Note to Netanyahu: There Are No Blockades in High-tech

It may not bring peace, but at the very least a Gaza university graduate recruited by an Israeli high-tech firm is unlikely to be drawn to Hamas.

Akiva Eldar
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
It may not bring peace, but at the very least a Gaza university graduate recruited by an Israeli high-tech firm is unlikely to be drawn to Hamas.
Hebrew lecturer Kamal Hamdan, standing back, teaches Hebrew as he runs a conversation class at the Islamic University in Gaza City, January 7, 2013.Credit: AP
Akiva Eldar

Apparently its blockade of the Gaza Strip is a strategic interest of the first order for Israel. According to the latest reports, the siege on the territory is the last obstacle standing in the way of a rehabilitation of relations between Israel and Turkey, and the return of ambassadors to Tel Aviv and Ankara. To maintain the blockade, Israel is rebuffing Turkey’s request to be able to supply the Gaza Strip with electricity from a ship that would be anchored along the shoreline of the Hamas-controlled territory.

And behold: While negotiations with Turkey are underway, there are those who are breaking through the blockade. An Israeli, Eyal Waldman, the president and CEO of the Israeli high-tech firm Mellanox Technologies, recruited his company’s first three employees for its Gaza branch at the beginning of the month. The three will join the 80 other Palestinian high-tech people working for Mellanox from West Bank offices in Ramallah and Nablus. Their job doesn’t require an Israeli entry permit. They don’t get up in the middle of the night to be the first at a checkpoint into Israel and are not unwillingly idle on Jewish holidays. Left-wingers don’t need to transport them in buses, and they convey their know-how via the Internet.

Hundreds of Israelis work at foiling cyber-attacks and tens of millions of shekels are invested in developing sophisticated systems to defend against hacking. Countless conferences deal with the subject. At the same time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking to import workers from India to overcome the personnel shortage in the high-tech sector. The problem is a familiar one at Mellanox as well. Waldman looks for the right staff and welcomes the effort to import workers from India, but the poor of Gaza and the West Bank, living just across the border, come before the poor overseas for him.

Peace and coexistence will not result from this, but it's safe to assume that a Gaza university graduate recruited by Israeli high-tech firms is less likely than an unemployed graduate of a computer course to be drawn to Hamas. A total of 20,000 engineers are registered with the Palestinian Engineers Association and last year alone there were 1,500 new registrants.

On an annual basis, 500 university computer graduates join the workforce in the territories. A small number of them have returned to the territories after finishing their education abroad. On the other hand, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics reports that in the last quarter of 2015, unemployment in Gaza had reached 38.4%. (In the West Bank, it was 18.4%). Joblessness among those between the ages of 15 and 29 reached 53.4% in the Gaza Strip.

The violence, incitement, occupation and fear raise the walls between young Israelis and Palestinians. The continuing blockade of Gaza cuts off places of employment in Israel from residents of the Gaza Strip. On rare occasions, Gazan academics are permitted to leave for international conferences in the course of which they have the occasion to meet Israeli counterparts.

At a time when talk of a New Middle East was not considered a stale joke, Shimon Peres proposed regional cooperation on environmental issues. As is his custom, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate brought the idea home with an aphorism. Mosquitos pay no attention to borders, he said. High-tech pays no heed to borders either. As Abed L. Azab wrote in Haaretz in Hebrew last week (April 13), we will continue to work, to create and to research together. There is no more appropriate punishment for those who share the anti-Arab views of MK Bezalel Smotrich.

The writer is the diplomatic commentator of Israel Plus on the Al-Monitor website.