Desperate for skilled workers, Israeli startups are recruiting workers from all around the world. But while companies court computer programmers and engineers from places like India and Ukraine, they are ignoring the thousands of Palestinian university graduates in computer science right at their doorstep.
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Every year, more than 3,000 young Palestinians complete studies in engineering and technology at institutions of higher education in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. A few of them try their luck in the Gulf states, while others travel even farther in search of work, but three-quarters of them end up unemployed or underemployed.
At a time when politicians on the left talk about political agreements and regional peace and politicians on the right propose an economic peace, some Israeli high-tech companies have discovered the human potential just over the separation barrier. Mellanox Technologies, for one, has added to its roster of offices in Israel and abroad locations in the West Bank cities of Rawabi, Nablus and Hebron, as well as in the Gaza Strip.
The internet has helped overcome the restrictions on travel Israel and the Palestinian areas. Even the limited supply of electricity in Gaza hasn’t stopped our Gazan programmers from completing their projects faultlessly and on schedule.
Cooperation between Mellanox and the Palestinian outsourcing company Asal Technologies began at the start of the decade.
It began with Mellanox employing a few engineers as software testers, but in the past two years the scope of cooperation has grown in a big way. From just 25 Palestinian engineers in 2015, more than 100 now work for Mellanox, employed in everything from software development and hardware engineering to support and operations.
Asal has opened our doors to the best Palestinian graduates. They are highly motivated to contribute to the company’s development. In return, they receive the opportunity to work for a global company that gives them room to grow and to develop their skills. They get extensive training in the communications technology on which Mellanox focuses and enjoy excellent terms of employment, including the pay levels and stock options given to all members of the Mellanox staff.
Joint Israeli-Palestinian teams use technology to bridge the Green Line through daily phone and text contact. Once every few weeks they meet face to face in one of Mellanox’s Israeli offices. That enables the kind of interpersonal contact that technology can’t yet provide, over coffee and lunch. Each side sees that their colleagues on the other side of the Green Line cope with the same day-to-day challenges of raising children, supporting a family and developing their careers.
In fact, the whole process of Israeli companies working with Palestinians is not unlike the way multinational companies came to Israel in the 1970s and ‘80s and opened the first research and development centers. Israelis slowly acquired technology skills and world-class management capabilities, and used them to form the country’s first startup companies.
Some of those startups, such as Mirabilis, Chromatis Networks, Waze and Mobileye, were eventually sold to multinationals. Others grew, went public and became multinationals in their own right, like Check Point, Wix, Amdocs and, of course, Mellanox.
The Palestinian labor market is desperate for appropriate technology investment. In years to come, more multinationals will undoubtedly adopt Mellanox’s vision and develop their own R&D centers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israeli tech companies should be the first.
David Slama is senior director for Palestinian Authority activities at Mellanox Technologies.