ICEJ giving Israeli Arabs rare entry into hi-tech sectorPublished on: 2.8.2022
By: Laurina Driesse
Rand Masalha, Heba Abdel Karim, and Basil Amin are Israeli Arabs achievers whose dreams of entering Israel’s hi-tech industry have come one step closer with the Christian Embassy’s sponsorship of a unique computer coding course for promising Arab students.
Rand was born in Nazareth and later moved to a small nearby town where she was a motivated high school student passionate about her studies. However, when it came to pursuing a university education, she was overwhelmed by all the options. But she eventually decided to follow her natural gifting and love for math and computer science.
She was most comfortable with the atmosphere at Haifa University, though interacting with Jewish students was a new experience for her.
“I felt for the first time that I was a minority when I was in university and it was difficult,” recalled Rand.
Part of this difficulty resulted from having to switch from Arabic to Hebrew as the main language in class. With all the lectures in Hebrew, she needed to spend extra time studying for her major in Math and Computer Science. Still, Rand was happy to be in school and found the teachers very encouraging.
Breaking the Mold
Heba grew up in a small Arab village near Karmiel. As with many Israeli Arabs, her interaction with Israeli Jews was limited until she finished high school and left her village.
After university, she entered the teaching profession, which in her community is a preferred job for Arab women so they can work close to home and attend to family needs. Although she loved teaching math to her students, she had a deep desire to enter the hi-tech world. But she knew the odds were low.
“I noticed that the opportunities at work, in general, were fewer for me as an Arab and as a woman,” stated Rand.
Only when she was able to break through the social barriers imposed upon her, did she feel respected and confident to pursue a career in hi-tech. As she researched how to reach that goal, Rand discovered the ICEJ-sponsored Computer Bootcamp program and knew straight away this was her path into the hi-tech world.
After completing the special computer coding courses for promising Israeli Arab students, Rand now feels she is finally “heading in the right direction” and looks forward to working in the hi-tech field for many years to come.
When deciding on a career path, Heba initially felt limited to the typical jobs expected of Israelis Arabs. With some trepidation, she decided to break the mold and pursue something different by learning computers and programming. She now feels strongly this was her best choice, and often advises Arab high school students to think seriously about computer studies.
“I’m very happy that Arab society is changing to accept this as a good possibility as well”, shared Heba. “There’s a whole world out there, so don’t be afraid to get outside of your comfort zone, both in your own society and in the world.”
Heba discovered the Computer Bootcamp coding program while she was phoning companies to enquire about open positions. She realized that computer programming was in high demand and this course offers valuable hands-on learning.
“Even though I had my first degree and am even studying for my second degree, neither of these are the same as this one course”, explained Heba.
When reflecting on her favorite experience in the course, she said: “This course is giving us time to work with colleagues at the session in every task. We get to share our thoughts, learn more from each other and improve our team-work skills.”
Heba now plans to work hard to become a Full Stack programmer in the near future, and she will also look for new challenges while also hoping to travel.
During high school, Heba volunteered to help younger children with their studies, tutoring them in various subjects. Because of her excellent marks, she received a full scholarship to Tel Aviv University, but found it was not the right fit. After touring other universities, she settled on Haifa University. There, she saw a more open society and had a Jewish roommate for the first time. However, she found that although they studied together, they did not socialize together, and all her friends were still Arabs.
Heba found her university studies difficult at first and was concerned about keeping up. She soon discovered, however, that her grades were among the highest in the class. Nevertheless, overcoming the language barrier was a challenge. While her Hebrew had been good in high school, native Hebrew speakers had an advantage at the university level. Yet through university and later in the workplace, her Hebrew improved, and she made friendships with Jewish co-workers that she treasures.
Perfect Place to Be
Meanwhile, Basil is one of eight children and comes from a small Arab village in the Lower Galilee. In grades 9 and 10, his high school participated with a Jewish school in a co-existence project which exposed him to the Jewish community. It was during this time that he learned about the world of computer programming and discovered that he was good at it. After he finished high school with honors in physics and programming, it became his passion to use this talent productively.
Although his father wanted him to study medicine, his parents supported his decision to pursue software engineering. Growing up, he did not have a computer at home, so when Basil enrolled at Tel-Hai College, he found the transition to university challenging. His studies were complex at that level. However, he integrated smoothly with the Jewish students and within two years of constant practice, Hebrew became like his mother-tongue.
Basil began working as a mobile customer service agent during college and continued in this position aftewards. Nevertheless, he kept the dream alive of one day working in the hi-tech field. When a friend told him about the Computer Bootcamp program, he applied immediately and was accepted.
“This bootcamp training will make it easier to enter the workforce. The staff are very good and provide great service”, explained Basil. “The program is very important. It is more than just academics. You cannot rely only on a degree to get gainful employment.”
Thinking ahead, he shared that, “because of the bootcamp, I will be working full-time in programming, and enjoying it… Israel is the perfect place to be as every major hi-tech company is here. This is among the best places in the world.”
Hope for Israel’s Next Generation
Israel’s Arab minority constitutes 21% of the overall population, but they comprise only 3% of the nation’s thriving hi-tech workforce, with Arab women at only 0.1% in 2018. This is despite the ongoing shortage of tens of thousands of employees for technology jobs in Israel.
Yet Arab interest in hi-tech careers is rapidly growing, as 15% of the students in hi-tech courses are now Arabs. However, they still show some of the highest drop-out rates.
Many times, Arab youths enter university here with greater challenges to overcome than Jewish youths – due to economic constraints, Hebrew language deficiencies, or unfamiliarity with Israel’s mainstream culture. This often leads to giving up during their first academic year.
“We are very excited to see young Arabs succeed and become more integrated into Israeli society”, said Nicole Yoder, ICEJ Vice President for AID and Aliyah. “This Computer Bootcamp program assists these young people in making the transition into the job market where they may not have had much experience or opportunity before.”
Thank you for helping the ICEJ to strengthen Israel by supporting all sectors of society here with programs like this computer course for promising Israeli Arab students. This gives a future and a hope to the next generation of Arabs and Jews as they seek their common good.
Support at: give.icej.org/givinghope