They may not be heroes on the level of IDF soldiers, but tech-savvy member of parliament Erel Margalit insists that high-tech workers who soldiered through the war deserve considerable credit, too. “Hamas destroys, but we build — and what we build are the technologies that change the world,” said Margalit at a conference in a southern city that was targeted often by Hamas rockets.
It’s been a hard month for Israel’s high-tech industry. Events, shows, and meetings with officials and business people from abroad were canceled, workers were called away from important projects to serve in the IDF, and many companies had to move their offices down into bomb shelters for the duration of the war.
After a month of living under the constant threat of rocket attacks, entrepreneurs, executives and investors contracted a serious case of cabin fever — so on Thursday, the first full day of the first cease-fire between Israel and Hamas that seemed to be holding, dozens of all three groups drove down to Beersheba for a special event at the Jerusalem Venture Partners Beersheba-based Cyber-security Incubator.
It was there that Margalit gave tech industry workers some words of encouragement. “The fact that you are here today in Beersheba under these circumstances is extraordinary,” said Margalit. “There are a lot of countries in the world where, having undergone the experiences we did here, it would take them many months to recuperate and get back to normal.” Beersheba was a frequent target of Hamas rockets. Israel’s Iron Dome defense system knocked down most of them.
The event was quickly organized by JVP, said spokesperson Pnina Ben-Ami. “We weren’t sure how people would respond, considering the heavy rocket fire Beersheba was subjected to. But the companies and investors were very responsive, and we were very proud to be doing something positive for the industry and for the city.”
The Incubator is located in the Beersheba Advanced Technologies Park, which is home to the Israeli R&D facilities of several multinationals, including Deutsche Telekom, EMC, and Singtel. Representatives of each were at the event, along with over 120 entrepreneurs from the south and around the country who came to promote their ideas and get advice and mentoring from some of the top talent in tech and the investment world. Other executives and top tech authorities came from the Tel Aviv area to meet the entrepreneurs — among them the heads of Israel’s Facebook R&D center, making one of their first “public appearances” in an Israeli tech event.
Besides Margalit, speakers at the event included JVP general partner Gadi Tirosh, who said that the event was “all about connections. We are proud to be leading this initiative and we hope that many more will come and see the potential that exists here in the Negev.” Orna Berry, Corporate VP at EMC-RSA, said that the entrepreneurs who came to the event deserved a lot of credit, and would get a lot of help from the assembled experts. And Izhar Shay of investment firm Canaan Partners said that “this conference is our victory.”
But it was Margalit — chairman of the Knesset Task Force for Economic Development in the North and the Negev — whose speech set the tone for the event, expressing the thoughts and feelings of many in the room when he said despite the targeting of Beersheba, Hamas would fail to break the spirit of the city — or of the tech companies that were opening up facilities there. “This thing we are building in the south has so much power, for our families and our children. That we can thrive and grow despite the war, that the local companies and multinationals continue to invest in the Negev, is the greatest victory — and teaches us that we cannot be beaten,” said Margalit – who, as a tech investor himself for many years, was a founder of JVP.
“What we can come away from with this war is the knowledge that in our unity and creativity, we are doing something good for ourselves, for our families, for the world. That is our greatest victory, regardless of what did or didn’t happen on the battlefield,” he said.
Margalit wasn’t trying to be inspiring for inspiration’s sake, he said. “It’s been hard for us, and may yet still be even harder. We don’t know if this war is even over, or if we are in for a war of attrition. People sacrificed so much and they want to see a final conclusion — whether diplomatic or military.”
Neither of those may happen soon, said Margalit. “People are a little more realistic now, I think. Some people thought that the end of the war would mean the end of Hamas, and many hoped it would mean that Gaza would be disarmed. Neither of those things seem to be happening.” Israelis, he said, are unlikely to settle for a long-term attrition war, and would probably demand that something more drastic be done, militarily or diplomatically. So the threat — and the tension — are far from over.
But for the tech community in Beersheba and beyond, the good work will — and must — continue, Margalit said. “Israelis are truly the ninth wonder of the world,” he said. “What I see here today, and what is happening in Beersheba, is nothing less than a miracle. People are still flocking to this place and are working to build the future, for themselves, their families, and the world. That is nothing less than a miracle, and the greatest victory. People around the world are looking at us with wonder, seeing what we are building here despite the challenges. With this spirit, no one can beat us.”