A nation's image is usually only as good as its achievements, so it is a sad time when the image that appears in many minds when hearing the name "Palestine" is one of bombs, ruined buildings, stone-throwing children and a corrupt authority which arrests its own people on behalf of its own occupier.
Like other nations that have struggled through conflicts and people who have struggled through occupation and displacement, the Palestinians have had limited opportunities to showcase their skills to the world and develop their economic and technological potential. Add to that the absence of a state to cover them and the lack of international aid, and the Palestinians have few, if any, platforms upon which to realise their dreams and ambitions.
Within Palestinian communities in the occupied territories as well as the diaspora, though, there are some who step up to the plate and show what they are capable of if given the chance. Waseem Awwad is one of them. A senior strategic business development manager and technology consultant for Microsoft, he holds 35 advanced international certificates with distinction; achieved a score of 146 in his IQ test; has come first in 27 international competitions; and has presided over the judges in numerous global contests. It is thus reasonable to say that Awwad has improved the image of what Palestinians can achieve.
Based in Paris, Waseem Awwad has been chosen as one of the top 10 IT and computing experts in the Middle East, receiving Microsoft's Most Valuable Professional (MVP) award in August. That's the fifth year in a row that he has won it.
Speaking exclusively to MEMO, Awwad said that winning such a prestigious award required him to go through a "long process" against hundreds of thousands of IT professionals all trying to come out on top. "There are many levels where the Microsoft committee filters the best of the best," he pointed out. "Exacting criteria and very high standards are needed throughout."
Technology and computing is not the only field that Awwad is involved in. He takes part in "many volunteering initiatives where I support the community in Palestine in more than one aspect and level." As an example, he noted that he has run many programmes that support students in universities and schools in Palestine. "To date, these programmes have helped more than 5,000 students." Such help educates the young Palestinians in business skills which increase their potential for managing their own businesses, which is essential for the future of Palestine and its economy.
Despite his encouragement for Palestinians to diversify and succeed in all fields, Awwad stresses the importance of computing and IT. "We should participate strongly in IT as it's the hot trend nowadays," he insisted. "We have to have a significant impact in the region." One way to do this, he says, "is to participate in international IT competitions. I believe that Palestine has very smart people and we can highlight our country's name by coming first in such contests."
Awwad also believes that if Palestinians focus on computing and IT, it will provide long term benefits. "Strong countries depend on three main areas: the economy, the military and technology. At the moment, every sector depends 100 per cent on IT, including the military. There is a direct relationship between advancement in IT and advancement in other fields." In his eyes, the Palestinians' best hope for gaining influence and respect in the international community is to make progress in IT and its various branches.
He is not alone in seeking to break through the limitations imposed on the Palestinians by the Israeli occupation and the burden of statelessness. A team from Al-Quds University won a major international debating contest earlier this year, for example. Sports are also starting to provide opportunities to do well on the international stage.
This is particularly the case in the besieged Gaza Strip which is under a land, sea and air blockade enforced by Israel and its allies. With rampant unemployment and a devastating health crisis due to the lack of medical supplies and fresh water, the Strip has been visited by an amputee Irishman who has taken it upon himself to form a team and train fellow one-legged footballers amongst young Palestinian in Gaza. The intention is to participate in international paralympic-style tournaments in the years to come.
The people of Palestine are moving forward, despite all of the obstacles in their way. For Waseem Awwad, that they are doing so is down to the opportunities provided by IT in all sorts of fields. A digital foundation is on the cards for an independent State of Palestine which will set standards that the world will wish to copy. A Microsoft genius and a digital Palestine offer new hope for the future.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.