QASR AL-SIR — There are no sirens here, no shelters and no “Iron Dome,” Israel's air defense system.
It was 11 a.m. Saturday, July 19. Ouda al-Waja, 30, was resting under the porch of his small shack, sheltering from the hot weather. His youngest daughter, just three months, is sleeping next to him. Suddenly, a rocket blast hits the front porch, and steel rains down, killing the young father instantly. The young girl's head is severely injured, and four people from the same family are hit by the Hamas attack intended for other parts of Israel.
Qasr al-Sir, one of the many Bedouin camps in the Negev desert, is only 60 kilometers from Gaza. Virtually in the middle of nowhere, this Israeli village built of canvas and corrugated iron is often hit by Hamas rockets. The Palestinian movement’s intended targets are Dimona and Beersheba, but the missiles sometimes fall on those who are supposed to be allies. Although they are Israeli citizens, the 200,000 Negev Bedouins are in fact Arabs or Muslims who, like the Palestinians, were transferred under the yoke of Israel when it was created in 1948.
“It's war. I don’t blame Hamas or Israel, but I reproach Israel for not protecting all of its citizens equally,” says a glum Souleiman, Ouda’s father-in-law.
The crater the rocket left was filled with sand and stones, but the rest — twisted corrugated iron and broken glass — is still untouched. Given such a desolate sight, the sound of the goats and sheep bleating seems out of place.
Souleiman al-Waja, 41, is the leader of the al-Wadj tribe. He has two wives and 15 children. Some 400 people, all related, live in Qasr al-Sir, one of the Negev’s 35 unrecognized villages. There is no running water, just a hose connected to Dimona, three kilometers away, and no electricity either, except for that produced by solar panels. And no collection of wastewater or garbage.
“The tent over there is to be demolished by the authorities’ order,” the tribe leader says wearily, pointing to a bivouac where some 20 women and young children are busying themselves. “Our village was declared illegal, but I was born here. Like my father and his father before him. We have no other choice but to stay here.”
A few hundred meters from here, a group of men are gathering to honor Ouda’s memory. Lying on mats under a tent, they are speaking Arabic. They still dream of the past, back when they were free to come and go as they pleased in the Negev. Today, under Israel’s military laws, the Bedouins are living on only 10% of their ancestors’ territories.
“War doesn't scare us,” says a tribesman named Salem, divided between nostalgia and anger. “Our black goats from the Sinai used to show us all the paths and caves where to hide. Now, we can’t settle where we want, and we get killed.”
Driven to the other side
Unlike their parents, younger generations of Bedouins (60% are under 18) feel increasingly closer to the Palestinians. “It’s the solidarity of the excluded,” explains Haia Noach, executive director of the NGO Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality. The Bedouins are the poorest community in Israel. Almost 70% of them live below the poverty line. Infant mortality, for example, is eight times higher than in Tel-Aviv.
Israel is increasingly looking to the south, and many firmly believe that the country sees the Negev as a new frontier. But the Bedouins see the region’s development plan, which supposes that 40,000 of them will be displaced, as first and foremost meant to benefit Israel’s military industry.
On top of Dimona's nuclear power plant, large military bases soon will be built, along with training camps, new towns and new settlements — all officially meant to relieve the West Bank and compensate for the loss of Gaza, and even leisure centers. “We will become the region's Las Vegas,” some claim.
Their fellow Jewish citizens have a poor opinion of the Negev Bedouins. The latter believe they are seen as “a kind of Roma,” “thieves, liars and scroungers,” and therefore do not seek to integrate Israeli society anymore, but rather to obtain the same rights.
“They are deeply attached to the land of their ancestors,” insists Haia Noach. “This is what their current battle with the state is all about.” But Lior Rosenberg, a doctor at the Beersheba hospital, fears that the Bedouins are no more no less than a “time bomb” for Israel.
Long perceived as a country chasing Western tech, China's business and technological innovations are now influencing the rest of the world. Still lagging on some fronts, the future is now up for grabs.
BEIJING — China's tech tycoons have fallen out of favor: Jack Ma (Alibaba), Colin Huang (Pinduoduo), Richard Liu (Tencent) and Zhang Yiming (ByteDance) have all been pressured by Beijing to leave their jobs or step back from a public role. Their time may be coming to an end, but the legacy remains exceptional. Under their reign, China has become a veritable window to the global future of technology.
