High-tech group provides a model for co-existence


Nazareth has become one of Israel's leading centres of high-tech innovation, with 700 Arab-Israeli engineers and hundreds of Jews streaming into the city every day for work.

The transformation in the past eight years - there were only 30 Arab-Israeli engineers in the northern city in 2008 - is largely down to the work of Tsofen, a non-governmental organisation which helps young Arab-Israelis to move into the sector.

Around 2,700 Israeli-Arabs have used Tsofen's training, mentoring, job fairs, competitions and workshop programmes to become engineers.

Sami Saadi, chief executive and co-founder of the UJIA-sponsored firm, said the work was part of a personal mission to help Israel's Arab community.

"My family is Arab, I am Arab, I am a citizen of Israel. Until now, the government of Israel has not decided that we are equal citizens. What Tsofen is doing is giving Arab and the Jewish communities a good model for co-operation."

Tsofen's work was challenging discrimination and boosting economic growth, Mr Saadi explained during a recent visit to London alongside his co-chief executive, Paz Hirschmann.

"We face the government every week, Paz and I, and say to them: you will lose the future. If the Arab communities are not integrated into the high-tech industry, into the Israeli economy, you will lose.

"It's in our interest for us in the Arab community to develop our economy and have a good level of income, but it's also in the interests of the government."

One in four Nazareth engineers are Israeli-Arab women. Across Israel, only 30 per cent of Arab women are in employment.

Mr Hirschmann said: "Arab women are the weakest and most unemployed part of the population in Israel, another source of talent that can and will change the community from within."

The Jewish Israeli businessman said Tsofen engineers, mentors and volunteers called the initiative "an island of sanity" in a country of constant turmoil.

"What is more normal than an engineer - Muslim, Druze, Christian, Jewish or whatever - working together as a team to solve the most cutting-edge tech algorithm?" he said.

The programme proved that "you cannot boycott a city if you are working there. You cannot ignore the other if you are working with him.

"And if your cousin is a Palestinian living in Gaza and my cousin is a soldier in the IDF, and we're still working together - this is not a solution, but it's humanising the conflict. It's a good start to a joint life."

Now funded in part by an NIS 10 million (£1.7m) government contract, Tsofen will open a high-tech hub in the central town of Kafr Quassim next year, with plans to create another hub in the south.

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