Vision of a ‚Smart City’ - Beer-Sheva’s Ben-Gurion University collaborates with ‘Deutsche Telekom’ in the field of Cyber Security

Campus Ben Gurion University - © Dani Machlis (Ben Gurion University)

The fields of research could hardly be more diverse at the Ben Gurion University in Beer-Sheva: Founded in 1969, it has grown into an academic playground for scientific extremes: bible scholars, nano-physicists, software engineers and desert researchers regard this university as their educational home.

Author: Ulla Thiede/ Translation: Jennifer Bligh

Similarly diverse is the cooperation with German partners, whereby collaboration is supported, for example, by the German-Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and Development (GIF) and various partners in industry.

Gunnar Lehmann is a full-time afficionado of the past and loves to dig, brush and sieve through layers of soil. He serves as head of the School of Archaeology at the Ben-Gurion-University (BGU) in Beer-Sheva and works together with his students on excavating traces of Canaanite, Jewish and Egyptian settlement in Israel. The archaeological sites are silent witnesses to thousands of years of settlement and construction, of war, destruction and reconstruction - of the history of humankind.

It comes as no surprise that the Middle East conflict also affects scientists: “Archaeologists who work in Israel aren’t allowed to dig in Arab countries,” Lehmann explains. He is banned from Iraq and Syria since he researched at the Holocaust memorial institution Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Consequently the German expert for biblical archaeology decided to relocate entirely to Israel. He now heads the archaeological school of the university and encourages joint collaboration with fellow German researchers.

The very first German-Israeli scientific collaboration, however, started long before the BGU was established in 1969. Ute Deichmann, a German historian, researched the first cautious steps in cooperation prior to the establishment of diplomatic relations. Deichmann clearly recalls the fierce discussions that took place in the land of the Holocaust survivors in the late fifties and early sixties. Many Israelis doubted that the time was ripe to collaborate with German scientists who refused to account for their role in Nazi-Germany.

Like the population in general, many scientists suddenly claimed to have been opponents of the Nazis. However, the reality was different. ‘Many myths were created,’ recalls Deichmann. Nevertheless, she concludes that over time the scientific collaboration has developed into a “huge success”: for science and the researchers - and for bilateral relations.

In 2007 Ute Deichmann founded the Jacques Loeb Centre for the History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer-Sheva, Israel. It organises regular international conferences with biologists, historians and philosophers, such as the last summit in May on the topic of infectious diseases. The Minerva-Foundation, a subsidiary of the Max-Planck Society, financed Deichmann’s Gentner-Symposia. These conferences, which alternate between Germany and Israel and are subsidized with up to 30 000 Euro, focus on questions that have yet to be addressed in scientific collaboration.

The university is named after Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion who dreamed of providing impulses for the development of the Negev desert with this university. Beer-Sheva is the largest city in the sparsely populated south of the country. Around 20 000 students are studying at the five schools of the university. Furthermore, several leading institutes are linked up with the BGU, such as the National Institute for Biotechnology in the Nevev, the Ilse Katz Institute for Nanoscale Science & Technology and the Jacob-Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research. The biennial desert conference under the auspices of the United Nations has been carried out at the BGU campus in Sde Boker since 2006.

The Gav Yam Advanced Technology Park (ATP) is on the verge of becoming a new city within the city - right next to the Marcus-Campus in Beer-Sheva. It will be the hotspot of future worlds. One of the unique phenomena happening there is the creation of CyberSpark, a non-profit organization promoting the developing cyber ecosystem that bridges academic research, industrial partners and the Israeli National Cyber Bureau. Roni Zehavi serves as the head of CyberSpark which will also promote cyber research in the Negev on a global scale. Zehavi is dreaming of Beer-Sheva as Israel’s first ‘Smart City’. ‘This is a gold mine for digital networks – we are able to test without restrictions.’

One of Zehavi’s first partners at the industrial park is Germany’s Deutsche Telekom AG (DTAG) with its Telekom Innovation Laboratories.The collaboration with BGU started in 2006 – for the benefit of both sides: the university is allowed to publish the research results in scientific publications whereas DTAG co-owns the respective patents. Around 100 researchers of the university work at T-Labs@BGU in the fields of Smart-Data-Analytics and data security. One of the projects is called ‘Honeypots‘: they deliberately attract computer- and network attacks in order to observe and analyse them.

“The telecommunication industry is facing radical market changes in technology. We have to think ahead considering that the average economic three-year loops no longer apply,” explains Klaus Jürgen Buß, deputy head of T-Labs. T-Labs only exist in Israel and the Silicon Valley. “If we think of service providers and what they are going to be challenged with...it’s no surprise that they won’t be able to face whatever comes up in seven or eight years’ time if they don’t have a clue what might develop,” he adds.

The Advanced Technology Park is a joint project of BGU, the Israeli state, the region of Beer-Sheva and the industry. In future it is supposed to provide work for 15 000 people. “This dimension is quite unparalleled throughout the world,” says Buß. He is not surprised that such a project has been established in Israel of all places: the Jewish state is extremely focused on security. “Israel recognized cyber security very early on as global security topic.”

It is not only the private industry but also the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research that supports collaboration projects. Funding is provided by the previously mentioned Minerva-Foundation and also by the German-Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and Development (GIF). The foundation was established in 1986 and manages funds of 211 million Euros which are equally divided between the two countries. The GIF has supported more than one thousand bilateral research projects over the years.

The archaeologist Gunnar Lehmann heads one of the thirty projects that are funded by GIF on an annual basis. His research partner is Angelika Berlejung, theologian and Assyrian expert at the University of Leipzig, Germany. Their topic is the history of Ashdod-ad-Chalom, the Assyrian regional government in the eighth and seventh century BC, when Egypt and Assyria were superpowers in the Levant region and expelled Jews and Israelites into exile. GIF grants maximum 200 000 Euros over the course of three years.

In Beer-Sheva several buildings bear a German name: Deichmann - in memory of Heinz-Horst Deichmann and his wife Ruth. The head of the shoe chain store funded many research projects and buildings in Beer-Sheva. The connection was developed when he became friends with a Holocaust survivor. Deichmann died in 2014. “My father had many friends on campus and off campus,” explains the historian Ute Deichmann. She founded a chamber music course at the university six years ago – together with her husband, an Israeli cello player. Their students play Bach, Mozart, Haydn and Brahms – yet another example of the diversity of German-Israeli partnerships.