Despite its challenging economic conditions, Gaza has always had a remarkable tech scene. This region has been a tech hub not just for Palestinians but also for international companies seeking collaboration with talented tech freelancers and emerging startups. For instance, Nvidia, a prominent player in the AI field, has been working with over 100 engineers from Gaza for an extended period.
Silicon Valley has increasingly shown interest in Palestine as a budding tech hub, and it’s estimated that around $10 million has been invested in the Palestinian tech ecosystem. Notably, in 2017, Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff supported the establishment of Gaza’s first-ever coding academy.
One notable initiative in the region is Gaza Sky Geeks, backed by Alphabet. This organization provides pre-seed investments, training, and technology resources to Gaza’s population, promoting entrepreneurship in the area.
However, the recent military conflict has taken a severe toll on the region. Israel is responding militarily to attacks on its people and territory, leading to significant casualties in Palestine, with over 1,500 people killed so far. This conflict is also affecting the tech industry in Israel, a crucial contributor to the country’s GDP. However, the impact on the smaller and more fragile tech ecosystem in Gaza is even more devastating.
The physical, economic, and societal destruction resulting from this conflict leaves the future of the tech industry in Gaza in serious doubt. The promising tech landscape that had been slowly emerging in Gaza is now faced with an uncertain and challenging road ahead. The hope is that, once peace is restored, the resilience and creativity of the people in this region can rebuild the tech ecosystem and continue their journey toward becoming a thriving tech hub once more.
The war’s consequences are inescapable for everyone, including those working in the tech industry. Inside Gaza, one source put it bluntly,
“What is happening to tech in Gaza is that Israel is crunching it, obliterating it.”
Israel has deployed its troops near the northern border of Gaza, anticipating a ground offensive into this densely populated area. Approximately 1.1 million people residing in northern regions have been urged to evacuate within the next day. The United Nations has expressed grave concern about the “devastating humanitarian consequences” that could result from these developments. Currently, a complete blockade is in place, causing shortages of fuel, food, and water. Israel has stated that it won’t lift these restrictions until all hostages held by Hamas are released.
Ryan Sturgill, a former head of the Gaza Sky Geeks (GSG) accelerator run by the aid organization Mercy Corps, reports a dire situation on the ground, marked by continuous shelling from the Israeli military. The tech industry, like many other aspects of life in Gaza, is facing profound challenges due to the ongoing conflict.
The Mercy Corps building, which served as the home for Gaza Sky Geeks, has suffered extensive damage. As per reports, the building still stands, but it’s been severely affected, with the front part essentially torn off.
Gaza Sky Geeks holds a significant place in the tech landscape of Palestine, offering extensive tech training to a large number of individuals. In 2022, the program saw 5,000 coders and developers graduate from the West Bank and Gaza, highlighting its substantial impact on tech education in the region.
Video evidence on LinkedIn showcases the building with the Mercy Corps sign in a blown-out state, confirming the extent of the damage.
The situation is dire, with many educational institutions severely affected. Sturgill expressed concerns about the ability of people to return to Northern Gaza given the ongoing conflict, with universities and offices in shambles. These developments have had a profound impact on the tech ecosystem and the future of educational institutions in the region.
Sturgill had been actively involved in assisting Palestinian tech startups in raising capital in the West Bank and Gaza since January. The recent events have undoubtedly disrupted these efforts and raised significant challenges for the tech community in Gaza.
“Until now, there had been a pretty significant growth. A lot of companies in Saudi Arabia have been setting up back offices [in Palestine] for development for all sorts of new companies and even apps that are that are now growing in the Gulf, because Saudi has been growing so quickly on the tech front. Nvidia, and other international companies, has outsourcing operations in Palestine. Apple has outsourcing operations, Microsoft has R&D, and they would even like to see those expand. There’s companies that had 200 developers sitting in offices in Ramallah,” he said.
“I’ve talked to all of the heads of these different offices, most of them are in in Israel. They are very positive people who want to try to support the tech industry there and those efforts have been working well and growing,”he added.
The recent conflict in Gaza has had far-reaching consequences, including a significant impact on the tech sector. Even as tech had been flourishing in Gaza, with initiatives like Ibtikar raising substantial funds, the situation has drastically changed.
Promising high-growth companies like Menalytics, Olivery, Coretava, and Sellenvo were emerging from Palestine, attracting investments and partnerships from various organizations. However, as the conflict intensified, the situation worsened not only in Gaza but also in Ramallah, where the tech community is facing tense conditions.
According to Iliana Montauk, CEO of Manara, connectivity has dwindled significantly in the past 24 hours. Entire neighborhoods, including middle-class areas, have been destroyed, and the tech sector is almost unable to function in Gaza. People are in constant danger, with the need to evacuate their homes frequently. Cell phone connections and internet access have been severely disrupted, with limited access to 2G on cell phones. Electricity has become scarce, and people are running out of gas for generators.
Manara, which has around 100 software engineers in Gaza, is struggling to keep operations going. Some engineers work remotely for tech companies in Silicon Valley and Europe. The situation is dire, with reports of software engineers disappearing for days, only to be found alive.
Dalia Awad, who gained recognition for her journey from Gaza to Google and Datadog, returned to Gaza after her internships to graduate from university. She had a job offer in Paris but chose to stay in Gaza to be close to family. She described the dire situation in Gaza, with widespread destruction, a lack of internet and access to information, and ongoing bombings causing immense distress.
Mai Temraz, another member of Manara, revealed that her family narrowly escaped a bombing in Gaza City, highlighting the extreme dangers faced by the population.
Iliana Montauk, a former director of Gaza Sky Geeks, noted that prior to this escalation, the tech scene in Gaza was growing. Companies were hiring software development teams and individuals were working remotely for Silicon Valley companies. However, the recent conflict has disrupted these promising developments, leaving many tech professionals and entrepreneurs with uncertain futures.
Leen Abubaker, a tech professional in the West Bank, emphasized that the tech industry in Gaza was operating on a limited scale or had been forced out of business due to the conflict. The destruction of key buildings and infrastructure in Gaza has left the tech industry in disarray.
Mohammad Alnobani, founder of The Middle Frame, was caught in a difficult situation while trying to return to his family in Palestine when the conflict broke out. The borders closed, leaving him stranded in Jordan, and he faces the challenge of supporting his colleagues in Gaza during this crisis.
The current hostilities have brought an unprecedented level of uncertainty and danger, with the tech sector struggling to function amidst the ongoing conflict, affecting the lives and livelihoods of tech professionals and entrepreneurs in the region.