East Jerusalem Engineers

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In 2015 Hani Alami opened  JEST (Jerusalem Entrepreneurs Society and Technology). During 2014, as a prep, he called the High Tech community in East Jerusalem to a conference to introduce the idea. Hani invited me too, asking for Cisco support, I was then the executive director of Ma’antech and his agenda was in line our initiative. So I was happy to accept the invitation. At the hall in the Ambassador hotel I met, to my surprise, many people I knew from my work in Ramallah, apparently they live in East Jerusalem.

East Jerusalemites as all Israeli Arabs do not need any special permit to cross the checkpoint to area-A so many Palestinians from Beit Hanina or East Jerusalem find opportunities in Ramallah, nearby, some have business there and some have jobs there. You may ask why should a person choose to commute to Ramallah every day when there are opportunities in Jerusalem. The answer is not so simple. 

Here are some issues for an East Jerusalemite to consider when seeking for their next job opportunity: 

  • Commute: Jerusalem wins, crossing Kalandia checkpoint every day is a headache, sometimes the lines are long, sometime short, it is hard to predict, actually there is a Facebook group (about 60,000 people) to share the real time situation in the checkpoint. Someone even told me once that he is developing an app for that (but I don’t think it has ever released). Also there are days during the year (e.g., Israel Independence Day, Yom Kippur) that the checkpoint is closed, not to mention closing when there are demonstrations and in some security events. 
  • Language: Ramallah wins big time. The majority of the East Jerusalemites do not know Hebrew well enough. Those who do not study in Israeli university study Hebrew only after graduation. This is a major barrier, some companies refrain from hiring people who don’t speak Hebrew. The candidates themselves feel less comfortable applying to an Israeli company when their Hebrew is poor or not exist at all.
  • Opportunities: In the overall numbers, Jerusalem offers much more jobs obviously, but are those opportunities really open for the Arabs from East Jerusalem ? The answer to this question is complicated, the jobs are open to all, but there are barriers, the Arabs in Israel are not yet fully integrated in the High Tech, their representation is lower than their portion in the population. There are some issues to overcome, language, cultural differences that effect the candidate selection process, diversity issues at the workplaces. There is a progress in the past years, companies are more open on their side, and there are workshops for candidates, also as a snowball effect, as more Arabs are integrated, there is more openness for the following Arab candidates. There are many East Jerusalemites working in Intel and other companies in Jerusalem, but it is tough. For an East Jerusalemites, it is easier in Ramallah, the job interview is in Arabic, the culture is the same, there are no diversity issues. Due to the above not only finding a job in Ramallah is easier for an East Jerusalemites but also they can find higher positions and the sealing glass actually does not exist.
  • Salary: The salary for juniors in Ramallah is much lower (could be 60% less) than in Jerusalem. Yet the income tax is lower in the Palestinian Territories, for some wage levels this might mean larger net income when working in Ramallah.
I recognise some opportunities for the Israeli industry in East Jerusalem:
  • Women Employment: Especially mothers, the commuting time and the uncertainty of the commuting time makes it very hard to young mothers to cross the checkpoint everyday. So many would choose working in Israel over crossing to Ramallah every day. 
  • High Tech people: There are more East Jerusalemites with potential to work in the High Tech than Ramallah can accommodate. Those with Computer Science and alike degrees could find jobs in development, others can become QA or programmers with dedicated training. language training (English, Hebrew) and culture differences workshops could improve candidates scores and help them pass the selection process. Local companies could be involved in training of their technologies, it could be very beneficial in preparing people to their job requirements and also meeting the Arab candidates in the early stages of the process is powerful tool in embracing them and diversity in general.
did you know ? 
 

Many (not all) Palestinians in East Jerusalem choose not to have an Israeli Citizenship from their own political reasons, their civilian status is “Palestinian Permanent Resident in Israel” and they carry a special ID card.

