Israeli-Palestinian venture crossing divides in life and on the Web
Thursday, 05 June 2008
"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed
by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do.
So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor.
Catch the trade winds in your sails.
Explore. Dream. Discover."
- Mark Twain
borders and transcend walls, Twain's words surely prescribe today for
citizens of the Middle East and planet Earth.
And increasing numbers of citizens are responding to the call.
= = 1 = =
Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli architects, with faculty and students from Yale University, are proposing and designing a Jordan River Peace Park.
Friends of the Earth Middle East - http://foeme.org/ - is behind the initiative.
It seeks to extend the development on the Israeli side of the site to the Jordanian side to create a a trans-border protected area.
Both Israelis and Jordanians will be able to cross the river from either side without the need for a visa.
Published in Ha'aretz - 16 May 2008
International architects meet to design Nahariyim park
= = 2 = =
"Ghosts go through walls" they say in the cooperating Israeli and Palestinian offices of G.ho.st. - http://g.ho.st/ .
It's pronounced "ghost," and it means Global Hosted Operating System.
Their purpose and vision couldn't be more inclusive - a free Web-based Virtual Computer for every human being .
This start-up team is thinking way, way beyond walls.
The whole of humankind is in the global sites and interests of these leading-edge, world-changing Israelis and Palestinians.
And working together changes them.
"It's the first time I met Palestinians of my generation face-to-face," said Noa Rothman, a Jewish co-worker and granddaughter of Yitzhak Rabin, a former Israeli prime minister.
"It shows how on the people-to-people level you can really get things done," she adds.
Palestinian project manager, Yusef, Ghandour, says G.ho.st means means politics take a back seat to business.
"No walls," says Rami Abdulhadi, the company's marketing director, a Palestinian.
"We are doing something across cultures and across two sides of a tough conflict," reflects chief executive Zvi Schreiber.
" I was prepared for the possibility that it might be difficult, but it hasn't been."
It is time to change our language from "Israeli-Palestinian conflict" to "Israeli-Palestinian relationship."
There are already over 100 citizen-driven endeavors - http://peacengo.org/organizations.asp - leading the way.
Over 500 success stories - http://traubman.igc.org/messages.htm - of Palestinian-Jewish relationship building.
Painting the picture of what life together can and will soon look like.
It'll take some time, but not a "long time."
If we'll "sail away from the safe harbor."
"Explore. Dream. Discover."
Together, we can.
Published by The International Herald Tribune - 29 May 2008
and excerpted by the leading-edge news source - Common Ground News Service
with contemporary Middle East insights at http://commongroundnews.org
Israeli-Palestinian venture crossing divides in life and on the Web
by Dina Kraft
RAMALLAHNibbling doughnuts and deciphering computer code, the workers at this Internet start-up might be holding their weekly staff meeting in the same roomnot on opposite sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide.
Instead, they trade ideas across flat screen monitors, their images broadcast through a video conference hook-up that connects their two offices, one in the West Bank, the other in Israel, in the first joint technology venture of its kind between Israelis and Palestinians.
"Start with the optimistic parts, Mustafa," Gilad Parann-Nissany, an Israeli who is vice president of research and development for G.ho.st (http://g.ho.st), jokes with a Palestinian colleague giving a progress report. Both conference rooms break into laughter.
G.ho.st, pronounced "Ghost," is an acronym for Global Hosted Operating System. Its goal is not as lofty as peace, although its founders and employees hope to encourage it, but to create a free, Web-based virtual computer so that users can access their desktop, files and documents from any computer with an Internet connection, not unlike the way e-mail messages are retrieved online.
"No walls," said Rami Abdulhadi, the company's marketing director, a Palestinian, cheerfully quoting the company's motto, noting their product "goes through the walls of the separation wall and the desktop that is on-line."
