High-tech helps us all click, say Israel’s Arabs


Meet Amal Ayoub, the Arab woman who is developing a way to make cancer treatment more effective — and still finds time to raise two children and improve Jewish-Arab relations.

The state of Israel has bet almost a million dollars on Dr Ayoub, who brims with confidence about her ability to increase the effectiveness of radiotherapy among cancer patients using injections of gold nano particles.
Her product will soon enter clinical trials but, even now, she is something of an icon for the many young Arabs looking to get involved in high-tech and related fields.

And while the “Start-up Nation” — as Israel is often called — has become a global symbol of innovation, Arabs such as Dr Ayoub who are involved in the field are increasingly suggesting that it can also become an emblem of coexistence.

While Israel-Arabs are commonly viewed as sharing much of the Palestinian antipathy towards Israel, 38-year-old Dr Ayoub has no qualms about being seen as part of Israel’s high-tech success — and highlights the fact that it accommodates diversity. “I don’t feel anything wrong with reflecting a good image about Israel,” she says, hastening to add that Arab-Israeli society must share the credit for her success.

Her attitudes towards her state, however, are complex.

On one hand, she is grateful for the $900,000 loan from the public purse that allowed her to set up Metallo-Therapy in 2010, repayable from royalties only if her innovation is successful, and says that she encountered no discrimination in securing it. She is enthusiastic about Israeli technology and coexistence, and about the potential for one to facilitate the other. And she is engaged in efforts to empower other Arabs to follow in her footsteps.

On the other hand, Dr Ayoub does not think that the equal-opportunities ethos exists right across Israeli society, and claims that she can sometimes feel like an “outsider” in her country.

She believes that the definition of Israel as a Jewish state is “not needed” now that Jews are more secure. And while the doors are open to Arabs, there are major educational and cultural barriers to overcome, as well as geographical obstacles — high-tech is concentrated in the Tel Aviv area while Arabs tend to live outside the centre of the country.

Hossam Haick, chemical engineering professor at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, says that while one in five Israelis are Arab, only one in 65 start-ups is Arab-led and only about one in 20 high-tech employees is Arab.

However, he is convinced that, with the right encouragement and conditions, Arabs can help take Israeli innovation up a notch. “Besides their scientific skills, Arabs excel in the high-motivation, high-devotion and hard-working aspects — something that would provide added-value to the start-ups,” he says.

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