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The Venture Capital Behind Ramallah's Rise As Palestinian Silicon Valley

Sunset on Ramallah
Sunset on Ramallah
Daniel Rubinstein

RAMALLAH — In this Palestinian city in the central West Bank, some 300 technology companies employ at least 4,500 people. Despite enormous potential, the industry is still nascent and suffers from a lack of development centers and productive ties with the outside world. Most of the companies in this Palestinian Silicon Valley are still small and mainly offer support services to other domestic companies and institutions.

But enter Sadara, a venture capital outfit that successfully raised $30 million from foreign companies. In Ramallah, the administrative capital of the Palestinian National Authority, there are already two small venture capital companies, Siraj and Abraj, which also invest in other areas.

Sadara’s success makes it the first serious venture capital group in Ramallah.

The list of Sadara investors is impressive. They include Google, the investment fund of George Soros, the European Investment Bank, the Skoll Foundation and the Case Foundation. The software giant Cisco has invested $5 million.

According to Zika Abzuk, CEO of Cisco Israel, “Sadara was created at the perfect time to be a cornerstone in the foundation of the Palestinian technology industry.”

Heading Sadara are two entrepreneurs: Palestinian Saed Nashef and Israeli Yadin Kaufmann. The Israeli’s involvement raised suspicion in Ramallah, but Sadara’s investments prove that it isn’t interested in politics: The company invests only in the Palestinian economy.

Good investments

Sadara’s first two investments were in technology companies designed for Arab societies. The first was in Yamsafer, the Arab version of Hotels.com, which provides travel software for 22 countries, including Turkey.

The second investment was in Souktel, a company that developed a way for job seekers and employers to communicate through text messaging. The company is based in Ramallah and was founded by Canadian Jacob Korenblum, who knows well both the Arab world and the unemployment phenomenon that is particularly problematic for younger workers.

According to Korenblum, while there are hundreds of thousands of unemployed people in every country, there are also many available jobs that younger job seekers simply don't know how to get. Korenblum’s company is trying to change that.

The investment in Souktel was less than $1 million, but Sadara aims to endow companies that are just starting out — not necessarily those that have already established some measure of success. And that’s exactly what the Palestinian technology market needs.

Kaufmann, the Israeli half of Sadara, says that the company's investments are important not just for Palestinians but also for Israelis.

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

Palestinian Olive Trees Are Also Under Israeli Occupation — And That's Not A Joke

In the West Bank, a quieter form of oppression has been plaguing Palestinians for a long time. Their olive groves are surrounded by soldiers, and it's forbidden to harvest the olives – this economic and social violence has gotten far worse since Oct. 7.

A Palestinian woman holds olives in her hands

In a file photo, Um Ahmed, 74, collects olives in the village of Sarra on the southwest of the West Bank city of Nablus.

Mohammed Turabi/ZUMA
Francesca Mannocchi

HEBRON – It was after Friday prayers on October 13th of last year, and Zakaria al-Arda was walking along the road that crosses his property's hillside to return home – but he never made it.

A settler from Havat Ma'on — an outpost bordering Al-Tuwani that the United Nations International Law and Israeli law considers illegal — descended from the hill with his rifle in hand.

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After kicking al-Arda, who tried to defend himself, the settler shot him in the abdomen. The bullet pierced through his stomach, a few centimeters below the lungs. Since then, al-Arda has been in the hospital in intensive care. A video of those moments clearly shows that neither al-Arda nor the other worshippers leaving the mosque were carrying any weapons.

The victim's cousin, Hafez Hureini, still lives in the town of Al-Tuwani. He is a farmer, and their house on the slope of the town is surrounded by olive trees — and Israeli soldiers. On the pine tree at the edge of his property, settlers have planted an Israeli flag. Today, Hafez lives, like everyone else, as an occupied individual.

He cannot work in his greenhouse, cannot sow his fields, and cannot harvest the olives from his precious olive trees.

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