When they say there can be no peace between Israelis and Palestinians they are mistaken. There is “peace” already or at least there is no war. During the last 2 years relatively few people died in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (268 since January 2009 to be exact – out of which 45 were Palestinians killed/executed by Palestinians), and I say “relatively” because this is in great contrast with Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur and many other areas of the world where tens of thousands have died. As a comparison, in USA alone 41,000 people die every year in car accidents.  Indeed it is more likely to die in a car accident in USA than at war if you are a Palestinian or an Israeli.

During my visit to Israel I was surprised to see how many Palestinians actually live in Israel, this is something that is not well known outside of Israel. Arabs constitute about 20% of Israel’s total population. At the Tel Aviv beaches for example, the blend is magic. You see Israelis surfing next to Arab women who go into the water fully dressed. And some actually swim fully dressed. I had never seen anything like that. Israelis and Arabs, side by side, sharing their free time at the beach.  I hope this is part of what the peaceful future of Israelis and Palestinians will be like.

If you compare other armed conflicts with the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you will see that while this is the one with the most media attention globally it is surprisingly the least deadly. I took the time to make a comparative chart based on the estimated number of casualties (including civilians) that can be found on Wikipedia. In most cases the spread between high and low estimates is very large, but the figures give a good general idea of the order of magnitude of each conflict. Of course it would be a mistake to focus only on the number of casualties when comparing different armed conflicts, there are many other factors to be considered, such as the number of indirect deaths, the number of displaced people, the amount of psychological damage caused, the long-term effects on the affected regions, just to name a few. And it is true that the Palestinians suffer many humiliations in their daily life like for example when they try to travel from Gaza to the West Bank or even around the West Bank. But casualties is still a clear measure of war.

I hope this post is not understood as an attempt to minimize the important of the conflict. I sincerely hope that something like the Oslo Accords gets implemented in the near future so the Palestinians can have their own country. While the situation now is not a war, it is not a solution either. But it is important to put things in perspective and realize that Palestinians in Israel and in the Palestinian territories do not live in what we would normally call a war.

Here’s the chart I made:

And here are a couple of pictures I took at the beach during my visit that illustrate what I saw in terms of Palestinians and Israelis enjoying the sea side by side.

To end this post, I leave you with this video I shot during a helicopter ride around Israel. What became very apparent in the helicopter ride is that the paradox of the Palestinians is that they are either in Israel or near Israel and that Israel is so developed compared to Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, namely other countries in which Palestinians live, that it is not surprising that the Palestinians would want Israel as it is now. It is hard to say to what point do they want to go to the land of their ancestors and to what point they much prefer the greatly improved land of Israel of today. Indeed it is possible that if the Israelis had done with their country what the Palestinians did with Gaza and instead the Palestinians had reached the level of development in Gaza that Israel has now, that few Palestinians would be wanting to move to Israel or ask that a Gaza looking Israel be returned to them. Before many Israelis wanted the West Bank and Gaza, now few do. So Israelis have mostly given up the hope of a greater Israel. Only the Israeli fanatic settlers still want a Greater Israel. What people never say in this conflict is that this is not a conflict about the Biblical Israel or the Palestine of the 1920s. This is a conflict about what Israel is today and what Palestine is today. And the contrast is drastic. And it is hard to argue what the Palestinians argue that if they got Israel that it would be what today we know as Israel in terms of prosperity and economic development. I have a hard time imagining Israel being the country outside of USA with most Nasdaq traded companies or Nobel Prizes if it was Palestine. This is what happens when people’s past is so different from people’s present.

Lastly I would like to say that while I blame Israelis for not wanting to negotiate with the Palestinians now and I dislike the current position of the government of Israel vis a vis negotiations I think the Palestinians had a great opportunity in Gaza and by electing Hamas after settlers were forced out by force from there they escalated the conflict and made it hard for Israelis to feel comfortable about removing settlers by force from the West bank.

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Today I am in Belgium to announce Fon’s partnership with Belgacom, a great company with fixed and mobile operations in a country of 11 million people. Together with the largest telco company in Belgium we will build the largest WiFi community in Belgium and extend Fon’s WiFi footprint, currently with more than 4 million hotspots all over the world. But this is not only an important day for Belgacom’s customers and Foneros. It’s an important day for Fon as it shows the world again that some of the leading telcos in the world realize that Fon can help them to provide a better mobile user experience for their customers if they join our WiFi community.

This partnership is also more proof that, as I explain in this post from 2010, operators are increasingly realizing the power of WiFi in order to provide a better user experience and to offload the enormous amount of data traffic that is congesting their mobile networks. The growth in demand for mobile bandwidth is far outpacing the growth in capacity, with people now spending more time using mobile apps than surfing the web.

Since our first partnership with BT in the UK in 2007, interest in Fon from fixed and mobile telcos and hardware manufacturers has ballooned. In the past years we have demonstrated what we knew all along – that we can help our partners to provide a service which their subscribers appreciate… and thereby help them to reduce CAPEX, decrease churn, attract new customers, differentiate and freshen up their brand image. And today, six years after starting from scratch, we are talking to big telco incumbents in different countries. We’re thrilled to now be working with Belgacom, and though I can’t say specifically with whom Fon will partner next, I can say that this probably won’t be the last partnership we get to announce this year.

Update: here’s what the media is saying about our new partnership:



http://www.zdnet.be/news/129013/belgacom-rolt-4g-uit/ for my Belgian readers 🙂

Jerusalem has many teenagers, say 18 yr olds, armed with machine guns, both boys and girls. While I understand this may be necessary I find it creepy and wrong. And what is worse is that my 4 year old boy who is here with us is fascinated with guns, something that I am trying to discourage but it’s not easy with boys that age. As he sees these other “kids”with machine guns he goes and talks to them, asks them if he can also have a machine gun to play with. They laugh but I worry.