TikTok is the perfect example. Launched in 2016, the video messaging app has been downloaded over two billion times worldwide. It has passed the 100-million active user mark in the United States. Thanks to TikTok's success, ByteDance, its parent company, has reached an exceptional level of influence on the internet.
For a long time, the West viewed China's digital ecosystem as a cheap imitation of Silicon Valley. The European and American media described the giants of the Asian superpower as the "Chinese Google" or "Chinese Amazon." But the tables have turned.
No Western equivalent to WeChat
The Asian superpower has forged cutting-edge business models that do not exist elsewhere. It is impossible to find a Western equivalent to the WeChat super-app (1.2 billion users), which is used for shopping as much as for making a medical appointment or obtaining credit.
The flow of innovation is now changing direction.
The roles have actually reversed: In a recent article, Les Echos describes the California-based social network IRL, as a "WeChat of the Western world."
Grégory Boutté, digital and customer relations director at the multinational luxury group Kering, explains, "The Chinese digital ecosystem is incredibly different, and its speed of evolution is impressive. Above all, the flow of innovation is now changing direction."
This is illustrated by the recent creation of "live shopping" events in France, which are hosted by celebrities and taken from a concept already popular in China.
10,000 new startups per day
There is an explosion of this phenomenon in the digital sphere. Rachel Daydou, Partner & China General Manager of the consulting firm Fabernovel in Shanghai, says, "With Libra, Facebook is trying to create a financial entity based on social media, just as WeChat did with WeChat Pay. Facebook Shop looks suspiciously like WeChat's mini-programs. Amazon Live is inspired by Taobao Live and YouTube Shopping by Douyin, the Chinese equivalent of TikTok."
In China, it is possible to go to fully robotized restaurants or to give a panhandler some change via mobile payment. Your wallet is destined to be obsolete because your phone can read restaurant menus and pay for your meal via a QR Code.
The country uses shared mobile chargers the way Europeans use bicycles, and is already testing electric car battery swap stations to avoid 30 minutes of recharging time.
Michael David, chief omnichannel director at LVMH, says, "The Chinese ecosystem is permanently bubbling with innovation. About 10,000 start-ups are created every day in the country."
China is also the most advanced country in the electric car market. With 370 models at the end of 2020, it had an offering that was almost twice as large as Europe's, according to the International Energy Agency.
China's super-app WeChat
The whole market runs on tech
Luca de Meo, CEO of French automaker Renault, said in June that China is "ahead of Europe in many areas, whether it's electric cars, connectivity or autonomous driving. You have to be there to know what's going on."
As a market, China is also a source of technological inspiration for Western companies, a world leader in e-commerce, solar, mobile payments, digital currency and facial recognition. It has the largest 5G network, with more than one million antennas up and running, compared to 400,000 in Europe.
Self-driving cars offer an interesting point of divergence between China and the West.
Just take the number of connected devices (1.1 billion), the time spent on mobile (six hours per day) and, above all, the magnitude of data collected to deploy and improve artificial intelligence algorithms faster than in Europe or the United States.
The groundbreaking field of self-driving cars offers an interesting point of divergence between China and the West. Artificial intelligence guru Kai-Fu Lee explains that China believes that we should teach the highway to speak to the car, imagining new services and rethinking cities to avoid cars crossing pedestrians, while the West does not intend to go that far.
Still lagging in some key sectors
There are areas where China is still struggling, such as semiconductors. Despite a production increase of nearly 50% per year, the country produces less than 40% of the chips it consumes, according to official data. This dependence threatens its ambitions in artificial intelligence, telecoms and autonomous vehicles. Chinese manufacturers work with an engraving fineness of 28 nm or more, far from those of Intel, Samsung or TSMC. They are unable to produce processors for high-performance PCs.
China's aerospace industry is also lagging behind the West. There are also no Chinese players among the top 20 life science companies on the stock market and there are doubts surrounding the efficacy of Sinovac and Sinopharm's COVID-19 vaccines. As of 2019, the country files more patents per year than the U.S., but far fewer are converted into marketable products.
Beijing knows its weaknesses and is working to eliminate them. Adopted in March, the nation's 14th five-year plan calls for a 7% annual increase in R&D spending between now and 2025, compared with 12% under the previous plan. Big data aside, that is basic math anyone can understand.
- Good And Evil Uses Of Facial Recognition Around The Globe ... ›
- Can Artificial Intelligence Solve China's Demographic Crisis ... ›
- Billionaire Surveillance: China Tracks Its Tech Moguls - Worldcrunch ›