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Palestinians Working For Foreign Companies Causing ‘Brain-Drain’ In West Bank

By Dima Abumaria | The Media Line

September 6, 2017

Palestinian women work in front of their laptops at Unit One start up in Gaza City, on April 18, 2015. (Photo: MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images)

Local hi-tech industry lacks technical expertise and financial resources

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process may be at an impasse, but that has not stopped Israeli hi-tech companies from recruiting Palestinian programmers and engineers from across the divide.
Over the past three years, Palestinian entrepreneurs have created more than seven hundred jobs in the local hi-tech market; however, some professionals are instead opting to work for Israeli companies or projects, a “brain-drain” that has resulted in a lack of technical expertise in the West Bank.

Shadi Atshan, President of the Ramallah-based Leaders organization, which manages the “Fast Forward” start-up incubator for hi-tech entrepreneurs, explained that many Palestinians opt to work in Israel because the salaries are unmatched.”Israeli companies pay them double or triple than what a Palestinian start-up can pay,” he explained to The Media Line. Specifically, Atshan said that Palestinian hi-tech companies can generally offer a “maximum salary of seven hundred dollars per month and potentially some shares in the business, whereas Israeli companies offer between $2,500-$4,000 monthly depending on the position and its demands.”

Moreover, he elaborated, “young companies in the West Bank and Gaza struggle because they lack the necessary talent needed to excel.” In this respect, Ashtan highlighted the lack of qualified chief technological officers at Palestinian hi-tech businesses.

On the flip side, Israel has the most start-ups per capita in the world and for many of these technology firms hiring Palestinian programmers is more cost-effective. The workers are often highly motivated and have the benefit of living nearby and in the same time zone, which is helpful for international companies, many of which in the past outsourced work to Eastern Europe, India or China.

The Media Line was able to contact two programmers living in Ramallah who work for Israeli companies but both declined to comment, even anonymously, out of fear that any such exposure could bring about negative impacts. Despite the apparent stigma, however, the latest trend in Israel remains to hire one’s neighbor. According to Atshan, then, highly-skilled Palestinians have two good options; namely, to stay at home and work for an Israeli company or travel abroad where there are more promising opportunities.

Rami Bara’a, 32, is a Palestinian programmer who moved to Sweden to work as a technical team leader at a company there. “I get paid much more than what I used to make in Ramallah,” he expressed to The Media Line.”I work for a company that appreciates me and respects me as a person. I regret not having considered working in a foreign country earlier but I’m building a career now and will likely never return to Palestine.” Bara’a, who applied for the job online after a friend of his who works at the company sent him a link for a new position, suggested that more and more Palestinians may choose to pursue this avenue.

For his part, Ahmad Zaytoun, a Palestinian engineer, left Ramallah for a job in Silicon Valley in the U.S. “Working here was a dream for me, as it is for most of software developers across the globe.” Zaytoun explained to The Media Line that not only is his situation better financially, but he could not have acquired the same IT experience in the Palestinian territories. “In Silicon Valley, after 3-4 years you end up with an outstanding resume and within 7-8 years you move up in the ranks. All the while, you get the chance to meet hundreds of top engineers from all over the world. You share your experience and learn.” Working in software development in the West Bank can be challenging,” Zaytoun concluded, mainly due to a lack of resources. “I worked in Palestine for six years and in fact it was a good experience, but unfortunately the industry lacks opportunities.”

Unlike Bara’a, however, even while Zaytoun builds his career in the U.S. his ultimate aim is to return home. “My next step is to be a core member of a start-up and maybe even build my own. But I am definitely going back—this is my target.”


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