After Deadly Clashes, New Israeli Tech Hub Opens Along Gaza Strip Border
Despite ongoing tension, hi-tech industry flourishing in communities close to Palestinian enclave
Despite weeks of Palestinian protests, a new high-tech center opened last Wednesday in southern Israel meters away from the Gaza Strip border. Located in Nir Am, the tech hub is expected to house 28 innovative start-ups in fields ranging from robotics to software, from agritech to biotechnology. The kibbutz’ former dining hall was renovated, redesigned and converted into a stylish and modern workplace.
“The space is conceptually divided into three separate areas,” Rafi Nevo, CEO of the Mashtela start-up fund and Vice President of Innovations and Entrepreneurships for the Kibbutz Industries Association, told The Media Line. “First, there is a space for start-up companies that are already off the ground business-wise; second, there is a space for young entrepreneurs who are beginning to work in our accelerator program; and third, there’s a designated area for entrepreneurs choosing to work independently.”
A start-up accelerator is an initiative that helps finance and mentor burgeoning companies.
“Our goal is to help [these businesses] reach a state whereby they can market themselves and find investors,” Nevo explained, noting that start-ups that are not yet turning a profit are able to use the space for free.
The tech hub in Nir Am was originally intended to be launched with a major event, but that plan was scrapped following the increase in violence nearby. Tensions along the border came to a head last Monday, when over 60 Palestinians were killed according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. Of those killed, Israel claims 50 were members of the Hamas terrorist group that rules the enclave and three belonged to the Gaza-based Iranian proxy Islamic Jihad.
“There was no way for us to know what the security situation would be like today, whether things would be peaceful or not,” Nevo elaborated to The Media Line, adding that the opening ceremony would instead take place at some unspecified time in June. “Gazans continue to deploy incendiary kites, which sometimes end up igniting fires in the fields [on the Israeli side] of the border.”
When asked about the potential risks of establishing a technology center less than a mile away from the volatile Gaza border—indeed, on the front line of rocket and mortar attacks—Nevo was circumspect. “If a war breaks out, we won’t needlessly endanger people’s lives. On the one hand,” he stressed, “it’s not a normal situation here but on the other we can’t simply shut everything down. It’s important for those of us living near the Gaza border to have employment.”
Many of the start-ups in the rural area are geared towards developing the agrarian surroundings by offering technological solutions to improve farming techniques.
One such start-up is EcoPlant, a cloud-based platform that uses artificial intelligence to provide sustainable development and environmentally-friendly solutions to the agricultural industry.
“We have dozens of clients across Israel,” Aviran Yaacov, CEO of EcoPlant, which will be moving its business to the Nir Am tech hub, told The Media Line. “We work with several factories in the Gaza envelope and we really believe in [developing our business in that] area. We’re planning to build an innovative new site—the first of its kind—that will help industrial plants save energy.”
The launch of the new center is part of a blossoming high-tech industry in the vicinity of the Gaza border, with more and more start-ups planting roots in the area each year. The hub will be managed by SouthUp, a non-profit organization founded in 2015 and which operates from the adjacent Sha’ar HaNegev region. SouthUp’s stated goal is to “create employment, education and community growth in the Gaza envelope localities.”
In the future, Nevo hopes his Palestinian neighbors will become of part of the Israeli tech scene. “It’s hard for us to see that we are developed when they are not, that things here are going well while they’re not so good in Gaza,” he asserted to The Media Line. “We would like to build bridges in order to help them develop.”
“Our dream is to collaborate [with the Palestinians],” Nevo concluded. “Israeli firms used to do so before Hamas took over but there are conversations with individuals in Gaza taking place all the time. The separation [between us and the Gazans] is artificial.”