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Entrepreneurship Among East Jerusalem Palestinians Increasing

By Linda Gradstein | The Media Line

July 9, 2017

Rana Qutteineh from JEST (Photo: Linda Gradstein/The Media Line)

JEST Technology Hub Offers Courses and Training

Amal Alsaieed walks into the JEST technology hub in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of east Jerusalem, sits down in an empty office space and opens her laptop.

Alsaieed, 30, is the owner and CEO of Amal’s Skincare Profiles, a small business that has clients “from 17 to 70 because we are all in need of more beauty,” as she told The Media Line. Last year she took a digital media course at JEST, and she often pops in when she needs a quiet place to work.

“The course really helped me a lot because I have to work in digital media,” she told The Media Line. “Now I have Facebook and Instagram and it helps my business.”

JEST, with its walls painted with brightly colored slogans like “Believe in U” is a technology hub in Jerusalem that aims to promote the start-up culture in east Jerusalem. It’s funders including the US Consulate in Jerusalem and the high technology company CISCO. While Israel is often called the “start-up nation” with hundreds of start-ups. Ramallah, in the West Bank, has a smaller, but growing high-tech sector. But Palestinians in east Jerusalem, who are Israeli residents since Israel annexed east Jerusalem in 1967, have far fewer opportunities.

“In east Jerusalem we have a very high unemployment rate – about 80 percent of people with a BA can’t find a job in their field,” Rana Qutteineh, the Projects Coordinator at JEST, told The Media Line. “The opportunities are very limited. The only positions are to work as a teacher on in a small family business, or to join an NGO.”

Poverty rates in east Jerusalem are extremely high, with some studies showing that three out of four children live below the poverty line. The schools are not as good as in Jewish west Jerusalem, and classes are often over-crowded.

Besides offering courses, JEST recruits successful CEOs to mentor young women starting their own businesses. Among the mentors are Anan Copty, co-founder and CEO of NIMD (non-invasive medical devices). The potential breakthrough in cancer treatment is based on microwave radiation and nanotechnology.

The device, which has made breast cancer tumors in mice disappear, injects nanoparticles into the tumor which attack to the tumor tissue. These nanoparticles are metallic and absorb microwave radiation more effectively than the surrounding tissue. When focused microwave radiation is applied, the tumor heats up to temperatures that can kill the cancer cells without damaging healthy tissue. The amount of microwave used is similar to a mobile phone.

“I believe in the concept of creating more business opportunities through startups,” Copty, who is a board member of JEST told The Media Line. “I would like to see both side of the city come together and work to build bridges. There is a real economic problem in east Jerusalem. Many of the entrepreneurs from east Jerusalem move to Ramallah or other Arab countries. They don’t speak Hebrew, and they are not integrated into Israeli culture.”

Copty, who has a PhD in physics from Hebrew University, worked for Intel for ten years. Unlike many east Jerusalem Palestinians, he is an Israeli citizen as his parents come from northern Israel. As such, he was eligible to compete for financing from Israel’s Chief Scientists Office, and he won a $500,000 grant.

All of Copty’s five siblings live abroad, while his parents live here. He said he returned to the region to help build Palestinian entrepreneurial culture. Some businessmen have different reasons. Hafeth Zughayer, the CEO of UB card, a mobile application platform for business cards, returned to east Jerusalem ten years ago because he feared the Israeli authorities would take away his Jerusalem residency permit if he lived abroad for too long. Israeli human rights groups say that 14,000 Palestinians have lost their residency permit since 1967 for living abroad.

Zughayer had a good job at AT&T in research and development and giving it up wasn’t easy.

“If I stayed there, it would mean that both I and my wife would lose our Jerusalem ID’s and our kids wouldn’t be Jerusalem residents either,” he told The Media Line. “I decided I couldn’t be selfish and stay just for the money.”

However, starting a business in east Jerusalem has not been easy. As a Jerusalem resident, he is not part of the Palestinian Authority. At the same time, as a Palestinian, he cannot receive funding from Israeli groups meant to help new Jewish immigrants to Israel.

“I called some of these groups and they said, “When did you make aliyah?” he said laughing, using the Hebrew word for immigration to Israel. “I said I didn’t, I’m a Palestinian, and they said, “We’ll call you back,” but they never did.”


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