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Global Economy

Nazareth becomes a high-tech location

When people hear the name Nazareth, the first thing they think of is religion, the Bible and Jesus Christ. The dome of the great Basilica of the Annunciation towers over the old town. According to tradition, this is where Mary's house stood. A place steeped in history, whose change is visible: the Microsoft sign is emblazoned on an office building opposite the basilica. Salesforce, Broadcom and other software companies have also settled here.

The largest Arab city in Israel attracts with cheaper rents than in the big cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa – and with qualified young people. Several private Catholic schools bring well-educated Christian and Muslim Arabs into the labor market every year. So far, many of them have been looking for a job in one of the major Israeli cities or abroad.

Start-ups settle down

The IT sector continues to boom in Israel. Israeli software companies have successful products worldwide, especially in the security sector, but also in the health sector and in the service sector. The country is technologically far ahead – but not when it comes to the composition of employees in IT companies. So far, almost exclusively Jewish Israelis have been working in this area. Scientists, technicians and engineers – 95 percent of them are of Jewish descent, according to the Israeli Ministry of Economic Affairs. For several years, changing governments in Israel have been trying to make better use of the potential of the Arab population in the country.

Meanwhile, the Israeli government plans to spend around 170 million euros over the next five years to support Israel's Arab population in high-tech sectors. Additional courses, the financing of Arab start-ups and the expansion of infrastructure in Arab towns are planned. As the largest Arab city in Israel, Nazareth has a model character, says Hans Shakour from the non-governmental organization Tsofen: "Ten years ago you couldn't use 'Nazareth' and 'high-tech' in the same sentence. Today it looks very different, the city has developed." According to the organization, 1,500 IT engineers are now working in Nazareth, and 41 corporations and start-ups have settled there.

Looking for young talent

How well the scene in Nazareth is now networked can be seen at the "Nazareth Innovation Night", a meeting for web designers and coders in a luxury hotel in the city. The event is organized by Tsofen. The organization was founded in 2008 by Jewish and Arab Israelis with the aim of integrating more Arab developers into Israel's high-tech sector.

One of the participants is Shaden Hakim. The 27-year-old web designer comes from Nazareth and programs user interfaces for the Israeli IT group Amdocs. The company has offices in Nazareth, within walking distance of Hakim's home. She thinks it's good that more and more software companies are coming to Nazareth: "We have a lot of talent here in Nazareth. If the IT companies are now in the vicinity, then that encourages even more young Arab Israelis to go into the sector." Hakim is a Christian and went to a Catholic private school.

Like many other developers, she wants to live close to her family and speak her native language at work. In the companies in Tel Aviv or Haifa, that's not always possible, she says. And: Other young Arab women also work in her company, which is still rare: "I knew practically nobody from my environment who works in this area. So that was something completely new for me. Also as a woman."

Women, Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews underrepresented

According to the Economics Ministry, women, Arabs and even ultra-Orthodox Jews are still underrepresented in the IT industry. Targeted support in schools and special regions such as around Nazareth is also beneficial for the state, says IT expert Shakour. "It's a win-win situation: the tech industry gets more workers to grow, the young people don't have to go away to study high-tech, science and engineering. And the region benefits from well-paying jobs. "

The company AlphaOmega shows that start-ups from Nazareth can also make it big. The company manufactures medical devices for measuring brain waves. AlphaOmega now has 150 employees; mostly Christian and Muslim Arabs, but also Jews work at the company headquarters near Nazareth.

The Christian-Arab electrical engineer Imad Younis repeatedly applied unsuccessfully to the Jewish-Israeli company after completing his studies. At the time, most tech companies were dealing with orders from the armaments industry, and as a young Arab-Israeli engineer, he says he didn't stand a chance. Without further ado, Younis founded a start-up himself. He and his wife developed the prototype for diagnosing diseased areas of the brain 30 years ago.

Today, his instruments are used in brain surgeries in more than 600 hospitals worldwide. Younis is pleased that more and more Arab specialists are now finding a place in Israel's booming IT industry: "The world is moving forward and the Arab-Israeli population is a bit behind, so we have to try harder and catch up in order to to be part of the sector."

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