January 14, 2009
The Gaza Riviera
In the advertising business, clients pay us to dream. To dream means not to be too imbedded with reality, to be unshackled from any inconvenient fact that might interfere with the dreaming process, to be, like they say in self-help seminars, appropriately unreasonable.
The price you pay for dreaming is to expose yourself to abuse and ridicule. In a tough world, you never want to be accused of being naïve. The expression, “Are you dreaming?” didn’t develop by accident.
What you can gain by dreaming, though, is significant. Dreaming is only limited by your imagination, so it can lead you to wild and breakthrough ideas. At the very least, it can give you a new way of looking at old problems.
Why am I telling you all this? Because the other day, as my mind was numb from yet another report from the Gaza war zone, I saw something that made me go off on a wild dream. It started with the sight of two Israeli soldiers as they drove into Gaza in an armored personnel carrier, and as I watched the soldiers, I recalled how much Israelis love to go to the beach.
As if I was hallucinating, I then imagined the same two soldiers in their beach clothes, in a convertible roadster, with a surf board sticking out and the music blasting, and instead of going to war, they were going to meet their buddies for a day of partying on the beach.
They were going to the jetsetters’ newest fun spot: the Gaza Riviera.
By now, my mind was losing control. Images started flooding in. I saw this fabulous strip of hotels and casinos right by a sparkling ocean. I imagined thousands of proud Palestinians working with smiles on their faces to serve the thousands of tourists from around the world who were coming to their little strip of ocean paradise.
Behind this paradise, I saw a bustling economy, where the highest quality produce was grown and exported; where entrepreneurs built software companies, banks and advertising agencies; where a university attracted students from around the world; where local culture and the arts thrived; and where you could take the Orient Express train to Beirut, Cairo and, yes, even Tel Aviv.
And then I woke up.
But as I rubbed my eyes and crashed back to the reality of Grad missiles and bombing raids, I realized what the really crazy part of my dream was: It could easily have happened. That’s right, the Palestinians could have built their own Riviera.
Think back to that infamous summer of 2005, the year of the Gaza disengagement, when Israel finally said: OK, you don’t want us here, we’re leaving — take it, it’s all yours. Oh, and we’ll even throw in our state-of-the-art farms and greenhouses, in case you want to continue growing some of the finest produce in the world.
Is there any doubt that had the Palestinians chosen the “Riviera” option, Israel would have welcomed it? That Israel would have responded to this show of good faith and optimism with corresponding gestures of cooperation and good will? That there would have been no need for “suffocating closures”? That, in fact, Israelis, known for their love of life and travel, would have been the first tourists to sample the delightful pleasures of this new Gaza?
Yet tragically, instead of choosing the Riviera option — the option of building for the future — the Palestinians chose the option of killing and dying for the past.
Instead of seizing the moment and showing Israel and the world what they could do with the land that they love, they showed the world that they still hate the Jews more than they love the land.
Instead of using the hundreds of millions the world showered on them to build housing, infrastructure and industry, they built bomb factories and hundreds of tunnels to smuggle rockets they could fire into Israeli towns.
Instead of making laws that would protect the freedoms and rights of their people and encourage investment and innovation, they imposed Sharia laws with such punishments as severing hands, crucifixion and hanging.
Instead of teaching love of life to their children, as Mark Steyn has written, they “marinated them in a sick death cult in which martyrdom in the course of Jew-killing is the greatest goal to which a citizen can aspire.”
Finally, instead of using their Jewish neighbors as allies and trading partners, they provoked them into a destructive war in the hope that the world would renew its hostility for Jews and the Zionist state would be further undermined.
And to an extent, it worked. The world is once again blaming Israel for the Palestinians’ suffering and condemning it for the deaths of civilians used cowardly as human shields.
And once again, Israel is losing the war of images.
But while the images of destruction coming out of Gaza are indeed tragic, there is one missing image that also merits our sorrow. This is the image of what could have been — what the Palestinians could have done with their precious land after Israel left Gaza three and a half years ago.
This is an image where the hero brands are Hilton and Sheraton, rather than Grads and Qassams; where captains of industry overshadow captains of terror gangs; where poets outshine bullies and guitars outshine guns; where the excitement of building for the future overcomes the aphrodisiac of permanent victimhood.
Yes, it’s an image that requires one to dream in wild and unreasonable ways.
But an hour’s drive up the coast from Gaza, you can see an image that was also once nothing but a dream, and that was built without any help from the United Nations or the international community.
It’s an image of a thriving little Riviera called Tel Aviv, and for our Palestinian neighbors, it’s a poignant and concrete reminder of what might have been. l