You would not believe how welcoming and hard working Palestinians are. There is a generalization because of the conflict but at the end of the day these are people like you and me trying to achieve their goals in a positive way.
There is a political situation around it and it cannot be ignored from the moment you arrive but I strongly believe that Mercy Corps and GSG and initiatives like the coding academy help a population that lives in harsh conditions without access of what we give for granted in the US.
Here are some of the things that blew me away:
- About 50% of the founders in the GSG were women.
- There are a lot of very young and talented engineers.
- Walking through Gaza as a western looking guy I feared people would not be super happy, it was quite the opposite, endless invitations to have coffee, eat watermelon, say hello and welcome.
- Hardware startups solving issues that could be applied to underdeveloped countries, one of my favorites was a USB charger that you power by slipping into your shoe and walking.
There is no reason to not celebrate and join the people backing these initiatives, they have a direct impact on good people and even if you have concerns about the politics in the region, I think these programs help alleviate the tension and let people focus on living their lives and not be frustrated with the laundry list of day to day hurdles they encounter.
The opportunities for economic growth in the region are incredibly limited (40%+ unemployment; 40% below the poverty line; 80% dependent on some kind of foreign aid; ~50% dependent on UN food aid alone; extreme barriers to importing or exporting physical goods), and yet they enjoy relatively high levels of infrastructure and education (97% literacy; 20% population with a college degree - higher than in the West Bank; female/male near-equality w/r/t education levels; decent internet). All of this combines to make tech investments especially appealing.
I got the feeling in Gaza - relative to many other countries lacking these resources that have garnered a great deal of attention from the tech community in recent years, such as India, Brazil, and more - that the development of tech companies (especially tech, due to minimal infrastructure needs) there can make a significant contribution to the regional economy. The group's additional devotion to including women in the accelerator is especially laudable, and has contributed to an incredibly rich workspace.
There's a lot more info on the crowdfunding website too: http://www.powerupgazageeks.com/
I spent one week in Gaza and another week between Ramallah and parts of Israel.
After the time there I still have contact with the friends I made there and try to contribute with any initiative they put together.
It also pushed me to look for local initiatives here in the US .
You can also donate to their current campaign to help create the coding academy, which I've also done, after seeing it in person I can personally say it's fantastic and students there told me how much it's changing their lives, making them more confident and hopeful about opportunities for their future.
Link is here: http://www.powerupgazageeks.com/
Great question though - I'm curious too.