by Qi Xianghui
RAMALLAH, Nov. 6 (Xinhua) -- With some 500 checkpoints throughout the Palestinian area and the split between the Gaza Strip and West Bank, Palestinians cannot visit each other easily. Under such circumstances, telecom companies are eager to explore local market despite many obstacles.
The fifth annual Information Communication Technology (ICT) exhibition "Expotech 2008," held in both the West Bank city of Ramallah and Gaza from Tuesday to Thursday, attracted 60 specialized companies and more than 34,000 visitors.
Ala Zagha, an authorized distributor for Nokia in the Palestinian area, said he spent three hours this morning on the way from another West Bank city of Naplus to Ramallah, in order to attend the exhibition.
"Each time I have to pass the checkpoint and I need to wait in the long queue," Zagha said, "but Expotech is the best way to present my company and product to the public, I have to do it."
The exhibition served as a platform not only for the Palestinians from the West Bank but also for those stranded in the Gaza Strip. Israel closed Gaza's borders since Hamas took over Gaza last year after bloody fighting with rival Fatah movement.
Under the consideration of allowing Gaza-based ICT companies to present their products and software solutions to the public, the organizers, Palestinian Information Technology Association, insisted on holding Expotech in Gaza "despite the difficult humanitarian and economic conditions as a result of the Israeli siege."
Also, Israeli policies put barriers ahead of many of Palestinian telecom companies in term of logistics and daily operations.
"Many devices such as GPS are not allowed to import because Israel said it is under security concerns. And even the shipment has arrived at port, I still have to wait for the goods to be delivered to my store at least four weeks," Zagha said.
Wataniya Telecom, the newly-launched and second cellular service provider in the Palestinian area, spent 18 months to get frequency spectrum from Israel. The company's CEO Allan Richardson said it normally only takes four months in other countries.
Despite the current political situation and the Israeli suffocating policies, Palestinian ICT sector achieved a significant development due to the Palestinians' aspiration for connecting each other.
Yahya Al-Salqan, president and CEO of Jaffa.net, founded his company specialized in computer systems ten years ago and participated the Expotech every year.
He said his next goal is to open a branch in Gaza when the situation becomes better.
"Palestinian people show great resilience in adapting their daily life to the unsatisfied restricted reality," said Al-Salqan,adding "Many businesses separated by road blocks use technology tomanage operations, sales, logistics and so on."
As a matter of fact, the ICT sector stands on top of other Palestinian economic sectors. As of the end of 2007, ICT sector contributed about 10 to 12 percent of the GDP with a market size of around 500 million of U.S. dollars.
According to the official statistics, about 32.1 percent of the households have a computer and 15.6 percent of the households have an internet by the end of 2007.