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Palestine’s Vibrant IT Sector

By Feras Nasr

When people hear or read the word Palestine, technology or innovation rarely comes to mind. For most, Palestine is not seen as an IT or tech destination or a source of technical talent and advances. In most cases, the first things people think of in relation to Palestine are occupation, war, incursions, and destruction. While these impressions are unfortunately accurate, this does not mean that Palestinians lack the creativity and skills needed to succeed in technology and innovation. On the contrary, Palestinians, both as individuals and companies, have been a productive source of technical talent for companies and organizations across the globe.
Anyone who has visited Palestine or met with Palestinian entrepreneurs abroad understands the reality on the ground and the potential that exists. The word “eye-opening” is frequently used by people during their first discussion with Palestinians, especially on topics such as business and technology.
So why is Palestine’s IT sector vibrant and full of potential? In short, because of exceptional talent and a growing ecosystem. In terms of talent, Palestinians are a highly educated population. The adult literacy rate is 98 percent, according to World Bank figures,*1 and, as of 2022, there are 1.74 million students in various educational institutions in Palestine, including preschools, schools, universities, and colleges.*2
Every year, there are roughly 3,000 university graduates who hold IT-related degrees, and new university programs and greater potential for employment in IT-related fields will increase these numbers. In addition to technical skills, Palestinians have decent English communication skills, which is crucial in today’s business environment.
Women in Control Hackathon, 2022.

The deep desire among Palestinians to pursue an education and create meaningful businesses and careers is not limited to those living in Palestine but also extends to the diaspora. Success stories of Palestinians in the diaspora are many.*3 In a visit to Riyadh, former US President Bill Clinton praised Palestinian industriousness, saying “I have never met a poor Palestinian in the United States.”*4 Examples include Abdel Majid Shouman, founder of Arab Bank, US Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, or Loay Elbasyouni, who started life in Beit Haroun in Gaza near the heavily guarded Israeli frontier and eventually led the NASA engineering team that helped design the Ingenuity helicopter that would end up on Mars in 2021.*5

In addition to their formal education, the challenges that Palestinians face on a daily basis have helped fuel their creativity, resourcefulness, and resilience. What do you do when there is a closure or a roadblock or a curfew? For Palestinians, it means getting out of the car or taxi and walking, sometimes for hours, and sometimes off proper roads. It means having a plan A, B, C, and D. It means thinking of creative ways to reach your destination or achieve your goals. Palestinians had mastered remote work and meetings long before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and forced everyone to go online.
Closures are one example, but the creative mentality applies equally to all facets of life. How do you find and connect with customers? How do you transfer money securely and within the regulatory framework? How do you travel and attend conferences, exhibitions, and business meetings? What non-Palestinians take for granted often requires extensive resources and effort from Palestinians, but they have found innovative ways to seamlessly overcome what might be considered a major obstacle for others. As George Bernard Shaw said: “The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want and if they can’t find them, make them.” Palestinians have a habit of making the circumstances they want and need.
Expotech gala dinner 2022..

Palestinian software engineers have the knowledge and skills that are in great demand, especially by Israeli companies. In 2021, this resulted in the creation of special permits for Palestinian ICT workers to contract directly with Israeli companies. While this risks a brain drain of Palestinian minds and an inflation of salaries in the Palestinian market, it is proof of the skills and knowledge that they possess and the value that they can provide.
The Palestinian tech ecosystem is growing. Ambitious companies and organizations are dedicated to helping nourish the ecosystem through various initiatives and promotions that aim to create awareness of the Palestinian tech sector. There are many organizations that support the sector. Examples include the Palestinian IT Association of Companies (PITA) that represents over 150 Palestinian tech companies that offer a wide range of technological services and solutions for various industries in Palestine and abroad. Organizations such as Intersect Innovation Hub, Palestine Techno Park, and Flow Accelerator work with Palestinian startup founders to help them develop their ideas and build successful businesses. Despite being a nascent ecosystem, the Palestinian startup scene is beginning to make recognizable accomplishments in securing international customers and raising funds from investors from Palestine and abroad. Other organizations supporting the startup ecosystem include, but are not limited to, uMake, Gaza Sky Geeks, the Higher Council for Innovation and Excellence (HCIE), university innovation hubs, and many more.

