What Americans Should Know About Palestine – Part 2

An Emerging RamallahWhat does statehood mean to a young Palestinian student, dreaming of her future and that of her friends and family?  “Of course a Palestinian State means we will have the opportunity to focus energy on building our lives, and not have to wake up in the morning with a tank parked in front of our house.”  Hiba, a university student in Ramallah, goes on to say “You might say in ways we are victims, due to the occupation, but we cannot continue complaining about it.  We have to continue working to develop ourselves.  We really want independence and statehood.”

In April 2011, during a visit to Ramallah, I had the opportunity to interview several Palestinians, and asked their views on statehood, Palestine’s place in the world, and what they wanted Americans to know about Palestine.   The interviews included members of the government, entrepreneurs, students, and even taxi drivers.  The responses to questions were remarkably consistent.  Nobody mentioned resistance or violence, and in all cases rejected the recent level of conflict in the Gaza territory as unproductive to the Palestinian cause.

We are sensitive and creative people. We have poets, writers, and a deep culture.”

I ask “what do you want Americans to know about Ramallah and Palestine?”

Each person has a slightly different answer, but all answers are positive.  Talk about the occupation quickly moves on to topics about future, and how everything in changing in Ramallah.  In fact, just walking along the streets of Ramallah can be a challenge – not because of anything dangerous, but rather the level of construction makes it difficult to navigate streets.

Answers to the question are difficult to pin down.  Once the topic is raised, you will get one or two quick ideas, including concern that Americans are not getting a clear picture of the “real” Palestine through news media.  In particular, those in Ramallah want Americans to know there is a big difference between the West bank and Gaza.  The impressions Americans get (as seen on their satellite television broadcasts of CNN and Fox News) of Palestine is one of rocket attacks, kidnappings, and violence.  In reality, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jericho, and other locations within the West Bank are very peaceful, with most people working hard to improve their quality of life.

Ramallah itself is a city of cafes, shopping, cultural events, construction, and even discos to round out an emerging night life and entertainment industry.   However, as this is not current news, and does not sell US advertising, it is rare you would ever have an opportunity to see this side of Palestine in the US media.  

Hiba was a bit disappointed on one topic – she was busy the following day and could not attend TEDx Ramallah, an independent event supported by the innovative community TED.  “TEDxRamallah aims to showcase inspiring stories of Palestine. It also aims to educate and inspire by providing a space for people to share their ideas in any field, whether science, education, literature, technology, design, etc. to contribute to the positive perception of Palestine.”

She concedes the Palestine university system may not adequately introduce innovation and entrepreneurial spirit within the formal curriculum, however with groups such as TEDx Ramallah, and expatriate Palestinians returning to the country there is a new spirit driving young people.  In addition, the Palestinian Authority actively encourages foreign companies to invest in Palestinian small and medium businesses (SMEs), hoping to further develop both the local economy and support innovation.

Investment in Palestine is being encouraged not merely to increase the size of the economy, but also to increase private sector employment, generate income, and improve living standards. A move towards increased per capita prosperity will additionally have the overall effect of potentially stabilizing tensions in the region, if achieved in tandem with a just political settlement. A just peace and prosperity within the West Bank and Gaza
Strip is not only good for us, but it’s good for Israel and the Middle East as a whole.
(PIPA)

The 2010 Palestine Investment Conference in Bethlehem attracted more than 1000 potential investors from 38 countries with pledges to invest nearly $1bil in Palestinian SMEs. Of particular note was the interest in developing Palestine’s IT and software development industries, which are attractive due to the limitations in export/import of materials as controlled by Israel.   This does show a very positive outlook and confidence in Palestine’s future by the international community.

“Statehood Means We Will Have an Identity”

The WallHiba continues that “I have never been outside of the West Bank.  Not because I don’t want to travel and see other locations around the world, rather it is because I cannot get a passport, and am not allowed to travel outside of Palestine.  I know how the outside world is, because we get movies and television from around the world.  What makes us different from the rest of the world?  Why can’t I experience life as in the movies and television just because I was born in Palestine?

Difficult for an American to appreciate.  For us freedom of movement, expression, and religion is assumed, and we feel great anger when faced with even small barriers to those freedoms.

