Palestine’s growing tech industry has literally been blown apart by the war – Despite being one of the most economically underdeveloped regions in the world, Gaza has ironically always been a tech hub. This is not just for Palestine and Palestinians but for the entire world.
For many years, multinational corporations have sought out a presence there to collaborate with both the startups that have gradually emerged from the region and with talented tech freelancers. For instance, Nvidia, now known for its part in the emerging AI boom, has reportedly been collaborating with at least 100 engineers from the area for years.
Data has it that tech firms have been operating in Palestine since at least 2008. Some of these firms cater to their local markets, while others operate on a global scale. However, like the ecosystem itself, Silicon Valley has shown growing interest in Palestine as a tech hub.
Currently, those in the area believe that up to $10 million has been spent in the Palestinian tech ecosystem.
An example of entrepreneurship in the area is Gaza Sky Geeks, an Alphabet-backed project established in Gaza that offers pre-seed funding, training, and technical tools to Palestine’s Gazan populace.
All of that has practically disappeared at this point, much like the structures in Gaza.
currently, Isreal’s military is retaliating against the assaults on its citizens, on its territory, and the subsequent hostages taken by Hamas, the Gazan government, which kidnapped at least 150 people and brought them into Gaza during the weekend’s vicious attacks on Israel that resulted in the deaths of 1,300 people.
As part of that strategy, it has bombarded the “Gaza Strip” with bombs in an effort to rid it of Hamas and rescue its hostages. As a result, more than 1,500 people have already died in Palestine. Israel’s largest export and largest single contributor to GDP, the tech sector, is also suffering greatly (learn more about that here), but the effect on Gaza’s more delicate ecosystem has unavoidably been far more severe. Any future for the tech industry there is in doubt due to the physical, economic, and sociological destruction that results from that.
Quite frankly, no one is totally immune from the effects of these attacks on Gaza and this includes tech workers and giants.
“What is happening to tech in Gaza is that Israel is crunching it. Obliterating it,” one source, inside the territory, told reported.
Palestine’s growing tech industry – Another wave Incoming
Israel has now gathered troops close to Gaza’s northern border in preparation for what is anticipated to be a ground invasion of the heavily populated region. The following day, around 1.1 million residents in northern regions were instructed to evacuate. “Devastating humanitarian consequences” could result from these most recent actions, the UN has warned. There is a complete blockade of the area, and supplies of food, water, and fuel are running low. Israel claims that the limitations won’t be lifted unless Hamas releases every hostage.
Speaking with Ryan Sturgill, an American citizen and former director of the Mercy Corps-sponsored NGO relief organization Gaza Sky Geeks accelerator, the situation on the ground looked bleak following waves of Israeli military shelling.
“The area around the Mercy Corps building, which housed Gaza Sky Geeks, has been leveled. The structure is standing but blown out. The front of it is sort of ripped off,” he said.
The largest digital hub in Palestine, Gaza Sky Geeks (GSG), offers extensive tech instruction on a broad scale. 5,000 programmers and developers from the West Bank and Gaza completed the program in 2022.
The above-mentioned video proof was uploaded to Linkedin and depicts a destroyed structure with the Mercy Corps sign.
“Who knows what’s going to happen? The offices are destroyed, and the fiber lines are destroyed. The universities are destroyed. Three main universities in Gaza that produce all the computer science grads are leveled. I don’t even know if people will ever be able to go back to Northern Gaza after what’s happening today. The educational institutions that are there are gone,” Sturgill added.
Since January, he has assisted Palestinian digital businesses in the West Bank and Gaza in raising money.
“Until now, there had been a pretty significant growth. A lot of companies in Saudi Arabia have been setting up back offices [in Palestine] for development for all sorts of new companies and even apps that are now growing in the Gulf because Saudi has been growing so quickly on the tech front. Nvidia, and other international companies, have outsourcing operations in Palestine. Apple has outsourcing operations, Microsoft has R&D, and they would even like to see those expand. There are companies that had 200 developers sitting in offices in Ramallah,” he said.
“I’ve talked to all of the heads of these different offices, most of them are in in Israel. They are very positive people who want to try to support the tech industry there and those efforts have been working well and growing,” he added.
In fact, Ibtikar, one of the most significant Palestinian venture capital funds, just raised $30 million for its second fund.
Menalytics (data analytics), Olivery (last mile logistics, Flat6Labs and Ibtikar Fund), Coretava (employee and customer loyalty), and Sellenvo (an Amazon fulfillment partner) are some of the high-growth firms originating from Palestine.
In addition to the extremely terrible circumstances in Gaza, which is being attacked by Israeli rockets, Sturgill noted that the atmosphere in Ramallah is also “particularly stressful. I believe that during the next few weeks, the situation will drastically worsen.
Co-founder and CEO of Manara, Iliana Montauk, informed Techcrunch via email that connectivity had dramatically declined over the last 24 hours. Manara is a social impact firm that has received funding from Y Combinator, Seedcamp, Reid Hoffman, Eric Ries, Marc Benioff, Paul Graham, and Jessica Livingston, among others.
