Cisco Systems unveils 'virtual Mediterranean community' in Nazareth

MYTecC aims to create a "virtual community" of 400 youths aged 15-16 from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Turkey, Yemen, and Portugal.

cisco 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
cisco 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
As Cisco Systems CEO and President John Chambers arrives in Israel for a first visit, the computer networks giant has completed preparations in Nazareth for the launch of two community projects, worth $2.5 million, aimed at using communications technology to advance peace and assimilate underprivileged youth into the high-tech sector. The programs - the Mediterranean Youth Technology Club (MYTecC), and Digital Cities - will be launched on Monday in the presence of Chambers and President Shimon Peres, who has backed the initiatives. MYTecC aims to create a "virtual community" of 400 youths aged 15-16 from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Turkey, Cyprus, Yemen, Morocco and Portugal. Teens from each country will undergo a two-year course, which will endow them with the internet and computer skills they need to enter the job market of the 21st century, Ushi Krausz, of the Peres Center for Peace, told The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, MYTecC has set up two technological centers, in Nazareth and Ramle, to serve Jewish and Arab youths who will learn technical engineering skills, and become acquainted with emails, online forums, and chat programs. Youths who complete the program will walk away with an "A+" certificate enabling either job market entry or more advanced IT studies. During the course, the youths will converse with and study the culture of their counterparts in other countries as they learn English. "Using Cisco technologies we will build a virtual community... They [youth] will each talk to each other, divide into international teams, take part in conference calls, and chat on ICQ," Krausz said. "We want to turn them into young leaders who will promote understanding, and work together in social networks." The youths will be led by carefully selected counselors from the participating countries, who met twice over the past six months in Morocco and Turkey. "In Morocco last year, during a meeting of our counselors, suspicions between them decreased as they got to know one another," said Krausz. "I saw how Israeli children spoke to a Palestinian councilor for the first time and were suspicious, but then came to view him as a human being, not as someone from the other side". Speaking to the Post, Zika Abzuk, head of Cisco's Public Benefit Investment in Europe and emerging markets, said it was important not to create a "bipolar" peace effort based solely around Israeli and Palestinian youths. "Israelis are part of the Mediterranean, which includes the Moroccans, Egyptians, and Europeans," said Abzuk. "This approach softens things because it enables communication between all of us." During his visit to the technological center erected by Cisco in Nazareth Illit, Chambers will see Israeli and Palestinian youths interact online using video and music streaming, Abzuk added. "We hope to create an alternative spirit, while preparing the youths for the global work force. We're giving them the option of becoming citizens of the world," she declared. "The internet in many Arab countries is perceived as a Western tool, as being part of Western culture. If you look at Facebook, it reflects the American approach - you come alone, looking for connections. Here [in MYTecC], you're coming as a group, to feel comfortable, and then you can venture to meet others. This really suits other cultures." Digital Cities, the second initiative, has more local ambitions, and hopes to promote education, tourism, and medical interconnectivity within Arab-Israeli Nazareth and its Jewish neighbor, Nazareth Illit. Doctors from the area who currently need to travel to the central Israel for seminars will now be able to attend medical courses via video conferencing, and consult with other doctors in Tel Aviv's Ichilov hospital and a Paris medical center, Abzuk said. Education centers will invite local residents in to acquire basic IT skills as part of the program, she added. Away from the peacebuilding steps, Chambers will meet leading Israeli hi-tech and business figures during his tour of Israel, as well as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Cisco's Netanya headquarters is "one of its most important sites in the world," Yoav Samet, Cisco's Director of corporate businesses development in Israel told the Post. After purchasing nine Israeli hi-tech companies for $1 billion, Cisco's Israeli branch "hopes to continue to leverage its uniqueness here," Famet said, adding that the corporation's Israeli employees are "very happy for the opportunity to meet their CEO and are looking forward to speaking with him."