It hurts inside that we cannot travel to Jerusalem and pray at our Mosques and other holy sites.  Those locations are very important to us (Palestinians and Muslims).”

A taxi driver goes out of his way to expose me to the difficulties all Palestinians encounter while going through checkpoints (between Ramallah and Jerusalem), and give an up close view of walls, guard towers, and Israeli military installations designed to control movement, keeping Palestinians within the West Bank territory.

With statehood we can begin applying our energy to improving our lives, not just trying to stay alive.”

Then his conversation once again turns positive.  “Do you see their settlements?  Don’t you agree Ramallah is a much nicer city than Tel Aviv?  Once we have freedom we’ll be a very strong little country.”

A Lasting Impression

While this is not my first visit to Palestine, Israel, or other locations within the Middle East, each experience brings new observations, emotions, and ideas.  Human nature tells us we should think positive, as negative energy rarely brings progress.  The Palestinians have a tremendous level of positive energy, and as an outsider it is certainly refreshing to see the enthusiasm of a country on the verge of establishing their own nation and identity.

Will the United Nations grant this status?  Will Israel accept a Palestine state?  Will the United States apply pressure to the region to consider Palestinian autonomy?

Time will tell.  But for now, we can only hope the international community and media will apply factual reporting of all aspects of the Palestine issue.  It is a wonderful place, with warm, friendly people, and we will hope their future generations will be free to develop and prosper as any other in our global community.

NOTE: For the record we need to acknowledge Israeli citizens are also prevented from entering the West Bank and Gaza. This can only contribute to the misunderstandings between citizens of each country. And in fact, during the routine “interrogation” I received departing from the Tel Aviv airport, the majority of questions directed to me were more of “tell me a bit more about Ramallah. I cannot go there and it is interesting to hear how things are within the city…”

Palestine Prepares for Statehood – Part 1

Hiba, a young university student in Ramallah dominates the conversation with dreams of her country’s future, and confidence her generation will build a new nation that is equal to any other in the world.  This is the new Palestine.  A Palestine that shifts memories of invasion, occupation, and repression to the side, focusing valuable energy on building a new nation.

Renewel Projects in Old RamallahIt is easy for visitors to appreciate Hiba’s enthusiasm.  Walking on any street within Ramallah is a challenge.  Not because the streets are bad, rather because the city is in a constant state of construction.

A few short years ago Ramallah was still putting the pieces back together from destruction due to invasion and conflict.  Today energy is directed to the new Ramallah – one that is beginning to take on impressions of a mix of European cities with the rich culture and history of Palestine.

The Palestine State

Recently the United Nations reported that Palestine was ready for statehood, with a target of September 2011.  For those who have lived their lives in an independent country, this is a difficult idea to comprehend.

Imagine if California was culturally and socially an independent state, occupied by the Confederate States of North America for the past 50 years.  As a Californian, you cannot have a passport, become a citizen of the occupying country, travel freely, determine which city you want to live in, or even which radio or television stations you would like to watch.

The Wall Separating Israel and PalestineMoving between villages and cities requires you to go through checkpoints, with military sentries who despise you due to your religion and ethnic background.  Sentries who have no moral or ethical problem abusing you, as they do not really consider you an equal human being to those from their country.

Imagine going to school one day, and learning the occupying country has now closed the border between your village and the school you attend, and you cannot return home.

Americans can refer to our own history with Britain, and appreciate the struggles independence and freedom require.  And the cost of freedom in blood, resistance, and commitment to never capitulate.

There are many examples around the world of countries invaded, occupied, and ethnically cleansed.  Cultures that have been diluted or destroyed, and history that is written by the victors of conflict.

However the Palestinians have resisted, fought, and refused to give up their struggle for independence and identity.  And that struggle is nearing and end.  End with the United Nations recognizing the state of Palestine.

That is of course we assume Israel will peacefully allow a transition to Palestinian statehood, which is far from certain.

History Remembered, Future Embraced

Hiba will not forget the days spending 6 hours in checkpoints each day going to and from school.  She will never forget interrogations by military patrols, and watching as homes of friends were plowed under to accommodate expansion of Israeli settlements into the West Bank.

