RAMALLAH, Dec 1 (JMCC) - Samaher Aziza is an information technology major at An-Najah National University in the West Bank
city of Nablus
. She will graduate in the coming months to an industry that is enduring systematic paralysis, frustrating both IT graduates and Palestinian IT companies.
“The job market is already tight as it is,” said Ala Alaeddin, chairman of the Palestinian Information Technology Association.
There aren’t enough jobs for IT graduates like Samaher, who will be one of more than 2,000 IT-related graduates next year in the Palestinian territories and will be competing with a small fraction of IT-related jobs, he explained.
“Because it will be impossible for those companies to accommodate these numbers every year,” he said, “we try to promote innovation and entrepreneurship.”
But herein lays the bigger problem: the slow transfer of technology by Israel
Companies must first find the right technology through months or years of research. Then they risk having to repeat the process if Israel thwarts acquisition of the technology, explained Majed Ma'ali, general director of the Ramallah
-based Palestinian Businessmen's Association.
Many in the IT sector worry that by lagging behind in technology, they are losing on two fronts. First, they lose a competitive edge in the regional and global market, particularly in the 3G technology that allow simultaneous use of speech and data services and enables wireless services to mobile Internet access, video calls and mobile TV. Second, the lack of incoming technology flow limits innovation leading to a Palestinian brain drain, where a great many of the country’s skilled individuals emigrate abroad for better opportunities.
“This is really dangerous because it hurts the development of the IT sector in Palestine,” Alaeddin said. “We are the only country in the region that does not have the right to this technology.”
Iraq and Syria acquired 3G networks earlier this year.
Another hot area that IT entrepreneurs are diving into across the global market is mobile applications, the process by which applications are developed for small low-power handheld devices such as mobile phones, which also requires access to a 3G network.
“If there is an entrepreneur who just graduated and has a brilliant idea for a mobile application but he/she can’t access the network to test it,” said Alaeddin, “they wouldn’t even bother. This is an impediment to the development of the IT sector in Palestine.”
The Palestinian telecommunications market is ripe for this kind of development with a consistent high demand for advanced IT technology, Alaeddin said.
According to PITA, 90 percent of households in the occupied Palestinian territories have mobile telephone service and the market has one of the highest rates of DSL subscriptions among emerging markets.
By the end of 2007, PITA data revealed that the IT sector contributed about 10-12 percent of GDP with a market size of around $500 million by the approximately 250 IT companies, 150 small computer stores in the West Bank and Gaza and more than 5,300 individuals working in the sector.
Further, PITA continues to attract hundreds of regional and international investors, entrepreneurs, and students in the IT sector at its annual Expotech Technology Conference, which took place in Ramallah and Gaza from November 1-6th in 2010.
Last year San Jose-based US IT giant, Cisco, invested $100 million dollars into the Palestinian IT sector, creating a 10 percent growth in the industry, Alaeddin said.
Investing in technology is pivotal to the Palestinian economy, Majed Ma'ali of the Palestinian Businessmen's Association said. Japan is a small country that’s a leader in the global economy. It rose because of technology, he said. We want to follow in their footsteps.
For all these reasons, Alaeddin is hopeful that ongoing political negotiations, which include allowing access to the 3G network and modifying the 1994 Paris Protocol, will open up the IT sector and keep students like Samaher from going abroad and give her the opportunity to contribute her skills in her own country.
“We need to keep working on the Israeli side to free our frequency to be able to access the desired technology,” he said. “Without it, nothing can be done.”