On a more positive note here are some pictures of Jerusalem which overall is a fascinating place to visit. But the second picture shows my son Leo admiring the young soldiers.

When I was growing up, Americans and Europeans used to be concerned about the strength of their potential enemies. Russia, China were feared for their ability to fight us in a conventional and nuclear war. Now, surprisingly we worry about weakness of our enemies, we worry about failed states. Who would have said in the 80s that the biggest worries of USA and UE now would have been countries like Yemen or Afghanistan?

When Nina and I got married in 2009, the most thoughtful present we received was that of Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales (I wrote about it in my Spanish blog). After I told Jimmy about the difficulties my foundation educ.ar (whose mission is to improve education through the use of technology) was encountering in securing internet access for the many computers we had distributed to schools, Jimmy had a very special surprise for us at our wedding: an offline version of the Spanish Wikipedia.

Rather than being a present for Nina and me, it’s really a gift to all those kids in Argentina and other Spanish-speaking countries who have no means of connecting to the internet, or only have very limited access. And now, more than one year later, educ.ar is finally ready to deliver those DVDs to schools in Argentina.

At first glance this might not seem like a big achievement, but it is. As Jimmy explains in his blog, the difficulty is not getting the content on a DVD (it fits easily), but rather developing a simple offline reader that provides basic search and display functionality, using only free/open source software. Just think of the millions of cross-links that make discovering new information so easy and enjoyable on Wikipedia.

The DVD educ.ar will begin distributing this year consists of three parts. First, the offline Wikipedia itself, called “CDpedia”. Creating the CDpedia itself was only possible thanks to the efforts of the Python Argentina team. In addition, there’s a theoretical framework where experts comment on the value of using Wikipedia in the classroom and explain Wikipedia’s value in an educational and social context that is increasingly being influenced by information technology and is undergoing a permanent transformation. Lastly, the DVD contains general tutorials and a guideline showing how to effectively use Wikipedia in a classroom setting. Here is the online version of this project.

And so, what started out as a wedding gift from a single (and very special) person will now bring a world of knowledge to thousands of school kids all over Argentina, and later to even more people in every Spanish-speaking country. I couldn’t think of a better present.

Good news for my friend and CEO of Acens José Cerdán, good news for the Spanish start-up scene in general: Acens has just announced that it was acquired by Telefónica for a rumored €80 million. Acens was founded in 1997 and provides cloud hosting and housing services for more than 100k business customers and operates large data centers in Spain (about 6,000 square meters). Acens hosts over 200k websites, can provide VPN services and allows companies to outsource their entire server infrastructure.

If the price tag of €80 million turns out to be correct, the Acens acquisition price will have surpassed Tuenti’s by €10 million. Not bad! Compared to tech exits in other European countries or the US, this figure might not seem exceptional. But considering the unfavorable start-up environment in Spain, this is a very important signal, both for investors and for (potential) entrepreneurs that exits to local buyers are possible.

The acquisition comes just one day after Apple announced the launch of iCloud. While Acens is a B2B company and does not target individual consumers like Apple, there is clearly a trend here and that is towards hosting everything in the internet.

José has done an amazing job running and scaling Acens since 2007. He was a guest at the Menorca TechTalk and has an interesting bio, having founded his first company at the age of 22 and being a current advisor to the current opposition leader and head of Spain’s People’s Party, Mariano Rajoy.

I am happy for José and his team.  Let’s hope that this acquisition gives a boost to the entire start-up scene in Spain. Enhorabuena José!

Last night we had dinner with Nina, my wife, Alexis Bonte and his wife, Jimena. Alexis is the French entrepreneur settled in Madrid who is creating the successful game, which I highly recommend by the way, called eRepublik. After dinner we went to the Busuu party. Busuu is another Madrilian start up created by the Austrian Bernhard Niesner and the Swiss/Liechtensteinian Adrian Hilti. I am an investor in Busuu. Busuu is a social net to learn new languages, which I use to learn German. I also recommend it to learn English, German, French and other languages. During the party, which took place in the Puerta de America hotel, several awards were given (all of them as a joke) and there were several entrepreneurs. Here is the video.

After getting back, and preparing a lecture I will be giving at the Red Innova, the Latin-American start up conference in Madrid, I wanted to find out how many “latin” start ups exist, considering a start up any company that has funding, an online product or which is in the market until it makes it to the stock exchange. To give an example from one of the companies I started, I would say Jazztel is no longer a start up but Fon still is (even though it is reaching longevity, size and profit value enough to graduate into a company). So I logged into Twitter and asked about start ups in Madrid, then in Spain, and then, thinking about the Red Innova, in all of Latin-America. The first comment came from @technalia who said that there were so many they would not all fit into a tweet. Made sense. So around 2am I made a simple Google Doc and I asked voluntaries on Twitter to fill it up. You can see how it happened on my Twitter stream. The request was retweeted first across Spain and then across Latin-America.

The result is here. It’s a work in progress and it is still being edited, so if you know of any start up from Latin-America which does not appear on the list, access the form – Wikipedia style – and add it. Or if you have the details on any of the start ups that are already on the list, you may add them as well. The goal is to achieve a sort of Latin-American Crunchbase which serves all of us and where data can be updated and improved by anyone. I also got this map of Start Ups.

Now, what was impressive is that this database was created a Saturday night. And that’s how it is: we entrepreneurs never stop. 2am, 3am and we all work to add data. Now @marcosbl has offered to help improve the Google Doc and use a program to better fit the task at hand. We are waiting for the result. I thank all of you who helped out to make the Google Doc of the Latin-American dreams; the dream to transform an idea into a start up, and a start up into an established and leading company.

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