Nablus

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In one of the winters, when I was a child, my father pointed from our window to a top of a mountain, covered with snow, at the east horizon, “this is Nablus” he said. He took us there sometime after 1967. I remember a beautiful city, big trees in the center of town, large mountains surrounding the city, and peddlers selling dates to passersby. My next visit was a few years later with a friend to mount Gerizim to see the Samaritans’ Passover pilgrimage. 

By Edkaprov (Edward Kaprov). - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32494306

Fast forward, my next visit was in 2016, after many visits to Ramallah and other Palestinian cities in course of my work. 

This time I came to visit my business partner and his software company located in the city. Their office is at the old center of town, exactly the place with the big trees I remembered from my childhood, the road and the trees remain exactly as I remembered, but the city grew, a new mall replace the peddlers and many new tall buildings all around.

The city of Nablus is only few kilometres away from my own town yet located in the Palestinian Zone-A territory so it is out of reach for many of my Israeli friends. Its a shame really, because it is an amazing place to visit, the colorful market, the amazing Kanafe, great restaurants and emerging business center. Thanks to my good fortune, my dear partner took me to visit the old city and the market before lunch. For a short while it felt like being a tourist in a different county.

On the business side, Nablus has advantages and challenges. Ramallah is the Palestinian economy center, Nablus is a periphery.

There are roughly 2,000 engineers from Nablus, about 1,000 are working in the city, with something between 50 to 70 software companies, (only 2-3 have 10+ employees). The regional university is Al Najah with about 23,000 students.

People live in Nablus and its surroundings would prefer working in Nablus and save about 60 to 150 minutes commuting to and from Ramallah, yet there are less professionals to find in Nablus area, Ramallah also have a lot of East Jerusalemites coming to work in. The cost of fresh to intermediate engineers in Nablus is, as in most periphery cities in the world, lower than the cost in Ramallah. Coming to Israel from Nablus is usually faster, because Kalandia checkpoint that is used to come from Ramallah is the most busy checkpoint. The Beit El checkpoint from Ramallah is for VIP only so it won’t help.

Al Najah university
Traffic in Kalandia checkpoint, the Palestinian side

Why Hiring Palestinians

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They are good, committed, hard workers, their English is good. they can come to my office anytime I like with no overseas travelling cost and no entertainment cost. They start the week with me, on Sunday. The turnover rate is lower than elsewhere, they have a sense of responsibility to the code they write for me.

This is the typical answer I get when I ask people in Israel why they choose to work with Palestinians. Cisco is doing it for 10 years now, they started with a team in Israel who needed augmentation and it spread to engineering groups in the US and India. Mellanox are doing it for about 9 years already, Nuvoton 13 years or more, Microsoft almost 10 years, Nokia, Western Digital, Cadence, startups like Cloudify, Earlisense and others started working with Palestinians in the past few years. All of those companies are not only highly technological with very reputed development capabilities they also have experience working in other outsourcing places, places that can supply 100 times more people than the Palestinians (e.g., India), yet they bother and choose to work also with Palestinians, so does this teach us anything? 

Well, it does. There are places where the turnover rate is high, this is very expensive, it cost training time, it cost ramp up time.  Other places are reputed for individual developers who open a kind of an Italian strike when they want to raise their compensation for example, they won’t tell you a thing, it takes weeks to realise what the problem is and then to resolve it, it cost a lot of money. Some complains about the English, either unsatisfactory level or hard to understand accent. The Palestinian do not suffer from any of the above. You can find extraordinary Palestinian developers “I would replace half of my staff with this Palestinian Developer” told me once a colleague in Cisco, pointing at a Palestinian woman developer. “I wish my board would let me work with Palestinians, I had enough headache with my Eastern European team” told me a friend, VP R&D in a late stage startup.

“We built a team from scratch, it took us years to teach them the technology and nurse them closely, now, they accept new members to the team and bring them to speed in a record time, there is no chance I will give up this Palestinian team, the investment was worthwhile”  said a CEO of another company who needs a very sophisticated technology.

Those who take the leap of faith and work with Palestinians enjoy the benefits of this emerging outsourcing place.

