Peace in the Middle East may seem elusive, but Jews and Arabs across Israel are working hard to create bridges though business. ISRAEL21c brings you a list of Israel’s top ten coexistence business ventures.
Making peace in the Middle East will never be an easy task, but what many people don’t realize is that even in the midst of conflict, there are thousands upon thousands of Israeli people working dedicatedly for coexistence and the promise of a better life.
Some of the most effective of these peace projects are those based on business. Peace through prosperity is not a new concept, but as Yoav Stern, director of the Business and Economics Department at the Peres Center for Peace, admits, projects like these help building confidence.
It’s a “win-win-win game,” says Stern, who helped ISRAEL21c compile this top 10 list. “I think that what’s unique in these kind of businesses is the fact that the interests are clear for all sides. In order to have a sound business project you must identify the interests of all sides, not just the Israelis not just Palestinians.
“They are very good ideas when you want to build confidence measures,” he adds. “The business community is a very good engine for the peace train and without its commitment and involvement peace will not come,” he asserts.
1. Tefen Park
Stef Wertheimer, one of the richest individuals in the country, has a vision that economic prosperity will spark peace for all people in Israel and the region. To that end, he has created Tefen, an industrial park in the Galilee region that boasts high-quality schools and spurs business ventures and creativity for industry. At Tefen Jews, Arabs and Druze work side by side as they realize their common goals. Built in 1982, it is one of four industrial parks created by Wertheimer that bring in a combined $1 billion in revenue, proving that co-existence can be a powerful business model.
“When people work together, they have no time for nonsense,” Wertheimer has said. “They’re too tired at night to commit terrorist acts. They’re satisfied, they engage in producing. They work together, not against each other.”
Want to outsource your call and customer service centers? Want to fuel a little Middle East peace? Instead of working with India, consider the services of Babcom. Based in the Galilee region, Babcom hires a significant number of Israeli Arabs and trains them as call center managers who work for both local and international companies. Functioning as a strategic partner, Babcom provides a cost-effective service for companies worldwide.
Co-founded in 2008 by Imad Telhami and Delta’s Dov Lautman, Babcom was set up to meet its customers’ long-term goals and to provide customer call services in Hebrew, Arabic, English and Russian. The company works with large cellular providers in Israel.
3. MME New Diesel Biofuel
Initiated by the Peres Center for Peace, MME New Diesel, a new Jordanian-Israeli company, is using German-made technology to create biofuel from biomass waste. Biomass waste is quite a problem in the region, with excessive amounts of agriculture-based organic matter building up in Jordan, Israel and within the Palestinian Authority. This new company plans on repurposing it into biofuel and squeezing out a little peace at the same time. The new pilot facility will be built in Israel’s Arava Desert where it can strategically serve all three communities.
4. A NATO grant for a salt-free water bridge
Israel and Jordan share environmental problems, but regional politics and prejudices often prevent them from solving them together. A new North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) grant set up to develop two inland water desalination plants – one in Israel and one in Jordan – not only gets two Middle East universities collaborating, but the end-product could help to quench the region’s thirst. It could also boost an under-used new technology that promises to save both water and energy the world over.
5. The Israel-Palestinian Chamber of Commerce
Members of the new Israel-Palestinian Chamber of Commerce certainly hope to make peace through business. It might seem like a head scratcher, but even in times of extreme conflict, as recently as last year, Israel and the Palestinian Authority maintain an active trade relationship.
The chamber plans to grow new business ventures even further. Consider some facts: Of NIS 15 billion (about $4 billion) worth of sales of products and services in 2008, about NIS 13 billion was to the West Bank, while an estimated NIS 2 billion went to the Gaza Strip.
Don’t be afraid: Peace has more than a ghost of chance, with new business projects like G.ho.st, or Global Hosted Operating System (pronounced “ghost”). G.ho.st is run by Israelis and Palestinians who provide organizations and other users with a virtual operating system.
The company has received a lot of international press coverage, both due to its technology and the fact that it’s the only true Israeli-Palestinian startup. It was also the first company in the Palestinian Territories to offer its employees stock options.
After achieving successful careers in high-tech, entrepreneurs founded Tsofen, a non-profit organization to help Israel’s Arab citizens enjoy the same benefits as Israeli Jews. Three partners share the vision of helping Israel’s qualified Arab engineers in Nazareth find gainful work in the high-tech industry.
The long-term goal is to strengthen Israeli society from within. “We are located in Nazareth and our facilities enable industry to come to Nazareth and help Arab academics come close to the high-tech industry. It’s not technical training that we give, but more cultural and hands on,” says Smadar Nehab, one of the founders.
8. New Generation Technology
The New Generation Technology (NGT) business incubator is situated close to the new road that links Nazareth to the country’s business hub in the center of Israel. The idea is to accelerate technologies in both the Jewish and Arab sectors, with a focus on life sciences. Success stories include D-Herb, a herbal formulation to counter diabetes, and Nutrinia, an infant formula developed with the same natural bioactive proteins that are usually found only in mother’s milk.
Says founder Davidi Gilo: “There are many Israeli initiatives that open factories and do different things with Arabs – but basically the Jews are the employers and the Arabs the employees. NGT is the only project in Israel that is a pure, true partnership between Jewish and Arab businessmen in Israel. We’re all board members, and we’ve all invested the same amount of money.”
9. The Center for Jewish Arab Development
The Center for Jewish-Arab Economic Development (CJAED) is a non-profit organization established in 1988 by a group of Jewish and Arab businesspeople. Today, the group spearheads a large number of projects falling within four units: The Business Unit; the Women’s Unit; the Joint Jewish-Arab Employment Zone Unit; and the Higher Education Leadership Programs Unit. The guiding vision of the CJAED is that Jewish-Arab economic cooperation within Israel is an essential ingredient if peace, prosperity and economic stability are to be achieved locally and in the Middle East as a whole.
10. Asal Technologies
Rather than outsource your computer coding and programming to India and China, why not try the Palestinian Authority? Asal Technologies aims to supply gainful employment to Palestinian engineers who speak the same “language” as their Israeli neighbors. Each year there are about 3,000 Palestinian graduates in computer sciences, but few find jobs. Already working with large multinational companies based in Israel, Asal is providing solutions that Israeli teams can trust, with value and a product delivered in the same time zone.
“We realized that instead of fighting each other and throwing bombs we needed to work together,” says Jonathan Levy, a general manager for the Israel-based chip manufacturer Winbond, who is one of the idea’s founding fathers. “I started thinking that it would be better to hire a Palestinian engineer to develop our less complex products, for reasons related to cost calculations as well as problems of language, culture and deadlines,” he explains.