Israeli firms seek hi-tech help — in Gaza

Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) – When Dan Leubitz needed a contractor for a project with his Israeli tech firm, one address in the list of tenders caught his eye: Gaza.

It was 2015, only a year after Israel fought a brutal war with Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas, leaving 2,251 Palestinians killed and 74 dead on the Israeli side.

Leubitz’s rapidly growing firm Innitel was scouting for a contractor in low-cost, highly skilled tech hubs such as eastern Europe and India.

But the Israeli-American had never considered looking in a territory just 50 miles away.

The Israeli and Gazan firms have since formed an unlikely alliance, doing business worth around $10,000 (8,300 euros) a month.

“Now friends at other companies ask me ‘do you have the guy’s number?'” said Leubitz, whose firm provides cloud-based call centre software.

It is not uncommon for hi-tech companies from the West Bank, the other part of the Palestinian territories run by Hamas’s secular rival Fatah, to work directly with Israeli counterparts.

But in Gaza, which has seen three wars with Israel since 2008, it is almost unheard of.

Hamas executes Gazans for “collaborating” with Israel, while the Jewish state maintains a crippling blockade on the coastal enclave and designates Hamas a terrorist organisation.

Yet the online nature of the tech industry largely avoids the Israeli restrictions that limit trade in other sectors.

Leubitz’s partner firm has now expanded to work with a number of Israeli companies.

Tech giant Mellanox — which makes technology that connects computers, databases and servers — employs 10 of the Gazan company’s staff and plans to double that.

– ‘We should benefit’ –

AFP has chosen not to name the company in Gaza for security reasons, but did visit its offices in Gaza City.

Its CEO said that despite the potential gains, he believed it was the only Gazan tech company working with Israeli counterparts.

“It isn’t an easy decision,” he said. “But we have complete conviction to take our services to the Israeli market.”

He stressed that the relationship was purely financial and didn’t stray into politics, arguing that Gazans were simply looking to sell their services to Israel.

As Israel controls what enters the enclave, many Israeli products are imported and sold in Gaza.

“Where do we buy yoghurt from? From Israel. And the petrol, where does it come from? From Israel. Some of our fruit we buy from Israel,” he said.

“Does anyone criticise this business? No. As they benefit from us…

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