Company that dares

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Congratulations to Eyal Waldman and Mellanox  for an amazing Exit announced yesterday

Of Eyal’s many achievements I want to discuss one today: 

Eyal made Mellanox the biggest outsourcer in Israel to a Palestinian company. Mellanox started outsourcing to Asal Technologies in 2010 and today they hire over than 100 people in the West Bank and Gaza. 

It is not obvious, not only they were one of the pioneers (follow Cisco and very few others) but Eyal made sure that this outsourcing is published and highly visible (e.g., Israel’s Mellanox Technologies hires Gazan programmers). This is of an enormous importance because it brings the subject to the awareness of the public.

The long term relationship brings additional values beyond the obvious economic benefit to both parties:

  • Recognition and Validation for the Palestinian High Tech.
  • More jobs (The High Tech Jobs Multiplier: on every engineer in the High Tech there are at least 2-3 new jobs in the surrounding circles (see the Business Insider or the Bay Area Council Tech Report: cleaning, lawyers, food, transportation, teachers etc.) ) so it improves the general economic situation.
  • It provides fresh graduates with an opportunity to experience working for an international company, with international standards and High Tech culture, it makes the sector more and more cosmopolitan with up to date practices.

Those additional values that Mellanox and other pioneering companies bring have an enormous effect on the entire Palestinian economy,  and with that it increases the stability in the region and brings hope.

New jobs in an international High Tech company has a Snowball Effect, the engineers that experience working in international companies effect the younger generation, the education system, it influences the working culture to become more global. It has a ripple effect and arm the entire sector with better opportunities to compete in the global market.

Great Job Eyal !

Business Engagement with Palestinian Company

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For an Israeli company to work with Palestinian vendor, there are some issues to take care of:

  1. Selecting the right vendor
  2. Prepare the right contract
  3. Payments to the Palestinian Vendor
  4. Permits to enter Israel for the Palestinian Engineers
None of the above are trivial to those who are not familiar working with Palestinians, I will try to put them in context here: 

Selecting the right vendor

In order to do it right, you need a list of the available providers, look for references and run some vetting processes. Working with Palestinian companies is not yet wide spread knowledge so many find themselves clueless and don’t know how to even start the process, or whom can they trust to turn to with questions.

tip: You can start your search by visiting the sight of the Palestinian ICT Assoc. of Companies (PITA) brows their member companies and through their client list find a client you know and get reference from. You can also drop me a note and I’ll be happy to share some our knowledge base.

Prepare the right contract

The majority of the legal consultants in Israel do not have any experience working with Palestinian vendors, you can check your company lawyer about that, you most likely get this answer: “I can check for you, but I have no experience doing that”.

tip: Ensure that an expert reviews your contract, make sure that disputes are dealt with in the Israeli system by the Israeli law.

Payment to the Palestinian Vendor

This is tricky, you won’t find the Palestinian banks listed in the internet services for transfers in the Israeli banks. The banks are not that easy with their process of transferring money to the Palestinian Territory. You need also to get a special invoice called Makassa from the Palestinians, and you have to send the original copy of the Makessa to a special department in the treasury. The international companies use international accounts for those payments in many cases.

tip: Start by talking to your bank rep. ask them to investigate what is their procedure and what papers do you need to prepare from the treasury in advance (e.g. waiver of tax deduction). Insist that you know that the process is not like transfer to any other country. Be prepared that you might get directions but it will be fine tuned on the fly. 

Using checks is not recommended as almost automatically your bank will decline the check when your vendor will try to cash it.

Permit to enter Israel for the Palestinian Engineers

There is a special department in the Civil Administration who deals with Permits, some of the Palestinian companies take care of this for their employees, you will need from time to time to help by issuing a Request Letter.  But it is also likely that you’ll need to take care of the requests yourself. The Palestinian engineers who are asking for permit have to get their “magnetic cards” first, this is a kind of an ID card issued by the Civil Administration.

tip: The Civil Admin department asks that you submit a request for a permit 10 days in advance. Contact them first to get the forms for the request, follow their instructions about the format of your mail and its content very carefully, any deviation will cause a discard of your request. Once submitted, wait 24 hours to get an auto respond to your mail, call them if you didn’t. Then call again a day before your requested date to ensure it’s in process, most likely that they will issue the permit in the last moment. Make sure in advance that your Palestinian employee holds a valid Magnetic Card, get their ID# and their personal phone number.

