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Israeli-Arab-Palestinian tech-pitch night brings sliver of hope to fraught ties

A Jerusalem tech event hosted by venture fund JVP brings together, some by Zoom, 60 entrepreneurs from Jerusalem, Gaza, Nablus, Rahat and the UAE

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Participants of the joint Israeli-Arab-Palestinian "tech-pitch" event in Jerusalem organized by JVP. The images of some of the participants are blurred to protect their identity and security (Courtesy)
Participants of the joint Israeli-Arab-Palestinian "tech-pitch" event in Jerusalem organized by JVP. The images of some of the participants are blurred to protect their identity and security (Courtesy)

An app to create videos that depict both Jewish and Palestinian culture; an eco-friendly hotel run jointly by Jews and Arabs in the West Bank; musical training for young Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem; and an educational app to learn Hebrew and Arabic were among the projects presented last week at a joint Israeli-Arab-Palestinian “tech-pitch” event in Jerusalem.

Held on Wednesday at the offices of the venture fund JVP in Jerusalem, just a week after a bloody 11-day conflict between Israel and the Hamas terror group that rules the Gaza Strip, the event hosted 60 Israeli and Palestinian entrepreneurs from Jerusalem, Gaza, Nablus, Rahat and the UAE – some of them via Zoom. During the event, participants gave two-minute pitches to describe their startup ideas and discussed them with mentors from JVP in Israel and elsewhere.

The evening was a follow-up to a hackathon held five months ago for Arab and Jewish entrepreneurs in Jerusalem with the aim of promoting strategic collaborations between the sides. Hackathon participants who continued to develop their venture presented 20 of their projects on Wednesday.

The event opened with a discussion between Erel Margalit, the chairman and founder of JVP, and Rami A., a Palestinian entrepreneur and peace activist who joined the event from Gaza via Zoom and whose surname was not revealed in order to prevent backlash. He in the founder of a youth center in Gaza and in recent years has worked to grow a new generation of young Gazan leaders bidding for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

JVP founder and chairman Erel Margalit speaking to Rami A, a Palestinian entrepreneur and activist from the Gaza Strip (Courtesy)

“People like you continue to give this region hope, and build the bridges we will continue to build together in the next decade,” said Margalit during the discussion, according to a statement released by JVP. “We need brave people to prove to everyone that we can do it together. We need everyone to understand that we share the same goals. And we are willing to help, promote dialogue with entrepreneurs from Gaza, and the West Bank, in our vision to even invest in projects together. It is clear to us that economic investment, and job development, are the key to regional change.”

“The business world is known for its ability to bridge cultures, languages and opinions,” Margalit added.

Rami A. said that initiatives like that held on Wednesday “provide an opportunity for a dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians that allows us to learn about each other’s lives. The young entrepreneurs here want to be a part of everything. But they do not have the opportunity to do so. They have nothing. There are wars and internal conflicts so they are forced to find another job to make money, which makes people miss out on their hope for a better future. But we need brave people to prove to everyone that we can do it together. Everyone needs to understand that we share the same air, the same water, and the same conflict. ”

The military confrontation earlier this month, in which Gazan terror groups fired barrages of missiles at Israeli cities and the Israeli Air Force bombed targets in the Strip in retaliation, fueled tensions between Israel’s Jewish and Arab communities, which spiraled into mob violence in ethnically mixed communities. All of this spurred the business, tech and health sectors into action, in the belief that economic cooperation has the power to heal communities and bridge differences.

The event was held in collaboration with communities from across East and West Jerusalem; the “50:50: Startup” initiative, which creates startup collaborations between Israelis and Palestinians; and a company called cnvrg.io.

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