Yassar ArafatBut today Hiba is more interested in being exposed to new ideas, new ways of thinking, or how she can apply her knowledge to building a nation, and better quality of life, for her family and children.  Not unlike any American or European student’s vision and dream.

Trained as a software engineer, Hiba outlines her ideas on how to bring an aggressive entrepreneurial spirit to Palestine, particularly related to agricultural and services industries.  How she can make contact with expatriate Palestinians, both learning from their successes – as well as attracting their investment money to further develop economic capacities in the country.

The Youth Are An Inspiration

Students discussing their future cannot hold back enthusiasm and vision.  How can young people put aside their bitterness, memories, and hatred of an occupation aside so easily?  Are they simply tired of the anger and hatred?

Difficult to say.  When pressed, Palestinians can get very worked up on the emotional topic of Israeli occupation, settlement expansion, and human rights.

Then the moment will pass, and energy is refocused on the present, and opportunities for the future.

===

This article is the first of a series on Ramallah 2011, and the road to Palestine statehood.  The next segment will discuss what Palestinians want Americans to know about their country, people, and future.

Your comments and ideas about Palestine, Israel, and independence are welcome.

Leveling the Intellectual Playing Field with Stanford’s eCorner

What? Leveling the intellectual playing field with Stanford? The home of elite, wealthy, and over-privileged?

While eLearning is nothing new to the Internet generation, traditionally eLearning content was dull, “uninspirational,” and in many cases an ineffective alternative to Learning by Lectureresidence or classroom learning. Commercialized or neutralized to make lessons suitable for the masses, or in a worst case part of an uninspired project by religious or international organizations with motives more focused internally than for the benefit of their own organization – rather than the ultimate users of their product.

So we compare access to intellectual stimulation and development a student may have in residence at Stanford, UC Berkeley, or MIT to a kid growing up in Ramallah (Palestine), and the playing field appears far from level. Stanford will continue to pump out global business leaders, and the kid in Ramallah will learn to survive.

Good news for the kid in Ramallah – the Internet now extends to their home. Whether at an Internet café or kiosk in the city center, a library, at home through a wireless connection, or if their school is one of the lucky institutions with Internet access, the student now has the global network tether extended to their eyes and minds.

How the Playing Field is Extended

Being one of those lucky people with the means to enjoy MP3 players and easy access to the Internet, occasionally I unexpectedly stumble upon a “gold mine” of valuable resources. Accessing Zune’s library of free podcasts is a great way to not only harvest great music, but is also a gateway to podcasts related to the arts, business, education, entertainment – you name it, there is a podcast for it.

Having recently left the corporate world to jump into the entrepreneurial world, I did a search on “entrepreneur” in the Zune podcast directory, and was shocked to see a response of about 100 business entrepreneur, startup, advice, and news streams pinging on the keyword.

Stanford had a series listed as “The Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Lecture Series.” OK, cool. Let’s give it a shot and I can listen while on the treadmill.

What a shock. Suddenly I am inside an auditorium at Stanford University, listening to guest lecturers speaking to a class at the Stanford Technology Ventures Program. The lecturers included Steve Ballmer, Craig Barrett, Greg Papadopoulus, Sheryl Sandberg, Jensen Huang – all people we read about in the papers as the thought leaders and business visionaries leading the technical world. These lecturers were giving their most secret strategies on how to build businesses, where the economy is going, what is important, and genuinely inspiring the students.

Just a few years ago, these lectures would only be available to the elite. The ideas, visions, strategies – all the most powerful thoughts of our intellectual leadership in an informal venue, with an extended question and answer period with students poised to start the next generation of technologies and dreams to lead the business world.

Now, with the Internet, and the benevolence of Stanford University’s leadership, this level of access to the highest levels of education is available to the kid in Ramallah with an Internet connection. Now that kid in Ramallah can be inspired by global thought leadership, enlightened at a level now exposed though the veil of a domain restricted to the elite.

The intellectual playing field is now being leveled.

Not Just Stanford

While Stanford’s program is the first which triggered my middle-aged head to explore this new ocean of resource, many other universities are delivering extremely high quality video and audio casts of their lectures and classrooms through similar venues. Stanford offers online lectures on topics such as the “Introduction to Linear Dynamical Systems, ” UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, and many others offer lectures on everything from the sciences, to dozens of foreign languages, to Business 101.

