Mellanox Goes to Gaza

TEL AVIV/GAZA (Reuters) -
Mellanox Headquarters in the town of Yokneam, in northern Israel.

Mellanox Technologies is looking to take advantage of a resource largely untapped by Israel’s high-tech companies: Palestinians.

Nasdaq-listed Mellanox already employs a large number of Arab programmers in Israel and dozens in Ramallah and Shechem. Now its chief executive is extending the outreach to Gaza, the Palestinian enclave that has been almost entirely cut off from Israel for a decade.

Working with ASAL Technologies, a Palestinian software firm, the maker of products that connect databases, servers and computers has hired four programmers in Gaza. It hopes to add at least six more in the next six months.

“From our experience in Ramallah, we think we have the potential to collaborate and make our neighbors successful,” Chief Executive Eyal Waldman told Reuters in an interview.

Hiring Palestinians would seem to solve two problems. Arabs struggle to break into Israel’s high-tech sector. And Israeli companies need help.

Among Palestinians, there were 11,000 registered engineers from all sectors in Gaza at the end of 2015 and 16,000 in Yehudah and Shomron and eastern Yerushalayim, according to Gaza’s Engineering Association.

A senior programmer in Gaza estimated that about 5,000 people from the territory work in software. But a study among 1,061 new engineering graduates in Gaza showed an unemployment rate of 36 percent.

Meanwhile, Israeli companies have begun to outsource work to other countries, such as India. But Palestinians have the same skills, Waldman said, and they are in the same time zone.

The main obstacle, of course, is that the area is ruled by Hamas. Israel does not allow its citizens to travel into Gaza. Even if it did, they wouldn’t be allowed in by the Gazan terrorist organization.

The hostility is likely to extend to Palestinian employees of Israeli companies. The four Gazan programmers hired so far confirmed they were working for Mellanox, but didn’t want to talk to reporters.

Mellanox said it was not aware of any other Israeli tech company employing Gazans. Economic cooperation between Israel and Gaza is mostly limited to merchants importing goods, including agricultural products, cement and gasoline.

But Mellanox’s Waldman thinks the obstacles can be overcome. The travel ban can be circumvented through audio and video conferencing, for example.

Mellanox already stands out for having a workforce in Israel that’s almost 10 percent Arab. It employs 68 people in Yehudah and Shomron as part of a joint project with ASAL that has been running for four years.