"Ghosts go through walls," said Zvi Schreiber, the British-born Israeli chief executive, extending the metaphor. The company's playful logo replaces the dots in its URL with the round eyes of a cartoon-like ghost. The plan is to introduce a test version of the site in October.
The Palestinian office, located here and staffed by about 35 software developers, is responsible for most of the research and development. A smaller Israeli team works about 21 kilometers, or 13 miles, away in the central Israeli town of Modiin. The stretch of road between the offices is separated by checkpoints, watch towers and a barrier made mostly of chain link fence and in some areas soaring concrete walls, built by Israel with the stated goal of preventing the entry of Palestinian suicide bombers.
Palestinian staff members need permits from the Israeli Army to enter Israel and attend meetings in Modiin, and Israelis are forbidden by their government from entering Palestinian cities.
When permits cannot be arranged but in-person meetings are necessary, the colleagues meet at a run-down coffee shop on a desert road frequented by camels and Bedouin shepherds near Jericho, an area legally accessible to both sides.
Schreiber, an entrepreneur for whom G.ho.st is his third start-up he sold his second business, an enterprise data management software company called Unicorn Solutions, to IBM and his first, Tradeum, which dealt in e-commerce exchanges, for $500 million said he wanted to create G.ho.st after seeing the power of interactive Web applications. He thought it was time to merge his technological and commercial ambitions with his social ones and create this business with Palestinians.
The company is beginning to create a buzz. Red Herring, the technology magazine, named it one of the 100 best start-ups in Europe for 2008.
"I felt the ultimate goal was to offer every human being a computing environment which is free and which is not tied to any physical hardware but exists on the Web," he said. The idea, he explained, is to create a one-stop address for all of a user's online files and storage in the form of a virtual personal computer that can be accessed from any Web browser, whether at home, the office or an Internet care. The company is not creating its own Web-based software but instead taps into third-party software applications like Google Docs, Zoho and Thinkfree and integrates them along with other Web software, like YouTube and Flickr, into a single online computing system. There is an open interface for others to add programs.
It also has a philanthropic component, a peace foundation that aims to bridge the digital divide in Ramallah and in mixed Jewish-Arab towns in Israel through community computer centres. The foundation is led by Noa Rothman, the granddaughter of Yitzhak Rabin, a former Israeli prime minister.
"It's the first time I met Palestinians of my generation face-to-face," Rothman said of her work with G.ho.st. "It shows how on the people-to-people level you can really get things done." The company's budget is a relatively paltry $2.5 million. Employing Palestinians means money goes farther; salaries for Palestinian programmers are about a third of what they are in Israel.
Schreiber, who initially joined with Tareq Maayah, a Palestinian businessman, to start the Ramallah office, insists theirs is not an example of outsourcing.
"We are one team, employed by the same company and everyone has shares in the company," he said.
The chance to gain experience in creating a product for the international market - a first for the small Palestinian IT community - means politics take a back seat to business, said Yusef Ghandour, a project manager.
"It's good we are learning from the Israeli side now," he said. They have lots of professional experience, "are open to the external world and there is lots of venture capital investment in Israel and now we are bringing that to Palestine."
Political tensions make it somewhat unpopular for Palestinians to do business with Israelis, said Ala Alaeddin, chairman of the Palestinian Information Technology Association. He said the concept of a technology joint-venture was unheard of until G.ho.st opened its doors. A handful of Palestinian IT companies do outsourcing for Israeli companies but most focus on the local or Middle Eastern market. "It's much easier to have outsourcing than a partnership," he said. "A joint venture is a long-term commitment and you need both sides to be really confident that this kind of agreement will work and to be ready to put in more of an effort."
The video hook-up runs continuously between the offices. Chatting in the Ramallah conference room, two Palestinian programmers wave hello to Israeli colleagues conferring over a lap top in the Modiin office. "We are doing something across cultures and across two sides of a tough conflict. I was prepared for the possibility that it might be difficult, but it hasn't been," Schreiber said.