The Resolution

GeoFree Software is the first of its kind company, aims to resolves those issues. 

We take care of all of the “headache” I mention above, GeoFree Software offers you this:

  • GeoFree Software is an Israeli entity. The company is registered in Israel. So the business engagement (contract) is with an Israeli company. Your contract is with us, we’re responsible for the delivery.
  • Selecting the vendor: We’re specialised in the Palestinian High Tech industry, strength and weaknesses of each,  we’re constantly updated with trends and changes, we know how to find the best vendors, who are their key personnel and their reputation.
  • Permits: We’re taking care of the permits to our personnel. We also know and are known to the Civil Administration. We’re familiar with the trends and policy updates in the Civil Administration regarding to permits-for and employments-of Palestinians.
  • Payments: Your transactions are with GeoFree Software – an Israeli company.
  • We offer one more invaluable asset, decades of experience in Software Development in the Israeli and International market, we make sure to find the right personnel that can live up to your standards and speak your language. We’re responsible for the delivery.
  • And… we’re local, we speak your language,  celebrate the same holidays and vote in the same elections….

The High Tech in the Palestinian Territory

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“We’re small country with very limited natural resources so our most important resource is our people” Sounds familiar to the Israeli ears ? This “mantra” is repeatedly said by Palestinians too.

In the Palestinian Teritory, as well as in the rest of the world, the economical leadership understands that the High Tech is a powerful engine for the local economy, there is ever growing demand for professionals and Software development in the world, and in different from traditional industry, it has no boundaries. With this said, there is no limitation to do software development anywhere in the world, as long as you have connectivity. And connectivity exists in the Palestinian Territory so the basic infrastructure lays to their feet.

For a full High Tech scene you need more than that, you need the whole ecosystem, from good professional schools, through infrastructure to monetary support system, know how and much more. 

The High Tech Echo System in the Palestinian Territory is evolving in the past decade and beyond, from software companies here and there through an establishment of an association of Software companies to enhance the power of the sector:  PITA (Palestinian IT Association of companies), National Incubator:  PICTI (Palestinian ICT Incubator), to  Venture Capital funds, Startups, Hubs, activities such as Startup Weekends and more.

The education system is evolving too although it struggles being open to the western world (not many American or European professors would come to do a Sabbatical in a Palestinian university (yet there are some)).

More than 250 companies are registered to the association to date.  Articles about the Palestinian High Tech are published from time to time, such as Palestinian tech startups offer hope to struggling economy, or Palestinian High-tech Workers Plugging Shortage of Israeli Tech Staff/Haaretz. It provide a glimpse to what is going on in this “unexpected” place.

The geographic distribution of the High Tech in the Palestinian Territory looks like this: the majority of the companies are located in Ramallah (e.g., Exalt, Progineer), fewer can be found in Hebron area (e.g., Orcas), Nablus (e.g., Radix Technologies) and now there are few in Rawabi (e.g., Asal Technologies), the new City north to Ramallah, and, surprise surprise, there are also software companies in Gaza (e.g., UnitOne).

Some of the companies are doing outsourcing, the larger ones are working with Israeli companies or Israeli branches of international companies, some are working with companies in the EU (e.g., Siemens) or USA (e.g., PDF Solutions, Cisco). Others have local clients or clients in the Gulf area. There is also a new trend of US companies that open branches in the West Bank, companies like Xngage, Harri, and Founder Therapy.

As for Startups that develops products and technologies, AngelList have 43 registered Palestinian startups, Calcalist newspaper mention 241 startups in an article from July 2018, Beside of PICTI you’ll find other incubators, here is a list from September 2015. As for funding, there are some niche VC funds focusing on early stage technology Startups, Sadara, Ibtikar and few others.