“Though Gaza has been bombed many times before, this time is completely different for the tech sector for several reasons. Electricity was cut off to the entire [Gaza] strip. A significant amount of infrastructure has been bombed (including both ISPs and many tall apartment buildings that hold cell phone towers). Entire middle-class neighborhoods are being destroyed.”
She claimed that in the past, when a whole neighborhood was demolished, it was typically one that bordered Israel and was located in a lower-income area, having less of an effect on the IT industry.
“The tech sector is almost completely unable to function in Gaza right now,” she said. “Most people are in too much danger to be able to work; some have evacuated three times in the past 24 hours, moving from friend’s house to family house, because each neighborhood they end up in is the next one being bombed. They usually receive warnings to evacuate their homes 10 minutes before a bombing, so they don’t sleep and monitor the situation constantly ready to evacuate in a minute’s notice.”
“Most people have lost cell phone connections and internet access completely, or have some access to 2G only on their cell phones.. Electricity is no longer being provided even for a few hours a day now, and people are running out of gas for their generators,” she added.
Manara employs about 100 software developers in Gaza, some of whom work remotely for Silicon Valley- and Europe-based IT firms.
One Upwork software developer, according to Montauk, went missing for a few days before being discovered.
In 2021, Dalia Awad, whose Medium piece on entering Google from Gaza became popular (it peaked at #1 on Hacker News and was tweeted by Paul Graham), returned to Gaza to complete her undergraduate studies. Although Datadog in Paris had offered her a full-time position, she chose to remain at home in Gaza and hunt for a remote position so she could be near her family.
She wrote to Montauk on Tuesday and declared, “Tonight was the worst night ever. My family and I are good, thankfully. The bombing was everywhere and we couldn’t know where it was because there was no internet. Many of my friends lost their houses in the Rimal area. There is no Wi-Fi internet, we connect to the cellular data on our phones but it’s only 2G and it connects for a few minutes then cuts off. We can only send WhatsApp messages. So we can’t really read news on social media. In the morning we saw these videos from our friends who shared it on WhatsApp but it takes FOREVER to download a video of a few seconds.”
Awad, according to Montauk, hasn’t reacted to her in the previous day.
The first employee of Manara, Mai Temraz, is headquartered in San Bernardino, California. In Gaza City, she has a family. They narrowly avoided a bombing (she uploaded a video of them bleeding to Instagram; [Content warning]). “My family just about made it after an attack on a building next to them in Gaza,” she added. They demand that people leave, but WHERE? Anywhere in Gaza, nobody is safe.
Former Gaza Sky Geeks director Montauk stated: “The Gaza tech scene was expanding prior to this escalation. I recently met businesses in Riyadh that send full software development teams to Gaza. Software engineers are now being remotely hired from Gaza by Upwork and other Silicon Valley organizations. Additionally, some have gone to work for firms like Google, Amazon, Qualtrics, etc. abroad. Nearly everyone I spoke to on my last visit to Gaza a year ago asked me how they could find employment and escape the region. They wished to raise their children in an environment free from such a high risk because they were concerned about further bombings. These people merely desire to lead ordinary lives.
Those who reside in the West Bank claim that the events in Gaza have unavoidably had an effect.
Leen Abubaker of Flow Accelerator and Cofounder at Sawaed19 remarked, “As a Palestinian young woman living in the West Bank, I can corroborate that there has been a visible standstill in terms of activity. “Tech companies are either operating at very low levels with employees having difficulty getting to their offices in the West Bank due to unsafe roads blocked by Israeli occupation forces and settlers, or they have been forced out of business completely in Gaza.”
The digital industry is not the first priority in the current circumstances, she continued, adding that a number of buildings in Gaza that were important to the local tech industry, including Burj Al-Wattan, had been damaged by Israeli bombardment. How are you going to be able to hold on to the last vestiges of optimism for your company while separating yourself from the terrible reality?
The Middle Frame, an Arab stock image platform driven by AI techniques, was founded by Palestinian Mohammad Alnobani with the goal of dispelling preconceptions about the Arab world through images and minimizing bias in AI.
When the war started, he said, he was on his way home from Belfast’s One Young World Summit, where he spoke about peace and reconciliation, and was about to cross the border into Palestine to return to his family.
“The borders closed down and I had to turn around and go back to Jordan,” he said. “I am still there, continuously checking on my family in Jerusalem, and trying to reach out to my connections in Gaza.” His co-founder, Raya Fatayer, is in Ramallah, staying at home with her baby and husband, not able to travel.
He claimed that there have been evident differences between previous outbreaks of hostilities with Israel: “Before, every time Gaza faced air strikes, we knew that certain areas were almost safe. Clearly today, nobody is safe.”
“Our fellow entrepreneurs in Gaza had their homes demolished by air strikes, some we can’t even reach anymore since the electricity is out and they have no power,” he said. “Dealing with the situation while trying our best to move forward with our work is a daily challenge.”