Thursday, April 25, 2013

Catering the Rich: Let's do the trickle down effect!

There are more wealthy Palestinians than you think. Those from the families that have always been influential since centuries. Those with a part of the family in diaspora who made their fortunes in USA, Canada, Europe, or the Gulf. Those who made their fortunes in local businesses, sometimes with help of their links to either of the three governments in place. Those who became rich as traders, flooding the local market with foreign products under the free trade regime of Paris Protocol. Those that came back with their college degree from abroad, and created their own successful business.

Billions are stored in bank accounts in Palestine, in Jordan and overseas. The question is, where will those billions be spent? Forget about trying to get hold of that money by force. Most of it lies outside Palestinian jurisdiction.

But if you manage to offer some classy goods and services in Palestine, chances are that people will actually spend their fortunes here, and create jobs and income in Palestine, instead of doing so in the fashionable city centers of Paris, New York or Dubai, or possibly just Mamilla Mall in Jerusalem, which caters even common Palestinian's needs during their Ramadan shopping spree.

Successful Examples of Catering the Rich

Restaurant business is booming in Ramallah, and appears to be quite profitable, regardless of prices similar to those of European metropolises. Luxury cars are selling well, it is not rare to spot brand new top-of-the-line Mercedes, Audi, Porsche cars on Palestinian roads. The weddings industry is booming, and Mövenpick Hotel's wedding hall is often fully booked in advance for weeks during summer before and after Ramadan. A few other premium services have set up their operations very successfully, such as modern beauty parlours with hairdressers who received their training by Toni & Guy, and a couple of other examples.

Identifying Gaps to be Filled

Other economies have more experience with catering the rich. It is easy to get inspired in neighboring countries, look at Beirut downtown shopping center, look at the emirates mall in Dubai. Look at all the products and services advertised in lifestyle magazines. Think of chauffeur service including VIP access through checkpoints. Think of premium medical services. Think of financial services around private wealth. Think of high-standard tailor-made suits. Bring in franchising brands that guarantee a global quality standard. Create an online portal for high-class shopping, services, with an exclusive online community with club membership card and recommendations engine.

Is it Immoral to Cater the Rich?

I know that all this will not end the occupation, and it will do little to advance the political struggle. So I am not suggesting to go for consumerism instead of resistance. The struggle for for Palestinian rights has to go on. But let's be realistic, USA will take a couple of years to shift its military focus away from the Middle East and towards East Asia, thanks to shale gas fracking, and the strength of China. And Europe will take a couple of years to call for significant sanctions for the discriminatory legal system that Israel established in the occupied Territories. Meanwhile, the best tactics for Palestine is to embark on peaceful resistance, obsoleting Israel's ever-repeated "security" argument, while the violations of international law and of discriminatory law and practices are further exposed, strengthening the notion of Israel being seen as a pariah state, or apartheid state, which eventually calls for tough sanctions after a decade or two have passed. Diplomatic and economic pressure on Israel, and (financial, military) aid with strings attached to Israel, would eventually make the scenario of ending the occupation more attractive to the Israeli government than perpetuating the status quo.

Back to the original question, that tactics of political struggle is perfectly compatible with earning some money at the same time doing business, and trying to keep as much Palestinian money in the country as possible by providing decent goods and services for wealthy clients.
In any case, relying on the own economy will give the political struggle more room to maneuver, as opposed to relying on foreign development aid with strings attached to Palestine.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Car Sex in Palestine

Italians, sometimes called the "Arabs of Europe", invented the trend of car sex, that became especially popular in the more conservative south of Italy, where most young people live with their families until they get married. Via Manzoni in Naples is a famous hot spot for this:

Merchants are selling newspapers, sticky tape, and all other ingredients for a comfortable evening with privacy in your car.

Car Sex Business Potentials in Palestine

South Italy may be conservative according to European standards, but you may find Palestine slightly more conservative still. So instead of parking your car in a public road under trees by the seaside, your customers will want a more hidden spot on a private property with gate and guard.

In order to avoid conflict with local authorities, you may want to put that spot in a C-Area out of reach of the Palestinian Authoritiy's jurisdiction, but still within reach for your customers.

In order to avoid misunderstandings and outrage of religious zealots, you should call it family barbecue and camping site or something more innocent.

Also you need a large spot of land with enough trees so you can give your customers enough privacy so that they do not bump into each other.

In Saudi Arabia, an even more conservative place than Palestine, people rent tents in the desert in order to avoid being bothered by the strict hotel regulations for couples. A luxurious tent may be a value added service you can offer to your clients at a premium in Palestine as well.

So where is the best spot for a camping site with some privacy? You don't want to be more than 30 minutes away from the large populated areas. So, at least one campsite can be established for Bethlehem/Hebron area, and another one for Nablus/Jenin/Tulkarem area. Towards Jordan Valley, there is a lot of C-Area but very few trees. The western end of the West Bank is greener, but more inhabited by jewish settlements. So finding the perfect spot, buying it, and receiving permission by COGAT to develop it, will be the most challenging part of the exercise. The good thing is that COGAT is usually concerned only about permanent structures cast in concrete. So you can run your site with trees, tents and cars, and that should work without much interference by Israeli forces.

