May 20, 2012
We started our day early with a trip to the City of David, the oldest part of Jerusalem. After descending via Warren's Shaft, we walked the length of Hezekiah's Tunnel. The water level, at its deepest point in the tunnel, reached my thighs. From an engineering standpoint, it was impressive to think that, after digging towards the other from each side, the workers met in the middle and had the correct grade. The tunnel was carved out of the bedrock what a bit wider than our shoulders.
Ariel Beery, one of the Co-Directors for PresenTense, met us at their Israeli headquarters. He grew up and was educated in the U.S. but fell in love with Israel through many trips with his father. JFK said "Our problems are manmade; therefore they can be solved by man". Technology and how we interact with the material world has changed dramatically in the 2,000 years since the destruction of the Temple that is central to this city. However, many of the same social problems persist. So far, our tour has focused on high-technology solutions started in Israel. PresenTense aims to facilitate the solutions for the many problems that cannot be solved with technology. It is a non-profit, volunteer-run, startup that works with social entrepreneurs and community members. My best summarization is that it works like an incubator for social ideas. This, in my opinion, is another example of the subtle impact of the Kibbutz Movement - individuals are motivated to create the greatest good for the community.
After our meeting at PresenTense, we headed beyond the wall of separation into Abu Dis to visit Al Quds University. We stopped at the checkpoint to meet up with our counterparts from Al Quds and follow them to the university. However, no checkpoint was needed to signal to that Abu Dis was in the West Bank. The street signs were written in Arabic rather than Hebrew, cars were double parked, the Palestinian eagle adorned government vehicles and there was lots of trash littering along the road. Yet, in the face of adversity, the nanotechnology research facilities were cutting edge: Low temperature(les than 4 Kelvin) Atomic Force Microscopy and Differential Scanning Calorimeter. The director of the Nanotechnology Lab, Dr. Mukhles Sowwan was educated at Hebrew University. His close relation with Israeli's allowed the lab to safely transport the equipment and instruments to the university.
We toured, before we left Al Quds, the Abu Jihad Museum for the Prisoners Movement Affairs. The museum was built from 1999 - 2007 (construction stopped during the Second Intifada). It honors Palestinian prisoners during the British Mandate and currently by Israelis. The tour guide at the museum did not seem keen on speaking about the current political situation between the Israelis and Palestinians. Instead, he focused on the human rights abuses and extrajudicial killings of prisoners. Interestingly, many universities, including Hebrew University, are helping the museum in research.
After a long day, we returned to the Lev Yerushalayim Hotel to meet with Jon Medved. He is a former venture capitalist and the CEO of Vringo. We had a cordial chat about start-up scene in Israel. Jon was well versed on many numbers that show the power of Israeli startups on the world economy. Jon also brought us into the mind of a venture capitalist. Many times he would bet on technologies that didn't exist because he knew that the founders would work hard enough to invent their idea.