East Jerusalem Engineers

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.