Palestinians hoping their growing technology hub can fuel economy
A war torn strip of land in the Middle East is not somewhere one traditionally thinks of as a hotbed of technological innovation, but according to a report the West Bank is emerging as just that.
In an article in yesterday’s New York Times, journalist Isabel Kershner discovered that the Palestinian Authority is pursuing an ambitious goal of growing a technology hub that could spur the area’s economy and open it up to international trade.
According to Murad Tahboub, the managing director of software outsourcing firm ASAL Technologies, the tech industry is one that is particular attractive to the region, as it is cross-border. “This is a sector that has no borders. You just need electricity and a telephone line.”
As a result of the conflict with Israel, the West Bank’s economy has struggled, although signs in recent years show it is growing, with it reaching nine percent last year.
Following an investment by Cisco Systems of $10m in the area four years ago, the industry is now said to have grown from just one percent to five percent of the economy. Tahboub believes this will increase significantly in the coming years. “We are in the right position to have exponential growth.”
The difficulty, however, is growing an industry in a region that is not recognised by the international community. A relatively small economic output of nearly $6bn is not enough to create waves in the international economy, nor can it provide the infrastructure and stability required for a growing tech hub.
It is hoped, however, that the tech industry could transcend international conflict. Tareq Maayah, CEO of mobile communications firm Exalt Technologies says that even though the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians continues, business will continue to be done between the two. “The occupation is frustrating, but Israelis and Palestinians have been working with each other in the worst of times.”
Maayah says that it’s even Israel’s approach to growing the tech economy that the Palestinians have been eager to copy, with “innovation, creativity and being ahead of the curve,” the key areas they are striving for, “rather than relying on a huge quantity of basic skills.”