By Anav Silverman
Tazpit News Agency
Four years ago, the Israeli government named Nazareth a national priority area, meaning that Israel’s largest Arab city would be granted economic incentives as a preferential area and firms that relocate to the city are entitled to tax breaks. Recently, the first industrial park in Nazareth was officially opened in April by Israeli entrepreneur and philanthropist, Stef Wertheimer after 12 years of construction.
The Israeli billionaire tycoon, the founder of the Warren Buffet-owned Iscar Metalworking Cos., has previously opened seven industrial parks including four in the Galilee, one in the Negev, and one in Gebze, Turkey in 2003.
Wertheimer invested $22 million into the Nazareth industrial park, which is located on a hill near Nazareth that overlooks the Jezreel Valley. Within a decade, the park aims to host 25 export-oriented companies that would ensure 1,000 jobs.
Wertheimer aims to bring more Arabs into Israeli hi-tech, an industry of start-ups that have helped lift Israel’s GDP per person by nearly a quarter in the past decade according to a report in the Economist.
At the dedication ceremony of the Nazareth industrial park, Wertheimer said that the park contributes to several important factors including economy, society and Jewish-Arab coexistence.
Both the Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fisher and President Shimon Peres were present at the dedication ceremony, with Peres noting that there are 70,000 Arabs with university degrees who are being gradually integrated into advanced industries in Israel.
According to the recent report in the Economist, thousands of Arab computer scientists graduate from Israeli colleges every year and can write programs for Arab users, visit the Arab world and market Arabic software. Some projects underway include an online booking service for hotels and Arabic e-books in the region.
The three companies that are already utilizing the Nazareth industrial park include the Israeli-owned international telecom company Amodocs, which has 100 employees. Alpha Omega, a company that manufactures neurological and neurosurgery products, founded by Nazareth couple Reem and Imad Younis, is also located in the park, along with BRF Engineering owned by Rabei Ibrahim.
There is huge potential for Arabs living in the Nazareth metropolitan area, believes Smadar Nehab, who runs the Tsofen training center in Nazareth that she established with two other partners in 2008 to integrate Arabs into Israel’s high tech field.
Nehab, originally from Kibbutz Hazorea in the Jezreel Valley, was one of the first women to set out for Silicon Valley, and after her successful venture came back to Israel with her family. “There is huge potential for transforming Arab lives in the Nazareth metropolitan area,” she told the Economist.
The Israeli government also encourages Arab representation in the high tech industry. Israel’s Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor has provided one-sixth of Tsofen’s budget during the past three years. President Shimon Peres’s office has launched the Maantech program together with Cisco’s CEO John Chambers, which works together with Tsofen and other similar organizations to help Israeli Arabs locate jobs in the high-tech field.