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Palestine business community praises Google’s $10m tech initiative


RAMALLAH: Business leaders in Palestine have welcomed a new $10 million initiative funded by Google to support local technology graduates, developers and entrepreneurs.

The three-year program, which aims to help people in the sector hone their digital skills and improve their employment opportunities, was announced by Ruth Porat, chief financial officer of Alphabet and Google, at a roundtable in Jerusalem organized by Jest, the Jerusalem Entrepreneurs Association for Technology and Community Services.

Porat said the initiative would ensure the contribution of global companies to the development of Palestine’s technological environment.

Jest CEO Hani Al-Alami said: “This is a significant development for Palestinians, as relations with Google had been faltering in services, search and maps, and there was neglect and unfairness towards Palestinians.”

He told Arab News that Google “did not provide Palestinians with anything, we have been toying with them for a while.”

Al-Alami said he had urged Google to train Palestinian graduates in its system to increase their level of competence, adding that he had also ordered commercial tools for Palestinian startups.

Palestine’s universities produce about 3,500 high-tech engineering graduates every year, but many of them go on to work in Israel or Arab countries. About 1,000 carry out outsourced work for international and Israeli companies, while others leave the industry altogether.

“We look forward to seeing a Google building in Palestine, as there is in Israel, to help raise the skills of Palestinian engineers and graduates,” Al-Alami said. “Because training and working with Google gives them experience and prestige for when they open their own startups in the future.”

He added that he was looking to attract a further 10 global high-tech companies to invest and work in the growing Palestinian market.

The issues faced by the local technology sector — particularly the need to include a map of Palestine on electronic platforms — as well as its technological and digital rights were also discussed at the Jest meeting.

Mahmoud Khweiss, CEO of Techlinic in East Jerusalem, said the initiative “offers Palestinian engineers and graduates the specialized training and skills they need to advance their work in this field. It may also provide an opportunity for trainees to work in Google’s offices in Arab countries.”

If Palestinian graduates had the choice either to train and work with Google or in the Israeli high-tech sector they would choose Google “without hesitation,” Khweiss said, as it would be preferable to passing through the military control points between the West Bank and Israel every day.

“Nobody says no to training and working with Google,” he told Arab News.

Despite Israel’s absolute control over Palestine’s internet networks and services, Palestinians are considered one of the Arab world’s top communities for digital technology and social networking. This is because of the absence of a geographical link between the West Bank and Gaza and the widespread use of social media by Palestinians in their struggle against Israeli aggression.

Meanwhile, Google on Sunday announced a new $25 million initiative to fund tech skills development programs for members of underrepresented communities in Israel.