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Teaching Gaza to fish

Posted By Gilah Kahn Hoffman On October 12, 2010 @ 12:00 am In | No Comments

Adherents of Economic Peace Theory, graduate students in Israel believe that a fish farm in Gaza may be a stepping-stone to prosperity, and peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Peace through prosperity: The team of graduates, from left to right, David Welch, Ohad Kot, Danielle Angel, David McGeady, and Osher Perry.

A recent study funded by Israeli billionaire entrepreneur and industrialist Stef Wertheimer found that societies with a GDP over $6,600 per capita do not normally harbor terrorists. Five Israeli graduate students also believe that an entrepreneurial business can lead to a more peaceful world.

To that end, they propose to launch an industrial park in the Gaza Strip. The park that they envision will house an on-land aquaculture or fish farming project, designed to provide a healthy protein supply for Palestinians living in Gaza, relieve economic stress in the Palestinian community, and connect the region to foreign business investment and trade.

The students, a nationally diverse group from Tel Aviv University (TAU), strongly believe that by addressing poverty and the lack of opportunity that leads to terrorism, they will be cutting it off at the source.

There’s already international interest. In April, the students’ project, which they have dubbed Nets of Peace, reached the finals in New York at the United Nations’ “Spirit Initiative”, a business case competition for actionable solutions to long-standing international conflicts.

It was also featured at TEDxTelAviv, a new conference held in Tel Aviv, modeled on the widely respected TEDx conference in Long Beach, California. TED (an acronym for Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a private American non-profit foundation dedicated to “ideas worth spreading.”

Two of the project’s creators are members of the inaugural class of TAU’s Sofaer International MBA Program, a curriculum designed to nurture future executives and entrepreneurs who can work knowledgeably and creatively across international borders. Two other team members are graduate students in conflict resolution, and the fifth is earning a Hebrew MBA. The group consists of Israeli, Turkish, Irish and American students.

Fishing for peace

As one of the largest seafood producers in the Middle East, Israel’s innovative fish-farming industry is booming. Just a few miles down shore in Gaza, however, where unemployment is said to be as high as 45 percent, fishermen can barely eke out a living.

Still, the fish farming potential in Gaza is significant. The local demand for seafood is high but much of it is currently imported. And the extent of the opportunities for fish farming is not only substantial, the students report, but also increasing rapidly.

As a stepping-stone to a fully developed industrial zone, the students are convinced that the Nets of Peace start-up has the potential to attract investment, create employment, increase prosperity, lead toward economic growth and strengthen the link between Palestinians and the rest of the Mediterranean business community. They are also hopeful that it may increase the possibilities for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

In the first phase, they envision a number of fish farms, each one providing 200 to 350 jobs, in addition to other temporary work opportunities for construction and installation teams. Technical and professional training and workshops in marketing and sales are also part of the plan.

“Conflict is rooted in these two nations,” one of the students, Israeli Osher Perry, tells ISRAEL21c. “We need to change the atmosphere of mistrust and frustration. As business students, we are saying let’s bring in foreign investment, not offer charity. There are companies with records of success willing to invest in this area to make a profit both for themselves and for the people of Gaza.”

A graduate of the Israel Defense Forces Military Academy and Naval Academy, Perry was Second in Command of the navy’s largest ship. Later, as a certified yacht skipper, he circumnavigated the world, gaining a sense of globalization and of world economics before joining the Sofaer International MBA program.

Too busy to turn to terror

The five graduate students “found commonality in Economic Peace Theory. We felt strongly that reduction in tension would be a product of economic empowerment; that the solution lies within the private sector in Gaza. That being said, it was clear that Gaza has limited natural resources, with the exception of human-power and sea. That fact, coupled with the strong seafaring heritage of the population, along with a drastic reduction in the fishing industry, made fish farms a natural solution,” says David Welch, speaking for the Nets of Peace founders.

Following a “short but rewarding career in finance,” after obtaining a BA in International Relations from Indiana Wesleyan University, Welch, from Sacramento, California, joined Tel Aviv University’s International MA Program in Conflict Resolution.

Welch says that the Nets for Peace project received a green light from Wertheimer to try and revive his vision of a “New Marshall Plan.” Wertheimer’s “Marshall Plan for the Middle East” is his concept to use industry to provide training, create jobs, alleviate poverty and raise the per capita income of those living in the region, which will keep people busy working, instead of engaging in terrorism. According to Welch, the plan includes a business park, with various revisions to account for current political realities.

Israel’s absence from the project is deliberate, and there are no plans for official Israeli partnerships, outside of consulting and liaising with the military and the government to ensure smooth implementation.

Responding to a question from ISRAEL21c about their goal to supply Gazans with “a healthy protein supply,” Welch says, “We have come across significant data stating that the population within Gaza (especially the child population) has been lacking essential parts of a healthy diet. The proteins and fatty acids found in fish could be a great way of bridging this gap. Eventually, we would like to see Gaza become a major Mediterranean exporter of fish products, but our first goal is to meet the demand within Gaza itself. We see this as an attainable goal.”

Help Gaza, benefit the global community

Joint international and Palestinian ownership or Palestinian ownership is also a goal and they hope to grant equity to staff. The group is also banking on investment from Palestinian businessman and micro-investment via shares sold to the Palestinian people and note that “we are also in contact with multiple private sector parties in the Gaza Strip, and are discussing future opportunities with them, but specific names cannot be revealed at this time.”

While it’s still in the development stage, the project will be equipped to receive commitments from funders in the near future, and investment opportunities are still available.

“The blueprint of the project does call for private sector partnerships, both internal and external. An educational department is designated to be funded by the international governmental sector, but the rest is to be covered by the private sector,” Welch relates. “Although no official relationships have been formed, the UN and USAID have expressed interest in the project, and Nets of Peace is a proud member organization of the Clinton Global Initiative,” he adds.

Irishman Dave McGeady is an engineering graduate from Trinity College Dublin. Following completion of his MSc at Helsinki University of Technology he spent several years in investment banking in London before enrolling in the Sofaer IMBA Program and becoming one of the creators of Nets of Peace.

He explains his personal involvement thus: “I recognize that reducing political tension in this region will benefit the global community.”

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