Apart from standard clients, you could also host some special-interest events, like gay or lesbian parties.

Car Sex in '48

For '48 Palestinians (those who enjoy the benefits of an Israeli Passport -- others call them "Arab Israelis") and for Jerusalemites, there is more choice for nice spots without the need to pay for it. For Jerusalemites, the Camping Forest near Ein Kerem can be suitable, or go a bit further on Highway 443, between Modiin and Ben Shemen you will find a large forest with more privacy.

For those along the coast, e.g. from Jaffa, there are more choices, for example parking along the lonely beach south of Herzliya Marina.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Taking Solar Thermal to a Next Level

Between 50 and 70% of Palestinian households are using solar water heaters. Typical roofs look like this:

Those passive "thermosiphon" solutions are great for a start, mostly manufactured locally in Hebron, and widely available at low cost, but there is a lot of room for improvement:

  • Poor insulation of collector, storage, and pipes, so that in the winter time you will hardly have warm water
  • Small storage capacity, so if you wash dishes with warm water in the evening, the next morning your shower will be cold for all household members
  • Lots of wasted water -- before your shower gets warm, you have to let it run for several minutes and waste maybe 10-15 liters.
  • Heat can be used for water only, not for floor heating.

Potentials of new Technologies

Vacuum tube collectors -- have better insulation and give much better yields especially in wintertime, and require less space on your roof.

Circulation pumps -- insulate your water pipes and let the hot water circulate using a small pump. This way you will have hot water immediately as you open the tab, and no need to waste 10 liters of cold water before every hot shower you take.

Heat storage -- modern storage and heat exchange systems are much bigger in capacity, often located in the basement, and serving an entire apartment block. So even on rainy days you don't need to worry about hot water for your shower.

Space heating -- are you still freezing in wintertime, because you want to save hundreds of dollars of diesel heating cost each month? Investing in a large heat storage and plenty of vacuum tube collectors on your roof could be the solution.

Early Adopters

Several companies are selling vacuum tube passive thermosiphon solutions like this one. I saw some shops in Al Bireh. If you want to go into that business, look on Ali Baba, and you will for sure find a Chinese manufacturer that wants to export them to you. 

So far, those appliances are not yet manufactured locally. Here is a video describing the manufacturing process:

You would probably need a technology partner in order to establish a local production, for instance Ritter Solar.

The city of Rawabi offers to its residents a solar thermal solution that has the heat storage tank on the balcony, instead of the rooftop. This solution employs a circulation pump, and reduces water losses. The same heat storage tank is used for the gas burner, and there is an electronic controller to use gas once the water temperature is dropping too low. So you have not only reduced water loss, but also more convenience.

The company of Royal in Hebron offers comprehensive solutions, including large heat storage tank, circulation pumps and electronic controller. This picture is from their brochure:

Future Outlook

The use of concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) together with solar thermal is a promising future technology. A parabolic mirror reflects sun onto a small high-efficiency photovoltaic module for electricity generation, and the assembly is cooled with a cooling liquid, whose heat can be stored, and used for solar cooling, solar heating, hot water, space heating, etc.

Have a look at their prototype, which is promising an energy collection rate of up to 70% (combined heat and electricity):

Stay tuned what comes up from

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Hacking for Money

Given the unilateral trade barriers imposed on Palestine by Israel for physical goods, hopes are high that the IT industry of Palestine can take off, given that their virtual products can be transferred more easily by wire. People talk about outsourcing of software development, translation services, call center, software arabization, etc. However, it seems like a large subsector of IT has been largely ignored: IT Security.

The IT security industry creates annual revenues of maybe 50 billion $ per year worldwide. Israel is famous for it's hack on Iranian nuclear centrifuges, and it's firewall software ironically called CheckPoint Firewall-1. In Palestine, you have a few non-profit hacker groups such as KDMS-team.

Many business models of IT security require you to be close to your customers, but some business models can operate perfectly from remote, for example discovering and selling exploits.

The Business of Software Vulnerabilities

Well described in a recent Economist article, discovering a software vulnerability, or exploit, can be worth between 40.000$ and 500.000$ each.

You need a reputable IT security company, and you can offer your services to governmental agencies around the world. On the technical level, you will have software engineers, that are well familiar with IP networks and the use of common debugging and exploit tools.

Even normal software companies, lacking staff with specific hacking skills, can develop their own backdoors into their software, and create additional added value by hiding them well and selling them to governments.

This book can provide some beginner's tutorial on software vulnerabilities:

19 deadly sins of software security

Get Visual Studio that lets you view the memory.

Also you can analyse client-server interaction, and may find good ways to intercept them.

Or this video on reverse engineering: