In Israel, high-tech opens up to Palestinians


And Israel already granted work permits to Palestinians, the nearly 150,000 sesames distributed were only for low-wage jobs, in construction, agriculture or services. But since January 9, the Jewish state has also allowed high-tech companies, its national flagship, to recruit directly in the West Bank. Thus, 200 Palestinians the first two years, then 100 the third of this pilot project will have access to this precious work permit. The country did not want, until now, to open up to other sectors, for fear of putting its own minorities in difficulty, but above all for ideological and security considerations.

Economic pragmatism

The measure was welcomed in the glass towers of northern Tel Aviv and Herzliya, the affluent suburb that serves as Israel’s Silicon Valley. Tech executives have been advocating for Palestinian inclusion for years. “For ethical reasons, but also out of economic pragmatism, says Yaïr Smolyanov, of the association Reducing the conflict, which has made this project a hobbyhorse. There is a shortage of 15,000 employees in Israeli tech. Why go looking for them in Ukraine or India when, less than an hour from Tel Aviv, at least 1,500 programmers and developers leave college every year, often finding themselves unemployed? »

“Reducing the Conflict” is inspired by the work of the philosopher Micah Goodman, for whom it is possible to reduce violence by improving the economic situation of the Palestinians. The government, based on a fragile and heterogeneous coalition, has appropriated this philosophy.

The project is led by the Ministry of Regional Cooperation, led by Issawi Frej, from the left-wing Meretz party and himself an Arab. “Today, at the high-tech level, Israel is an isolated giant, explains Roni Elon, economist and director general of the ministry. We would like to create opportunities for qualified people throughout the region. It will take time, but we can start dreaming about it: that Israel becomes a regional Silicon Valley. »

Palestinians already recruited as subcontractors

In fact, these high-tech companies are already recruiting Palestinians, but on a subcontract basis, like Mohammed (alias), who comes from a medium-sized town in the West Bank. “I work through a company based in Ramallah, but they only transfer my salary, taking 15% commission”, he explains. He probably won’t earn much more with the new measure, because taxes are higher in Israel, but “the other benefits are worth it, such as social protection and the possibility of changing employers”. Mohammed also sees it as a chance to access training, he who thinks well “return to Palestine to found (to) propre start-up ».

“It’s a way to provide these Palestinians with the best tools, so that they will one day establish a high-tech sector that could become an engine for the Palestinian economy,” esteem Roni Elon.

If the entourage of Mohammed took a little time to get used to his work in Israel, he is now proud of it: “Many friends ask me to find them work”, he said. It is a symbol of success, the effects of which are already being felt. In Ramallah, we are worried about not finding any more developers, who all want to go to Israel.

“Israel keeps the population totally dependent on the Israeli market”

“Presenting this as a step forward for the Palestinians is customary Israeli hypocrisy and cynicism., says Inès Abdel Razek, director of advocacy for the Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy. Through the military occupation, Israel has knowingly destroyed the Palestinian productive sectors and keeps the population in total dependence on the Israeli market. »

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“The problem with this measure is not to give some Palestinians the possibility of working in Israel. It is not to give this chance to all the Palestinians, analyzes the Palestinian economist Zayne Abudaka. Israel can freely extract capital and means of production from the West Bank – but we cannot. We can only give our labor in exchange for a salary, in a context full of inequalities. »


A two-speed economy

High-tech employs about 9% of Israeli workers, but the sector, responsible for 50% of the country’s exports, beats investment records every year and provides the “start-up nation” with considerable diplomatic added value.

147,000 Palestinians work in Israel and its settlements, according to Palestinian statistics. The minimum wage is three times higher in Israel than in the Palestinian Authority. But the associations regularly protest against the working conditions and the lack of physical and social protection.

The Palestinians do not control their borders or their currency. They use the Israeli shekel. Economists agree that, in fact, it is a single economy, with two speeds: post-industrial on the one hand, underdeveloped on the other.