All free to anyone with an Internet connection. All available to kids and adults in Ramallah, Ulaanbaatar, or South Bend, Indiana.

AcademicEarth.Org

No sooner do I get over the hangover from looking at podcasts available through the Zune directory when I stumble on AcademicEarth .Org,

Academic Earth’s objective states “We are building a user-friendly educational ecosystem that will give internet users around the world the ability to easily find, interact with, and learn from full video courses and lectures from the world’s leading scholars.  Our goal is to bring the best content together in one place and create an environment in which that content is remarkably easy to use and where user contributions make existing content increasingly valuable.”

  • Participating Universities include:
  • UC Berkeley
  • Harvard
  • MIT
  • Princeton
  • Stanford
  • UCLA
  • Yale

With subjects covering all areas of a typical university curriculum, our subject in Ramallah now has access to as many lectures as time will allow – the same lectures students attend at the best universities in the world. While no video will replace the face-to-face experience of classroom interaction, contributions universities such as Stanford and participants in the AcademicEarth.Org provide a global resource that is unprecedented in quality and depth.

And leveling the global intellectual playing field

One Telecom and Business Idea for Ramallah and Palestine

Innovation is a catalyst for change in personal lives, education, how we work, and community life. All are components that may fill a fundamental requirement for continued economic development. In Ramallah there are many challenges to overcome in the journey from the current situation, to being in a competitive pool with other developing and modern countries.

ICT (Information and Communications Technology) development will contribute not only to the education and continued automation of banking, government, and eCommerce, but also to the overall quality of life in cities such as Ramallah, Nablus, Bethlehem, and Jericho.

International organizations and the Palestine government are developing specific plans to bring more network-enabled education resources to the schools. There are efforts to extend both fixed line (fiber optic backbone infrastructure) and wireless communications throughout the city (Ramallah), and as regulatory issues and commercial issues mature, that infrastructure will eventually diffuse down to the individual subscriber level.

The Daily Routine

As Palestine does not have a credible public transportation system, all movement is either done on foot, or by private automobile and commercial Walking in Traffic - Ramallahtaxi. During “rush hour” periods travel is virtually impossible, and the quality of air due to exhaust and lax emission standards makes movement through the city extremely noxious. In addition, as there is considerable debris on the streets due to construction, as well as the reality of narrow streets and limited sidewalk space, travelling to both school and work can be a dangerous process.

Through my own pedestrian movement through the city, it struck me as obvious that Palestine is a prime candidate for future knowledge workers (pending further diffusion of “eLearning” and “eReady” graduates into the work force) to contribute to the workforce through telepresence and telecommuting.

Software developers and non-construction, storefront/restaurant, or factory workers would greatly benefit from not needing to navigate the dangerous and unhealthy streets of cities like Ramallah. ICT is the key to both promoting the development of a knowledge worker industry, as well as greatly improving individual quality of life.

Accepting home work is not always easy due to large families and home distractions, thus satellite work areas may be an additional consideration. Those satellite work areas should include high performance ICT resources, allowing knowledge workers to contribute higher quality and effective time to their companies and professional activities.

Overall Impact of ICT Resource Development in Ramallah

During my time in Ramallah I used Internet access points provided by both the hotel and local consultant’s representative office. The hotel connected through PALTEL, the incumbent monopoly communications provider. The hotel did use wireless, with access points extended throughout the hotel to improve local signal strength. Testing upload and download speeds to a California-based server resulted in good performance of 761Kbps down and 558Kbps up. This was adequate to support all my Internet access needs, as well as IP telephony for calls home.

The consultant used a dedicated link to Israel, with performance that can be considered equal to most access locations within American cities.

While neither of these access points would be considered normal for all of Ramallah or other locations within Palestine, it does indicate the potential for delivery of Internet services within the territory. Companies with an existing ICT presence, planning to open neutral data centers, could with additional investment and support of the government (regulatory issues and licensing) increase the potential for Internet protocol-enabled service delivery which would support far greater opportunities for elearning and telepresence.

The Education System

ICT diffusion into the public education system in Palestine is still low, with only around 30% of university students having good access to computers and Internet. The Ministry of Education and other government agencies Despair in the Daily Commute Routineshould aggressively take advantage of international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and government donors to build a robust network-enabled education capacity.

Visiting refugee camps such as Jenin and Kalandia gives small bits of hope that displaced people do have the attention of organizations such as the United Nations. UN-administered schools will eventually bring additional hope to students who need eLearning and network education to have the basic intellectual tools to enter a modern work force and compete. Having those skills will also increase their potential of eventually leaving the camps, and recovering some quality of life.

Education programs supported and administered by religious groups appear to have a bit better eLearning programs (from discussion with representative from the Ramallah Quaker School). Graudates from those schools will also have better opportunities for international university sponsorships, and likely bring their experience and knowledge back to Palestine at some point.

Jerusalem

There are many commuters who live in Jerusalem and travel to Ramallah each day. The trip is not far geographically, but can take a very long time Border Crossing between Ralamallah and Jerusalemdepending on rush hours, curfews, border closures, or if the Israeli security forces have any extended searches or issues at the checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem.

Having a telecommuting-ready industry would greatly improve the quality of life for people who need to commute between the cities, as well as provide another layer of physical safety for commuters (the Ramallah checkpoint has been a frequent area of civil unrest).

Students commuting between Ramallah and East Jerusalem encounter the same difficulty as workers. The following transcript from France24 tells the story of a young lady who travels the route daily.

There they met Zaina Abu Hamdan, an 18-year-old woman from Ramallah who described her daily two-hour commute to her high school in east Jerusalem, which Israel occupied during the 1967 Six Day war and later annexed.

“As I wake up every morning and come here I am nervous, and I am thinking about the humiliations I am going to face,” she said.

Passing through the checkpoint often involves waiting for long periods in packed metal corridors, extended searches and loud orders issued in Hebrew by Israeli conscripts.

“If you are lucky, how long does it take,” Carter asked her.

“Thirty minutes,” she replied.

“And if you are unlucky?”

“Two or three hours.” (France 24)

Clearly eLearning, telecommuting, and telepresence could, and should have a very positive impact on the quality of life for all Palestinians. Israel needs to expedite approval and delivery of computer/wireless/telecom hardware, as well as release of additional wirel4ess frequency that would further support enhanced ICT.

A very difficult and troubled part of the world. However we cannot lose hope, and like a good Internet protocol packet, we need to find ways around obstacles.

John Savageau, from Ramallah, West Bank of Palestine

When the Tanks Rolled We Continued to Drink our Coffee – Ramallah Raid 2007

(01-05) 04:00 PDT Ramallah, West Bank — Israeli troops staged a rare incursion into this city Thursday, bulldozing cars and vegetable stands near the central square as they engaged gunmen and stone-throwing residents in a chaotic two-hour battle that left four Palestinians dead. (LA Times, 5 Jan 2007)

“While the Israeli tanks rolled through our neighborhood, we sat at a sidewalk café and continued to drink our coffee” commented a diner at Thursday night’s Ramadan feast. For the past four nights, most of the Ramallah MosquePalestinians I’ve met on the West Bank have shown a great enthusiasm in engaging me in conversations about Palestine, Ramallah, Israel, and the impression Americans have of the conflict and country.

The gentleman discussing his thoughts and memories of the last incursion Israel made into Palestine, nearly two years ago, was one of fatigue. “We are just tired of the misery this conflict has brought into our lives. We are no longer afraid of Israel, we just want the problems to go away.”

These words attracted several nods from my table and nearby tables, bringing several others into the conversation. One lady described how the house across the street from her home was destroyed by a shell, and it blew the front of her house apart due to the concussion of the explosion. Israeli soldiers would not let her approach the house, as the area was a “security problem.” She was able to return to her home a day later to being rebuilding her life.

“What gives one person the right to destroy the home of another?” asked the lady. Of course I have no answer.

An evening of stories and thoughts of prior conflicts, incursions, the leadership of Arafat, and the current climate of tolerance and desire to get everybody’s lives back on track.