Palestinian companies are working with some of the largest multinational companies around the world. Since 2008, following a visit and initiative from Cisco CEO John Chambers, Palestinian ICT companies have created successful partnerships with multinational technology giants, including Cisco, HP, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Boeing, and others, providing research and development services in the form of software development, technology partnerships, project management, and staff augmentation.
The various ecosystem players are active not only in creating business opportunities but also in hosting events to promote partnerships, knowledge sharing, and awareness. Expotech is an annual IT conference hosted by PITA, now in its nineteenth year. The International Conference on Entrepreneurship – Palestine (ICEP), which held its fourth event in Dubai in late 2022, presented 20 Palestinian startups that took part in 237 meetings. Hackathons, startup weekends, and other exhibitions and conferences occur on a regular basis in Palestine.
A concentrated and coordinated effort is needed to enhance the sector and create opportunities for existing and new Palestinian companies. Below are several suggestions on how the Palestinian IT sector can evolve and grow.
We should brand the Palestinian IT sector with a focus on a few key areas. There has been extensive promotion of outsourcing services provided by Palestinian companies. While this should not stop, equal or greater effort should be made to create excellence in technical areas, such as cleantech, fintech, edtech, agritech, and others. This requires analysis and research of the available resources and demand from the global market.
Easy access should be available to up-to-date information on the Palestinian IT sector, the companies, startups, support organizations, and others. Those interested in learning or connecting with Palestinian companies should easily be able to find all the information they’re looking for quickly and efficiently.
Business visitors should be encouraged to tour Palestine and meet with the various ecosystem stakeholders, whether private-sector, nonprofit, educational, or governmental. This should include invitations to tech conferences and events that occur in Palestine.
Digital Tourism Hackathon at Palestine Industrial Park.

“Made in Palestine” should be a priority for all local organizations and companies seeking to purchase IT services or products. It should not be a catchy slogan but a reality that is supported by associations and backed by government incentives to encourage companies to purchase from local IT companies rather than seek alternatives from international competitors.
The future of Palestine’s IT sector is filled with promise and potential as shown by the impressive accomplishments of this relatively young sector and despite the unique challenges that Palestinians face. With a clear vision and concentrated efforts, Palestinian tech companies and startups can continue to expand around the world and provide a larger contribution to the Palestinian economy.


*1 UNESCO Institute of Statistics, “Literacy rate, adult total (% of people ages 15 and above) – West Bank and Gaza,” World Bank, October 24, 2022, available at https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SE.ADT.LITR.ZS?locations=PS.

*2 “Selected Indicators for Education in Palestine by Level of Education and Region,” Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, 2022, available at https://www.pcbs.gov.ps/Portals/_Rainbow/Documents/Education2021_E.html.

*3 Xavier Abu Eid, “Success in the Diaspora,” This Week in Palestine, March 2023, available at https://thisweekinpalestine.com/success-in-the-diaspora/.

*4 Garance Franke-Ruta, “Bill Clinton on Palestinian Culture,” Atlantic, August 1, 2012, available at https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/08/bill-clinton-on-palestinian-culture/260596/.

*5 Marc Armstrong, “From Gaza to Nasa: The Palestinian engineer working on the Mars project,” Euronews, May 5, 2021, available at https://www.euronews.com/2021/05/09/from-gaza-to-nasa-the-palestinian-engineer-working-on-the-mars-project.

 

  • Feras Nasr, a technology professional with a diverse background, has worked in various industries in the United States, Canada, and the Middle East. With experience in IT management, system and network administration, security, software development, and more, he is passionate about startups with interests in fintech, machine learning, data engineering, and cybersecurity. Currently, he leads the UK Palestinian Tech Hub.

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