Boxed in: The struggles of Gaza’s technology entrepreneurs

Tight restrictions on foreign travel and frequent electricity outages are among the many obstacles facing the territory’s burgeoning IT industry.

By Josie Glausiusz | UnDark | Feb 20, 2019

For the 1.8 million Palestinians living in Gaza, freedom of movement is a routine challenge. And for technology entrepreneurs and business owners whose livelihoods depend on interaction with the outside world, that challenge is especially daunting. ‘Living in Gaza is like facing a wall, all the time,’ says Ali.

In January 2017, Bassma Ali, the cofounder and business manager of GGateway, an information technology company based in Gaza, was invited to Laos to take part in three weeks of training offered by Digital Divide Data, an organization that provides career development opportunities for underserved communities.

On the day of her departure from Gaza — the embattled 25-mile-long strip of land currently under a decade-long blockade by Israel and Egypt — Ali had to pass through three checkpoints to reach Israel. First, there was Arba’a-Arba’a (Arabic for “Four-Four”), controlled by Hamas, the militant Islamic Palestinian group governing Gaza; second, Khamsa-Khamsa (“Five-Five”), manned by Fatah, the secular Palestinian national movement; and finally, the Erez border crossing, overseen by the Israel Defense Forces.

Even though Ali had applied two months earlier for an Israeli permit to leave Gaza with the help of a representative from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), her permit only reached her at Khamsa-Khamsa at 2:57 pm, just three minutes before the closure of Erez. “I was running to reach the Israeli gate” half a mile away, Ali recalls. “When they closed the gate, I was in tears.”

She eventually managed to cross the border later that day after an UNRWA aide intervened, but her ordeal didn’t end there. She traveled by taxi through Israel to the West Bank city of Jericho, and crossed into Jordan after navigating three more checkpoints: Palestinian, Israeli, and Jordanian. From the Jordanian capital of Amman, she took three connecting flights to Laos, and finally arrived in the capital, Vientiane, four days after she left Gaza. “Every single border is dehumanizing you,” Ali says.

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