Boo. Hoo.entrepreneurs' made it through Operation Protective Edge.
Abultewi goes quiet, and so does everyone else in the room. The sound of so many clacking keyboards is replaced by the crash of bombs in the distance. One woman stands, puts her hands together, and says Halas!—Arabic for “enough”—before leaving the room. But soon, the clatter of the keyboards resumes, and Abultewi, a slender 25-year-old dressed in a light-blue hijab, continues her pitch. Soon, it’s business as usual at Gaza Sky Geeks, the first startup accelerator in the Gaza Strip, home to one of the world’s oldest geopolitical conflicts.
Over the past seven years, Gaza has endured three wars between Israel and Hamas—the democratically empowered Islamic organization determined to reclaim Palestine from Israel—and a civil war between Hamas and Fatah, the secular Palestinian political party that rules the West Bank. Initiated by a Hamas attack on Israel, the most recent conflict left more than 2,100 Palestinians dead and more than 10,000 injured, and it devastated the local infrastructure, destroying more than 18,000 homes, depriving more than 450,000 civilians of municipal water, and blanketing the region in extended blackouts after an airstrike on Gaza’s only power plant.
But here in this room on the sixth floor of a small office building on the outskirts of Gaza City, young entrepreneurs like Abultewi are still intent on bringing new internet technologies to their sliver of land between Israel and the Mediterranean and, crucially, to other parts of the Middle East and North Africa. That may seem a Sisyphean task, and perhaps even a pointless one, given the basic amenities needed throughout the region. But Gaza Sky Geeks—created by Mercy Corps, a global aid agency that has for more than a decade worked to improve life in Gaza—provides much-needed employment for local youth and a potential path to economic recovery.
An Israeli startup's employees could not have worked through a bombing that way. First, while a Gaza startup that knows its headquarters don't house a Hamas military installation has nothing to fear, an Israeli startup always has something to fear because Hamas shoots missiles randomly. Second, while Hamas does not bother to protect its population - and therefore there is little or nothing to be gained by fleeing elsewhere - Israel does protect its population. It's worthwhile for Israelis to go into bomb shelters.
As the airstrike blasts subside on this August day and Mariam Abultewi finishes her pitch, she goes back to work. So does Hadeel Elsafadi, 24, the founder of a digital animation startup called Newtoon. “These bombings have become normal for me and everyone here,” she says. “This is why I do what I am doing—to have a normal life away from bombs and danger.” Her work, she explains, is not just for her, but also for her two younger brothers. “I want them to have a future, and I want to have a future as well.”
I wonder whether Google expects to get any return on their investment. Or maybe this is just liberal, feel-good politics....