“What is your impression of Palestine, do you think we have hope?”

I took a risk and answered the question by saying “Americans in general hate victims. We don’t like anybody who sits back and waits for others to solve their problems. When I see construction workers on the job at 5 a.m. during my morning jogs; when I see Palestinian software companies popping up doing outsourcing for American companies such as Cisco – and companies in the semi-conductor business, yes I have hope.”

“You are right. I’ve lived and studied in America and that is right. Never really thought of it before. Our leadership is making a mistake. They believe we should tug at the heart strings – which of course won’t work in your country. This story needs to be told.”

During the past four days I have walked the streets of Ramallah, met dozens of people, and had a wonderful time. During the past two days I have encountered two American State Department representatives, both of whom were protected by teams of what appeared to be Blackwater security, or a Blackwater suitable substitute thugs. “The package is 30 seconds out, all is secure…”

And one of my local colleagues asks “why is that guy carrying guns around in my country?”

“I don’t know. Guess they think they are in Long Beach.”

We Really Haven’t a Clue

When I watch Fox news, I get the impression everybody in Ramallah or the West Bank wants to demonstrate against the US, Israel, motherhood and apple pie. Americans think Ramallah is a cauldron of hate, looking for every opportunity to disrupt life as we know it. And we run around the country with armed security forces that are, well, NUTS!

There are four consulate offices near my hotel, and there are Palestinian police protecting the residences – just like in any other country. The local consular officer travels freely throughout Ramallah without concern, as this is a pretty peaceful place. Jogging along the streets you see representative offices from just about any NGO (non-governmental organization) in the world, as well as the United Nations and the World Bank. No Blackwater Security.

How can Americans possibly expect to learn about this ancient and wonderful part of the world when our own leadership acts with such arrogance and elitist actions? The journalists following state department officers in the middle-east must get a small sliver of reality when traveling with the “package.” It appears even the state department officers have convinced themselves this is appropriate behavior.

The Ramadan evening buffet meal over and another walk through the city back to my hotel. It is such a beautiful at night, with a half moon and clear sky, that it would be a sin to ride in a cab or car. Dodged a couple cars as I walked into the street to avoid some construction debris, otherwise the trip was uneventful. No kidnapping attempts, no assaults, and no problems other than I forgot how to say “good evening” in Arabic.

John Savageau, from Ramallah, West Bank of Palestine

Information and Communications Technology in Ramallah

“It’s not about the addressable market today, it is about building a future for my 8 year old daughter,” says Mohammed A, a Ramallah-based consultant in information and communications technology. “The World Bank can provide a lot of great statistics about the state of telecommunications in Ramallah, but if my girl does not have the same access to eLearning and education as an Israeli girl, she won’t have a chance.”

Of course there are a lot of politics and cultural issues involved. Ramallah and the entire territory of Palestine are under Israeli administration, which poses many challenges in receiving approvals for telecom services such as wireless, including frequencies not only for internet providers, but also the mobile phone industry. WiMAX is not allowed (in Israel as well) due to military restrictions, and much of the telecom and computer equipment destined for Ramallah is held up on warehouses on the Israel side awaiting customs clearance and release.

In the education system less than 1/3 of university students have adequate access to basic Internet access or computers, and very few primary and high school students have Internet access or eLearning as part of the curriculum. Government officials admit they had some mistakes in prioritizing educational resources, further reinforcing the obvious issues resulting in education system shortfalls.

And Mohammed’s daughter still has no access to the Internet in school.

In Palestine, everything is controlled by Israel. Many international organizations and groups try to influence Israel’s government to relax restrictions on issues such as mobile frequencies, however Israel has been reticent in responding to international pressure. Why? Oh my, that is a topic that is way beyond the scope of a short blog entry.

But the result is emerging mobile operators such as Wataniya Telecom cannot get final approval from the Israel government to release frequencies in both the 900Mhz and 1800Mhz ranges needed to operate their business. The delays are becoming so costly, Wataniya (a Kuwaiti telecom investment) may need to back out of the project.

At this point all public Internet access is connected through Israel. Independent or private VSAT (satellite) connections are not allowed, nor are direct public fiber connections from Palestine through Jordon or other adjacent countries. The problems are compounded by geographic separation of Palestinian territories such as the Gaza Strip from the West Bank.

