Affable graffiti characters peered out from collages adorning the walls of
Google’s 26th floor Tel Aviv Campus, as leaders from the Israeli and Palestinian
hi-tech communities gathered Sunday evening to discuss business.
Israel is known as the “start-up nation,” the Palestinian economy, too, boasts
an educated workforce and technical talent. The gathering’s organizers – which
include, among others, the Peres Center for Peace, the Federation of Israeli
Chambers of Commerce, Mercy Corps and IATI, Israel’s hi-tech umbrella
organization – believe that deepening business relations between the two sides
would not only bring economic benefit to both, but also help develop ties that
could facilitate a peace agreement.
“This is a pool of talent that is
untapped by Israelis and multi-nationals,” says Murad Tahboub, managing director
of Asal Technologies, whose 130 engineers provide services for Cisco in Israel.
According to the
Palestine Information Technology Association of Companies (PITA), the
Palestinian IT sector accounts for 8 percent of the Palestinian economy, even
though it only represents 3% of the workers.
Despite a slew of
difficulties such as travel restrictions, partnering with Palestinians offers
many advantages. Aside from living in the same time zone as Israel, many of them
speak perfect Hebrew, excellent English, and share a closer cultural outlook to
Israelis than, say, Indians or Chinese.
“Communicating with our
Palestinian counterparts is easier,” says Intel’s Research & Development
head in Jerusalem Yishai Frankel.
If that’s not convincing, there are
some compelling numbers that are. The cost of highly educated, Palestinian
engineers ranges, on average, from a quarter to a sixth of the cost of skilled
Israeli labor, he said. Microsoft estimated the cost at a third.
same number of dollars I get in an outsource budget, I can hire one engineer
here in Tel Aviv or four in Ramallah,” Frankel says.
According to a
recent report by PITA, “During the last few years more than 500 Palestinian
engineers and analysts have been employed in Palestinian companies working with
Israeli IT companies.” There are 4,000 working in the Palestinian private IT
sector and another 3,000 in telecoms. Beyond that, 1,500 to 2,200 more graduate
into the field every year from the 13 universities in the Palestinian
Helping them find lucrative work will aid the approach
championed by US Secretary of State John Kerry, who on Sunday at the World
Economic Forum announced a $4 billion fund to help develop the Palestinian
private sector, a step he said was important for creating the right conditions
President Shimon Peres’s son Chemi, who chairs the Peres peace
center, says that the hitech sector has much to gain from reaching outside the
standard pool of Israeli talent.
“The next talent will come from
Palestine, it will come from the ultra-Orthodox sector, it will come from the
Israeli Arab community,” he predicts.
That, however, may not be so easy,
notes Frankel. “I suspect the Israeli tech sector is not truly open to
diversity,” he says, whether haredi or Palestinian.
There are taboos on
the Palestinian side as well. When a hi-tech worker who lives in Gush Etzion
asked Tahboub about possible cooperation, Tahboub flatly responded, “We don’t
work with settlements.”
Overcoming personal discomforts will be necessary
not just for better business but for peace, Frankel says.
“Many of the
people we work with in Ramallah never saw an Israeli outside a uniform until
they worked with us.”