The escalating conflict between Israel and Hamas has severely disrupted the burgeoning tech industry in Palestine.
Despite its economic struggles, Gaza has paradoxically always been a tech hotspot, not just for Palestine and Palestinians, but globally. International corporations have long sought to establish a foothold there to work with skilled tech freelancers and the emerging startups from the region. For instance, Nvidia, renowned for its contribution to the AI surge, has been collaborating with at least 100 engineers from the area for years.
TechCrunch has been reporting on tech companies from Palestine since 2008, some catering to their local audience, others serving the international tech community. Silicon Valley has shown growing interest in Palestine as a tech center, but like the ecosystem itself, it's in its infancy. To date, it's estimated that up to $10 million has been invested in the Palestinian tech ecosystem.
In 2017, Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff, along with other Silicon Valley figures, supported the establishment of the first-ever coding academy in Gaza.
Gaza Sky Geeks, an initiative backed by Alphabet and based in Gaza, offering pre-seed investments, training, and tech resources to Gaza's Palestinian population, has been a symbol of entrepreneurship in the region.
However, all of this has now been effectively wiped out, much like the buildings in Gaza itself.
Israel is currently responding with military force to attacks on its citizens and its territory, and the subsequent hostage-taking by Hamas, the governing body in Gaza. This strategy has led to the bombardment of the 'Gaza Strip' to eliminate Hamas and recover its hostages. Over 1,500 people in Palestine have been killed as a result. The tech industry in Israel, the country's largest export and biggest single contributor to GDP, is also suffering a significant blow, but the impact on the smaller and more vulnerable ecosystem in Gaza has been, inevitably, much more severe. The resulting physical, economic, and societal destruction casts doubt on the future of the tech industry there.
Simply put, no one, including tech workers, can avoid the repercussions of the war.
"What is happening to tech in Gaza is that Israel is crushing it. Destroying it," a source within the territory told TechCrunch.
Israel has now gathered troops near the north of Gaza, anticipating a ground offensive into the densely populated region. About 1.1 million people living in northern areas have been advised to evacuate within the next day. The UN has warned of "devastating humanitarian consequences" from these latest actions. A total blockade on the territory is being enforced with fuel, food, and water supplies dwindling. Israel insists it won't lift the restrictions unless Hamas releases all hostages.
Ryan Sturgill, an American national and former head of the Gaza Sky Geeks (GSG) accelerator run by sponsor Mercy Corps, an NGO aid organization, describes the situation on the ground as dire, following waves of shelling by the Israeli military.
"The area around the Mercy Corps building, which housed Gaza Sky Geeks, has been leveled. The structure is standing but blown out. The front of it is sort of ripped off," he said.
Gaza Sky Geeks is the largest tech hub in Palestine, offering a broad range of tech training on a large scale. In 2022, 5,000 coders and developers from across the West Bank and Gaza graduated from the program.
Video evidence posted on Linkedin shows a blown-out building with the Mercy Corps sign.