And Mohammed’s daughter still has no access to the Internet in school.

Some American and other international companies are developing a soft spot for conditions in Palestine, including Google, Microsoft, Cisco, and the Negroponte Foundation. Those groups are providing both equipment, and training to Palestinians, as well as offering consulting for education programs.

Donor organizations are beginning to dump money and projects into the country (which BTW is ironically a synchronization and control nightmare for the Ministry of Education), and expatriate Palestinians are starting to bring business and opportunity back to the homeland.

Tareq Maaya, CEO of Exalt Technologies (and founder of Ghost Software – the remote access operating system), explained Palestinian software developers are among the best in the world, and there is a good opportunity for Ramallah to become a leader in software outsourcing. In fact, Exalt Technologies is now doing outsourced software development for Cisco, with much of their workload being shifted to Ramallah from development centers in India.

This is good if you are a relatively wealthy Palestinian returnee from Silicon valley, but what about Mohammed’s daughter? How will she bring herself up to the level needed to work at Exalt, if she has no access to the Internet or eLearning resources?

Dr. Sabri Saidam, Advisor to the President on IT and Technical Education, has ideas. He is a politician, well educated, and very savvy on technology. He has a plan on the board to connect all universities via high performance fiber optic cable, and fully integrate both Internet and network education, as well as eLearning into the curriculum.

A passionate man, he is focused on bringing the message of Palestine to the world, evangelizing the need for all nations to support a Palestine that gives hope to the people. He reminds us that “people with hope are productive, happy, and become content with prosperity in life.

Those without hope become frustrated, angry, and need to find a way to express that frustration.”  That is not good for Palestinians, nor anybody else.

The regional troubles of the past 50 years are well known, poorly understood, but always good for a zealous conversation. The rights, wrongs, and realities are all parts of history. History being paid for by 8 year old girls, grasping at hope for a future that brings both peace and prosperity.

Our world is connected through social networks, chats, email, video, and any other activity that can be reduced to binary digits. There is no excuse to deny this connected world to any 8 year old girl, regardless of her nationality, race, or ideology.

Ramallah is getting better every day, but we still need to nurture this city, and every other city around the world in a similar situation.

John Savageau, Ramallah, Palestine

A Nice Evening Walk in Ramallah

Walking along the streets in Ramallah at night is quite an experience. A cross between dodging cars along tight mountain roads in Hong Kong, and avoiding open manhole covers on the sidewalks of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. If you fall into the rhythm, and keep yourself out of harm’s way, the sights, sounds, and climate of Ramallah in September make for a pleasant evening.

In Long Beach you can walk along the streets at night, but passing cars and passing police will reward you with stares or requests for identification. You avoid looking directly into another person’s eyes, particularly if they are of a different race or culture, for fear of confrontation.

In Ramallah you are greeted by everybody you pass on the street, regardless of the fact you are obviously a foreigner, and there is a good probability you do not share their culture or ideology. A smile, a nod of the head, and you pass by without fear.

The city is one of hills and moguls. And like a Beijing of the 90’s, the skyline is dominated by construction and progress. This evening holds a Ramallah Hillsidegentle breeze, and the view of hills and valleys dotted with lights, and life, is very nice. It is good to stand off the side of the road, and look across the valleys towards Jerusalem, with its skyline lighting the distant horizon.

You feel and sense hope. Hope of people who have been through tremendous trouble and pain for the past 40 years. People who are tired of troubles, and want to think of a future that holds the rewards of working hard.

You feel that hope while walking the streets, seeing and hearing the sounds of progress.

Life in the 50s and early 60’s

Imagine getting up early on a Saturday morning in Ramallah, then driving to Beirut for brunch, going to the beach in the early afternoon, having a bite to eat in Tel Aviv, and being home in Ramallah for dinner. No, it is not crazy, it is life in the 50’s. An old man speaks fondly of those days, when life was good, and people of all cultures and ideologies treated each other with tolerance and respect.

