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Silicon Valley in the West Bank

Chic lamps, designer furniture, flip charts, green seat cushion, cool loft-like atmosphere – said anyone who enters this stylish Coworking Space could mean to be in Silicon Valley, London, Berlin, Tel Aviv or any other of the Start-up centres in the world. But this space here is not in the Silicon Valley, but in the middle of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. If you look out of the window, you see construction sites and half-finished houses. Rawabi, only ten kilometers from Ramallah, the seat of the autonomy government, is the first Palestinian city is created on the drawing Board for the last eight years will be built.

The Palestinians, Bashar Masri wants to realize its Vision: first, a city, a state. From the already finished "Tech-Hub" is run out of the development. "This is the catalyst for our Start-up Nation", explains the businessman, who also has a US passport. With its extensive business Empire, and projects in Morocco, Jordan, and Egypt, he has become a multi-millionaire, now he wants to give his home country something back. His Vision, he sums up in one sentence: "Here is a Palestinian Silicon Valley, where we live, work and grow in." 40'000 people to live in Rawabi, 5000 jobs in the high-tech sector.

It is a highly risky Experiment. For over 50 years, the territory of Israel is occupied. Again and again flames of conflicts, there are new harassment of the Israelis, claims the Palestinians. 2.6 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and is now 60'000 Jewish settlers, whose numbers are increasing, this is also a reason for conflicts. But above all, Jobs are missing. About 18 percent of the Palestinians in the West Bank are unemployed, among those who are younger than 24 years, it is almost every third. The want to change Masri and the young Palestinians, many of them well educated, a Chance to offer.

there is a lack of demand

In the Coworking-Space-Connect, which covers a whole floor, only three of the approximately five dozen jobs. The competent Manager Zaid rooms priced Salem the equipment: "super-fast Internet, 3-D printers, technical support, and ten smaller offices and three meeting. Start-ups, entrepreneurs, and individual fighters can link up here." A luxury you can dream of in the rest of the West Bank only. And yet there is a lack of demand. In the whole house, only four have settled in the past one and a half years of ups. After all: A, Imagry, very successfully, in collaboration with Samsung, it developed Software and technologies for Autonomous Driving.

such companies Masri continues: according to His view, the Tech could set up-corporations such as Google, Microsoft, or Intel here, innovation centers, a Private-Equity Fund to provide capital for Start-ups and Rawabi-the Institute for the training of the labour force. Then, the 57-Year-old is convinced that will no longer be associated with the Palestinian territories, mainly with uprisings and problems in the world as a high-tech location perceived.

Rawabi is Arabic for "hill". On such, right next to the Jewish settlement of Ateret, was initiated in 2010 with the construction work. The place was chosen deliberately, he is in the so-called A-area of the West Bank, under Palestinian administration. Around is C-area, which is under Israeli control. This division in management zones, it was agreed in the 1995 interim agreement between Israel and the Palestinian liberation organization (PLO). It should be a temporary solution, until the formation of a Palestinian state – but it doesn't exist until today.

The power project developments in the West Bank so difficult. Masri had to negotiate with the Israeli authorities over every Detail of the infrastructure: the water supply, the connection to the electricity grid and road connections. Alone, the approval is for the only access road from Ramallah to Rawabi, the leads just under three miles through the Israeli-controlled C-area, lasted for three years. Until the water supply was cleared, two years went by. The Israelis and the Palestinians accused each other of delays, finally, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to the intervention of the then US government under Barack Obama.

Some of the Investor-was bailed out. 451 contracts of sale for apartments have been terminated. Helped also occasional checks should road by Israeli soldiers on the driveway. The risk that the only way it could be blocked in the city one day completely, didn't want to go into some buyers. Also, many corporate leaders are reluctant to put their companies here.

From the beginning, there was also criticism of the Palestinian side of the project: to the West, too luxurious, too ostentatious, is a sterile, it. That Masri related construction material from Israel, with Israelis cooperating and to a normalization of relations with the occupying power-of working, he made the accusation. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has in Rawabi never look back.

a Lot of money from Qatar

Masri of all the not to be swayed, he is inspired by his Plan – although the costs are exploding because of the delays in the meantime. The equivalent of 1.4 billion Swiss francs have been invested, Twice the sum originally estimated. It is by far the largest private project in the West Bank. The money comes to about a third of Masri and his companies, the major part in the Emirate of Qatar, through its sovereign wealth Fund. Accordingly, the main building is called the Q Center. Q is for Qatar, the English spelling of the Arabic state. It is a homage to the lender. Of the Palestinian authority, Masri receives his own admission, "nothing".

Around the Q-Center, in the "Tech Hub" is, and the huge Plaza are open, the cafes and Restaurants. In the streets, through which the Wind whistles, have shops located 28. Sounding brand names are represented: from Swarovski on Nine West up to Timberland. But only a few customers. And who is going to raise the view, noticed that the upper floors are largely empty, some are not installed window. A little bit of the streets act as a backdrop for a movie. After all: The amphitheatre in the Roman style, the 15'000 people, is completed. In schools, a clinic and a mosque is built. 22 districts and a total of 8000 homes, the master plan for the city, four of the quarters are finished. Between the apartment blocks you find fitness trails and playgrounds, the apartments are equipped with all the comforts.

The biggest software house in the country

1250 apartments have been completed, 750 of them sold, but only 200 were also obtained. About 3500 people live in Rawabi – at least temporarily. Many owners use their apartments only on weekends or in the holiday season, some see it also as an investment object and hope for better times.

Murad Tahboub has not moved his residence here, but commutes every day between Rawabi and Ramallah, where his family lives. But his company, Asal has moved since July of 2017, headquartered in Rawabis "Tech Hub". Asal is the largest software house in the Palestinian territories. The founder came back at the age of 30 years, after a Marketing degree at a US University and working in the Netherlands in his Palestinian homeland: "You spoke of peace, everything seemed to promise success," says Tahboub.

Eleven universities, but no Jobs

Shortly after the Start, in August 2000, in Ramallah, the second Intifada began. The Palestinian uprising, which lasted five years. But now the business of Asal is running. The first international customer was in 2005, an Italian company, it companies such as Cisco, Intel and Microsoft have followed.

250 employees Tahboubs company has in the West Bank, most of the work in Rawabi in the "Tech Hub". He hopes that more and more companies awarded contracts in the Palestinian territories. Tahboub also hopes to interested parties from Europe: "European companies go to India, China and other destinations. We could offer you options equal a convenient and closer." Because the eleven universities in the West Bank and the Gaza strip would train many young people who find after that, but no Job. The young, well-educated Palestinians had "a gold mine for technology companies in the world," says the Investor. Now only everyone has to come to Rawabi, "the new Palestine may be formed – Despite all the difficulties". Bashar Masri is a man who gives up.

(editing Tamedia)

Created: 18.02.2019, 22:28 PM

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