So yes, in case you wonder, there is a live and kicking High Tech scene in the Palestinian Territory. It has yet where to evolve to but it is in quite an advance stage, exactly the stage where it can provide benefit to their economy as well as to others.

Nearshore in Israel

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Nearshore in Israel ? How come ? We know very well that the surrounding countries that Israel have some kind of normal relationship with are not outsourcing locations, the closest countries for outsourcing are located in Eastern Europe.

But under the radar there is an untapped area: the West Bank. Nearshore it is, 45 minutes away from Tel Aviv. The cost of professionals in the WB is not near their cost in Israel, it competes well with the prices of Eastern Europe, as well as SE Asia.

Cisco Israel’s R&D started outsourcing Software to the West Bank bank in 2009 (I was fortunate to be chosen to manage this operation) and other international companies follow suit, including Microsoft, Intel, Mellanox, Nokia and more. However, this is not yet common knowledge.

Outsourcing software development to the Palestinian Authority? you ask, it brings a lot of questions in mind, isn’t this problematic due to the political instability? the violence in this region ? Is the WB infrastructure developed enough to accommodate outsourcing ? Are they good ? 

All are legitimate questions, and there are many more…

So ten years of experience working with Palestinians taught me many things, I am happy to share some with you. 

Lets start with the stability and political climate issues, how do they effect the work. Since starting to work with the West Bank, there were several armed activities in Gaza, terror attacks, diplomat and political issues. None of which had ever effect the work together. No one brings political talks into the work as people understand how much they can loose if these things will seep in. Those turbulences makes the need for stability at work much clearer.

As for infrastructure, Broadband internet is available throughout the West Bank, offices in the main cities are well connected and so are the homes of the sophisticated young people.  60.6% of the homes are connected to the internet in the West Bank, 31.6% have laptops, 89.8% hold smart phones (The Palestinian Bureau of Statistics, 2017 report). So software developers can take their job home and continue where they drop the pen at work.

The High Tech in the Palestinian Authority is growing, more and more young people see how well it works for Israel economy and they want to bring it home, so more and more young people choose to study related studies, if we knew about roughly 2,000 graduates every year in those subjects in the early 2010th, there are talks about 3,000 or even 3,500 graduates these days.

Here are some figures by the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics for 2017, these numbers are for the entire Palestinian Authority, West Bank and Gaza:

  • Number of R&D Personnel: 8,715
  • Number of R&D Personnel with Full Time Equivalent (FTE): 5,162
  • Total Expenditure on R&D: $61.4 M (USD)
  • ICT contribution to the Palestinian GDP (2016) $542.1 M (USD) (4% of the total GDP)

Are they good? you ask, well, like everywhere else, you can find the whole range there, good and bad and everything in between. Some have studied in local universities, some overseas (US, EU, Jordan, Lebanon). There English varies from good to decent. As time goes by you find more and more people with experience working for international companies so they get more familiar with the High Tech culture.

How about traveling to Israel, can they come to my office to Tel Aviv ? The answer to this is yes, they can come to Israel. They need permits which they get from the Israeli Defence Ministry, there are permits for the High Tech Sector employees (as well as for other professions) those permits usually allow them to enter Israel from 5am to 10pm on a daily basis. Permits are provided for multiple entries for a period of time, usually 6 months.

Would you like to visit their office in the West Bank ? their offices are in what we call Area-A (total autonomy of the Palestinian Authority), for that, if you’re a Jewish Israeli citizen you’ll need an approval from the Defence Ministry (Arabs are exempt), If you’re not an Israeli citizen check your country policy.

Working culture, they try harder… truly, they are underdog at this time, and feel like needed to prove themselves. They are not fast to leave their job, especially if they feel well compensated and challenged in their work. They will work late at night and will hold phone/video conferences when needed.

Wrap up, I have experience working with many engineers around the world, I found it very convenient to work with Palestinians. As an Israeli I also found that Palestinians are, in many aspects similar to me, body language, gestures, and some other similar things.  I also find it very convenient that their working week is Sunday to Thursday, so there is no one day shift as with the rest of the world.