Israel is opening a new industrial business campus in East Jerusalem to lure high-tech companies to operate in the area as part of the city’s effort to increase the participation of the Arab population into the country’s workforce.
The high-tech complex named Eastech, which was inaugurated on Monday seeks to create jobs for programmers and tech professionals in East Jerusalem’s Wadi Joz neighborhood, which is home to a Palestinian commercial and industrial area.
The campus, which is backed by an investment of NIS 10 million ($2.8 million) from the Jerusalem municipality, the Jerusalem and Heritage Ministry and the government, will host Israeli and international high-tech companies who will be able to use the workspaces free of charge.
The inaugurated campus includes 1,000 square meters of office area with 120 workstations, meeting rooms, a training room and additional service spaces.
“This is an innovative business complex, offered to technology and high-tech companies free of charge, on condition that they employ workers from East Jerusalem in these fields,” said Einat Masterman, director of the strategic plan for quality employment in East Jerusalem. “We are already preparing to expand the complex by an additional floor once the first floor is fully staffed.”
Among the companies that have already begun operating in the complex are Ness Technologies, Natural Intelligence, Techlinic, and Quantum Vision. About 20 local programmers have already started working in the complex as employees of the tech companies. The high-tech complex is expected to create work opportunities for a total of 250 programmers and tech professionals.
Participation rates of the Arab population in the tech employment market in Israel remain low despite numerous government initiatives in recent years to narrow the employment and income gaps between Jewish and Arab Israelis. Long touted as the growth engine of the Israeli economy, the tech sector accounts for around 25% of the country’s total income tax revenue and constitutes about 13% of the workforce. Arab Israelis make up some 20% of the population, but just 2% of Arab men and 1% of Arab women working in the tech industry, according to government data.
The high-tech complex is the first initiative of a mega project dubbed “Silicon Wadi,” which was announced by the city’s municipality in 2020 for a big urban renewal plan in the Wadi Joz neighborhood and includes the construction of 200,000 square meters of high-tech office and workspaces at an investment of NIS 200 million ($56 million).
“The construction of the new complex is another step towards realizing a significant historic and strategic plan in East Jerusalem, which brings good news for the economy in Jerusalem in general and East Jerusalem in particular, with the boost in the supply of high-tech employment,” said Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion. “The municipality intends to recruit leading companies in the high-tech field and realize the potential of quality manpower in East Jerusalem.”
The Silicon Wadi project is part of a five-year, NIS 2.1 billion ($585 million) government initiative to reduce gaps between Jewish and Palestinian Jerusalem, and one that is hoped will reduce mistrust and inequality between East and West Jerusalem. In 2016, the poverty rate among East Jerusalem Palestinians was 72.9%, compared to 29.8% in the Jewish communities.
If the project comes to fruition, Silicon Wadi could be one of the biggest public investments ever made in East Jerusalem. A total of 200,000 square meters will be devoted to high-tech businesses, 50,000 to hotels, and another 50,000 to commercial space — all in the heart of Wadi Joz with the potential of creating 10,000 jobs.
When completed, the complex would be twice the size of Grand Central Station in New York. However, one of the main questions that have already been raised is how the development will avoid replacing Palestinian locals with high-tech companies employing mostly Jewish Israelis.
Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.