Israeli and Palestinian youth are joining forces, learning new skills, and engaging in dialogue on conflict resolution through a series of new technology partnerships in the troubled region. Can technology really make a difference?
Israel may be known as a start-up nation known for its technology start-ups backed by one of the largest venture capital industries in the world.
But Israeli-Palestinian relations have been relentlessly hard since the founding of Israel in 1
Initiatives like Tech2Peace try to bridge the gap between the two communities.
- Israel and the Palestinians
"I joined the program alone, but I have found many good friends from both Palestine and Israel, with whom I am in contact today," says participant Zada Haj.
The student and volunteer-led program brings Israeli and Palestinian youth together to learn technical skills – 3D and graphic design, website creation, app development – and dialogue on conflict resolution.
Ms. Haj says she previously had a "zero knowledge" in animation or 3D modeling, but at the end of the session, she was able to turn her ideas into creation and develop skills that would help her get a job to find.
Palestinian entrepreneur Adnan Awni Jaber also says Tech2Peace is the gateway for him to find Jewish friends in Israel.
"I believe that technology can break walls between two sides of conflict because it is limitless," he tells the BBC.
"There is no physical limit that can prevent these two sides from touching each other."
Abdallah Sakran, another program participant, says talks about politics and technology have brought his group closer together.
"At first it was uncomfortable, but on the third day we discussed deep thoughts and our political views," he says. "In the tech seminar part, we had to help each other and ask questions."
Tomer Cohen, a co-founder of Tech2Peace, an Israeli, participated in peace camps when he grew up in Israel, but found that friendly friendships had disappeared after completing the programs. The young people on both sides would return to their regular lives.
When he and his Israeli and Palestinian co-founders thought about how to promote long-term partnerships between young people, they came up with the idea of providing them with life skills that would allow them to continue working together.
"We thought, OK, let's do that with technology and programming," says Cohen. "When young people come to our seminar, they do not think" OK, you are Palestinian and I am Israeli, "they think," I want to improve my life and you want it too. We have something in common.
Closer cooperation also makes commercial sense, argues the Israeli-American investor and entrepreneur Yadin Kaufmann.
He launched the Palestinian Internship Program (PIP) in 2014 to provide young Palestinian graduates with work experience at leading in Israel
"For most Palestinians, part of PIP is the first time they encounter another Israeli, rather than at a checkpoint," says Kaufmann.
"For most Israelis, this is the first time that they can talk to a Palestinian and work together on a professional level. "
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Founded Sadara Ventures in 2008, the first exclusively focused on the Palestinian technology sector, Sadara now supports six portfolio companies that have previously provided venture capital financing collected $ 70 million.
Mr. Kaufmann's latest initiative, the Palestinian Partnership Fund, would provide grants for joint ventures between Palestinian entrepreneurs and companies in Israel. other countries in the Middle East and the USA.
The US Congress is currently considering whether the program should be funded.
"I realized that there was a chance to do something interesting from a business point of view, but also to create a" start-up nation "on a smaller scale next door," says Kaufmann.
"If that succeeds, it would be good for the Palestinians and would make Palestine a real economy rather than a donor-dependent economy."
Even tech companies have been trying to bridge the gap for years.
For example, the Palestinian software company Exalt Technologies has 20 engineers building cloud infrastructure for Nokia's 5G team in Israel.
"There is no doubt that there are many political and economic constraints in Palestine, but the media … emphasize aspects of destruction rather than focus on resilience and love for growth and life despite the need." , believes Exalt boss, Tareq Maayah.
Exalt has worked with Cisco teams in Israel and the US for a decade to integrate software into the company's wireless network, and has developed Android and iOS applications for HP Indigo, a division of the original Israeli-based Graphics company of HP.  But by January of this year, many engineers had never met from either side.
HP Indigo's Israeli engineers and the company's chief executive traveled to Exalt in the Palestinian city of Ramallah.
"Although the CEO has visited before in the past, it was the first time for the engineers who have been working with us for many years," said Dara Jarallah, Business Development Officer at Exalt.
"I felt a sense of pride when Exalt's engineers demonstrated their work to HP during the meetings, especially as they saw our Palestinian women leaders in action developing their own technology sector."
"That was important." We do that so everyone can enjoy themselves as they experience authentic Palestinian food!
But will such co-operation lead to a stronger economy for the region and possibly a solution to the conflict?
That remains unlikely, believes Magid Shihade faculty member at the Institute for International Studies of Birzeit University in the West Bank, while still
Pursuant to the Paris Protocol between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Government, Palestinians can not import what they want from abroad from being free to develop their own products.
"The first step For a change is to eliminate all Israeli trade restrictions so that they can work together. "Palestinian and Israeli companies work together on an equal footing," says Shihade.
But Israel considers such restrictions necessary to bolster its security in the troubled region
The problems are difficult and deeply rooted, but at least in technology contributes to the promotion of dialogue – an indispensable prerequisite for peace.
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