In “Thou Shalt Innovate: How Israeli Ingenuity Repairs the World” (284 pages, Gefen Books, $27), Jorisch does an excellent job offering a fact-based positive narrative about the State of Israel—in contrast to the flood of anti-Israel biased news stories, opinion pieces and books.


 Over the past few years, discussion of Israel has gone in many quarters, from an “Israel can do no wrong” majority to an “Israel is always wrong” mentality.  This is not to suggest that Israel should be immune from legitimate criticism; it is only to welcome a documented source book that much of what happens in Israel remains as truly remarkable as ever.

Like Dan Senor and Saul Singer’s 2009 book “Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle,” Jorisch’s book is a major corrective to the harshly negative tone of too much coverage of Israel in mainstream media. 

Israel, which will mark its 70th anniversary of independence as a modern nation-state in May, has had to innovate as a means of survival, having already survived as many wars in seven decades as the United States over the past two and a half centuries. Among other advances in medicine, agriculture, water independence and conservation detailed in Jorisch’s timely book are:

How a quadriplegic man developed an exoskeleton walking device that allows paraplegics to walk again.

How an Israeli innovator created the Uber of ambulances through a crowdsourcing smartphone application that alerts first responders to emergencies getting there in a matter of life-saving minutes.

How a large, out-of-place tree inspired a water expert to invent Modern Drip Irrigation—the system that revolutionized farming with water conservation and increased crop yields used today by water poor areas around the globe. Drip irrigation has not only made Israel’s deserts bloom, but has been exported to African and other nations suffering from severe drought.

“Thou Shalt Innovate” discusses how Israel is indeed a major innovator in treating battlefield injuries, including life-threatening burns. Jorisch notes the Technion, Israel’s Institute of Technology, and the Weizmann Institute of Science and the Hadassah Hospital, are admired worldwide for their expertise in dealing with the aftermath of natural or man-made disasters. It is no accident that the first medical rescue units on the scene in places like Haiti after its earthquake and hurricanes are those staffed by Israeli MASH units, which are already hard at work while other nations’ units are filling out paperwork at the airport.

Jorisch bolsters his case that Israel is singular in the Middle East with colorful and inspirational examples of how necessity is indeed the mother of invention in the geographically tiny Jewish State.  

There is the example of Bernard Bar-Nathan, a Brooklyn native who made aliyah after graduating college in 1979. During his service in the Israeli Defense Forces, Bar-Natan was shocked at how primitive the first aid medical supplies were in Israel — his unit used bandages manufactured in 1942. When he asked how to stop bleeding, he was told to place a stone over the wounded and apply pressure. 

He later developed a high-tech fiber that allows users to wrap the bandage around the wound and then change direction to create pressure—using only one hand. He shared his idea with an Israeli technology incubator and received a government grant to cover most of his expenses, leading to a patent and a product that saved not only Israeli lives, but also Palestinians and Syrians treated for their wounds at Israeli hospitals.

Jorisch details how Israeli military and science experts developed the Iron Dome Missile System—advanced radar and software that predicts an incoming rocket’s trajectory and shoots it out of the sky. The Iron Dome assures that the still tiny State of Israel will retain its qualitative edge in military preparedness against rocket attacks from Hezbollah and Hamas, which have received tens of thousands of medium and long-range rockets from the virulently anti-Israel regime in Iran.

In a chapter he titles “Be a Mensch,” Jorisch movingly describes why he wrote “Thou Shalt Innovate.” Born into a family of Holocaust survivors, Jorisch was raised primarily in New York City but also in Israel for long stretches of his childhood. 

“For as long as I can remember, Israel’s faults and blemishes have been apparent; but so too have its miraculous promise and remarkable achievements,” he writes. 

In his engaging and often personal narrative, Jorisch more than achieves his goal to choose “hope and healing” over death and destruction in a part of the world that has seen too much darkness.” 

Jorisch acknowledges that Israel is far from perfect, but brilliantly proves that it indeed fulfills the biblical injunction to be “a Light Unto the Nations.”