September 17, 2014

STUDENTS’ STORIES | Jeremy Quartner ’17 Experienced Israel-Gaza Conflict Firsthand During Tel-Aviv Summer Internship

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While some Cornellians may have stayed in Ithaca taking classes over the summer, Jeremy Quartner ’17 experienced the Israeli side of the recent Israel-Gaza conflict firsthand during his internship in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Quartner worked at I Know First — a financial services company that makes algorithmic market predictions to advise investors — where he, as well as five other students from around the world, worked in Tel Aviv during Israel’s summer conflict with Hamas, a Palestinian Islamic organization in the Gaza Strip.

The conflict, which began in May and ended with a open-ended ceasefire on Aug. 26, resulted in over 2,000 deaths for inhabitants of the Gaza Strip and about 70 deaths for Israelis, 66 of which were soldiers, according to BBC News.

Though Hamas fired thousands of missiles into Israel during the conflict — including one or two targeted at Tel Aviv each day, according to Quartner — Israel’s American-funded Iron Dome defense system destroyed most missiles before they could hit the ground.

Quartner said his summer experience working in an office near the beach and living in the center of Tel Aviv exemplified the lack of danger felt in the area despite the outside conflict. Quartner described the city foremost as a “big party city that also has this unique tech startup aspect.”

“Some of the best science in the world is done in Tel Aviv,” he said. “People think of Israel in this light of being a religious or war-torn place, but there’s this third aspect, which is this unique economy where you have a lot of very advanced high tech things going on. My friends and family in the U.S. were more worried about me than I was.”

Quartner said he worked in a “relaxed” office environment where his opinion was valued, despite his lack of prior professional experience.

“It’s like the Miami of the Middle East,” Quartner said. “It makes for this dynamic that is not really found many other places. Once you get there you see how alive it is, [I spent evenings] jumping into the ocean for a minute.”

Relations between Israel and Palestine became extremely tense in June when members of Hamas kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank, according to CNN. These kidnappings were followed by mass arrests of Palestinians by the Israeli government and eventually led to more violence and military action within the Gaza Strip region than there had been in several months.

“I first got there when the three Israeli kids were kidnapped, which some people point to as the start of the conflict,” Quartner said. “The tensions were sort of building right as I got there, but the thing is, this happens a lot. It’s a sick kind of cycle.”

Quartner added that “life went on completely” in Tel Aviv, to the point where it may seem hard to tell there was an ongoing conflict in the region.

“I’m sitting outside at a sushi restaurant … and then I hear a siren and everyone gets up and we walk to the back kitchen because that’s where the bomb shelter is, and then everyone just walks back after ten minutes and sits down like it never even happened,” Quartner said.

He added that tensions in the city escalated when the Israeli ground invasion into the Gaza Strip caused some Israeli soldier casualties.

“They like to say everyone knows everyone in Israel … so you could start to notice a tension there,” he said. “People they knew, either directly or indirectly were dying, and it was one of the first signs that you could have even noticed that there was a war going on.”

Quartner said he is still actively involved in the Tel Aviv-based startup, adding that the unique experience of working in the early stages of a startup in a “dynamic” city makes him want to continue working there in the future.

“It’s not like working a summer at General Electric or something, where you leave and everything is the kind of the same with or without you,” he said. “The next time I come back, it’ll be a completely different place.”