Wednesday, July 8, 2009

An Interview with Ammar Aker, CEO of Jawwal

A 50-meter telecom tower, one of the tallest in the area, sits right outside the office of Ammar Aker, CEO of Jawwal. Aker positioned his office here because Palestinian villagers sometimes believe that telecom towers caused cancer, and he wanted to demonstrate that it was safe.

Like the Wataniya headquarters a few kilometers away, the Jawwal headquarters boasted the sharp, immaculate and professional facilities that one would expect of any major company. This was a sharp contrast to the drab, humble building that houses the Palestinian Ministry of Telecom and Information Technology.

Inside Aker’s office was a large jar full of Israeli SIM cards, which he declined to have me photograph. These cards were collected at one of many recent community campaigns designed to convince civilians to give up their Israeli phones and use Jawwal instead. The campaigns, Aker said, are more about convincing people of Jawwal’s better service and calling plans than invoking purely nationalist reasons to switch.

When asked about Wataniya’s current difficulties, Aker, like Jaber, said that this all sounded very familiar. Jawwal has had a shipment microcells used to mitigate dropped calls sitting in Israeli customs since October of 2008, according to Aker.

Recently, the Israeli government told Jawwal that they are no longer allowed to import these microcells. “We’ve been using these microcells for the past eight years and now we cannot use them?” Aker asked.

Aker also echoed Jaber’s comment that Wataniya’s entrance into the market would cause consumers to be more appreciative of the service that Jawwal has been able to provide under the crushing weight of Israeli restrictions.

He made the analogy of the wrongness of judging an Israeli civilian who “lives in Tel Aviv and within a few minutes can run to the airport and travel all around the world” against a Palestinian civilian who “faces all these difficulties with checkpoints and travel restrictions.” The same, he said, is true when comparing mobile service providers. For this reason, he is “waiting for [Wataniya] to start, praying for them to start.”

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