Posted by on October 24, 2012 in Blog
By Emily Jabareen
2012 Fall Intern
The busy city of Ramallah, located in the West Bank, has been experiencing economic hardship for years. People recently took to the streets by the hundreds to protest rising food prices and dismal employment rates, angrily chanting slogans condemning the inaction of the Palestinian Authority. The West Bank as a whole has been suffering under the weight of a collapsing economic system, a byproduct of Israeli military presence and the barriers to entry that have become a permanent feature of life in the Palestinian territories. Deep political divisions between Palestinian ruling parties and a stagnant peace process have impeded economic development as well.
Yet hope prevails. Stretched along a Ramallah street, building offices are bustling with the sound of a developing tech industry on the cusp of takeoff. The offices operate in an almost different dimension of reality, where companies emerge at the click of a button, and long-distance business relations are not subject to the suffocating language of borders, sovereignty, and occupation. Individuals in the office buildings seem to have escaped the drudgeries that typify Palestinian life, and work in a bubble detached from the everyday rigmarole of imposed military restrictions.
The tech hub has been attracting attention for years, and has grown into what some consider a Palestinian Silicon Valley. The industry generated around $300 million in sales last year, and the number is expected to increase. It has also employed 5,800 people in the last five years, and is responsible for employing an estimated 3,200 individuals annually. The majority of the companies that have sprung out of the growth in technological innovation were created by repatriated Palestinians.
Feras Naser, A Canadian Palestinian living in Ramallah, received his degree from Wayne State University in computer engineering and worked in IT management for years before returning to the Palestinian territories to help others achieve their tech dreams. In August of this year, Nasr organized a ”Hi Tech Hub” event aimed at bringing individuals from all over the West Bank to share their tech ideas and collaborate with others. Around 500 people attended.
Among those invited to speak at the event was Palestinian American Sami Shalabi, a Google employee and co-founder of Zingku, now owned by Google, and YallaStartup.org, an NGO aimed at “early stage entrepreneurship in the Middle East and North Africa.” The event demonstrated a Palestinian hunger for expansions in the tech industry, where the energies of the youth can be poured into more productive channels.
A growing Palestinian tech industry has not only received recognition from Arab and European markets, but is now attracting Israeli investors. The Israeli company Mellanox Technologies Ltd, an Israeli maker of chips for data-center adapters, chose the West Bank as its location for a new software design center last year. In addition, Sadara, a venture capital fund, decided to invest in Palestinian high technology during the same year, receiving $29 million in contributions and the support of the some of the world’s leading technology companies. The fund is managed by Yadin Kauffman, an Israeli, and Saed Nashef, a Palestinian, both of whom believe in the future of the Palestinian tech industry and the need for mutual cooperation.
As more Palestinian tech companies continue to demonstrate high potential for success, investments will inevitably grow in tandem, and as the benefits of business cooperation grow on the sides of both the Palestinians and Israelis, there will be more opportunity for business relations to translate into a willingness to settle political battles.