The old man tells his grandchildren of a time when fences did not partition the land, checkpoints did not separate villages from each other, and free travel was an entitlement of being alive. The grandchildren listen with awe and envy, as the tales do not seem to have any reality today, in a land of occupation dominated by mistrust among neighbors who have shared the land for a thousand years.

And hope.

On the way back to the hotel you finally pass your first police checkpoint set up within Ramallah. The first thought is “oh my, is there going to be some kind of trouble?” Then a memory comes back of traffic stops in Long Beach you saw the prior weekend, with police stopping every car, checking for alcohol, checking registrations, checking individual backgrounds. Not much different.

A friendly nod by the Ramallah police while walking by, and back to the hotel. A really pleasant walk.

John Savageau, from Ramallah, Palestine

Learning the Real Ramallah

A machine gun pointed at my head, a smug look of contempt from a guard, walls designed to keep me isolated from the outside and under control. I am in prison.

From the outside, life is pretty normal. Citizens laughing in a sidewalk café, driving to the shopping mall, lining up to view a first-run movie. On the trip from the city my driver talks of the outside. He talks of people with hopes, futures, and fulfilling their dreams. At the prison checkpoint the mood changes, and we get a quick briefing on the rules of conduct while transferring to the “inside.”

I am now entering Ramallah. The line going into Ramallah is short – takes about 5 minutes. The line waiting to go out is long, and the driver reveals you can expect to wait about 3 hours to re-enter Israel. Cars with a Palestinian number plate are not allowed outside of the West Bank of Palestine, only Israeli tagged cars are allowed on the outside.

As we pass the border checkpoint our driver slowly turns, and says “welcome to our prison.”

I am an American, What do I know?

All I know of Ramallah is what I hear on the news, or read in the papers. I assume every street corner will have a group of terrorists ready to pull me out of the car and hold me for ransom, or execute me on a tape forwarded to YouTube for global distribution. The media has pumped me up to the point I cower behind slightly shaded windows, fearing what may happen to me if pedestrians see a foreigner in the car, and call ahead to those finding amusement harming me.

But what the heck? The streets of Ramallah are fairly wide, in somewhat good shape (at least compared to Tel Aviv), and everything is under construction. Lots of new buildings, all made with a wonderful stone façade, with designs that rival my own community in Long Beach. Even though we are in the middle of Ramadan, people are working hard at the construction sites, and moving about with purpose.

No visible weapons on the street. No groups of young men spoiling for a fight.

At the hotel I am greeted by security, a guard shakes my hand and says “Welcome to Ramallah.” The desk clerk gives me a warm welcome, and gives a quick overview of the area, and quickly fills in a couple of high-level suggestions on the tradition and culture of Ramadan, which is an important period of the year for Muslims.

Nothing harsh or threatening, just giving me a couple tips of what is happening, and how I can avoid causing myself any personal anxiety over making a social gaff. He was worried about my feelings, not those of Muslims who probably expect me to do something culturally silly.

My first Ramadan Celebration Meal

The hotel prepares a buffet. Muslims have fasted all day, and according to the practice wait until the official sunset to feast. The hotel restaurant area has a large screen display guiding evening prayers, and at the official moment of sunset announces to those present it is time to celebrate.

Lamb, a large variety of food, drinks, a true celebration. Everybody is friendly with everybody else, and even show foreigners like myself much accommodation and warmth.

A Ramallah Sunrise

On the first morning in Ramallah I take a sunrise walk along the hills and moguls of the city. Most of the buildings new. Many vacant lots with the foundations of past homes, lives, families, and a culture disrupted over the past 40 years of “troubles.” Most appear destroyed by human hand. Everybody greets me as I walk along the street, somewhat amused by my interest in the buildings and community, but no cold shoulder or indication I am unwelcome.

A new day, and the beginning of a new challenge. The challenge of making sure my visit to Palestine and Ramallah will bring value. I don’t want to be a burden, a tourist, or an ugly American. I feel the history, the spirit, and depth of a region that does not have a single centimeter of land untouched by humans. I look inside for the strength to bring my experience and knowledge to really smart people, who just need reinforcement of their visions.

We are but a snapshot, a sound bite in time. How do we bring value to an area which has ground every effort throughout history into yet another chronicle of struggle?

We will try

John Savageau, from Ramallah, Palestine

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