If the people of Gaza were free to choose, what sort of society would they build?
I pondered this question a couple of weeks ago, while standing outside the Shimon Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa. I stood facing the sea, taking in a landscape of exquisite beauty.
I thought to myself: This same stunning beach continues into Gaza. These same million dollar views. The same potential to build an economic infrastructure, utilizing this dazzling gift of nature. How many lovely hotels and restaurants could be built to face this same glorious sunset? How many people could be employed?
But Hamas, in control of Gaza for a decade, is not in the business of building an economic infrastructure. They are busy building terror tunnels into Israel. The materials, manpower, and money that go into constructing an apparatus to terrorize Israelis could be put into the service of building an economy for Palestinians.
It still could.
If the day ever comes when a different leadership controls this territory, other choices are possible. The sea isn’t going anywhere.
I’ll admit that, even under different leadership, a leadership dedicated to peaceful coexistence with Israel, the idea of tourists visiting a Gaza hotel or restaurant will take time to catch on. Probably a long time.
The optimist in me wants to believe that people and cultures can change. The cynic in me is rolling her eyes.
My optimist and my cynic argue with each other a lot.
Which brings me back to the question of what people in Gaza would choose for their future if they were free to do so.
My optimist says that they would jump at the chance to advance themselves economically, to build a better future for their children, to embrace peace while building something amazing alongside Israel.
The cynic in me notes yet another survey showing widespread Palestinian support for terror against Israelis.
The optimist in me says that surveys conducted in unfree places are not to be trusted. Perhaps people are afraid to answer honestly, and will give the answer that they think is expected.
The cynic in me recalls how Gazans celebrated last week after a bus in Jerusalem was blown up. Hamas took credit for the attack.
Then, a third party enters this conversation — the realist. The realist wonders: How long would it take to prepare the people of Gaza to live peacefully alongside Israel, to un-teach the toxic Jew-hatred in which these people have been immersed for decades? To help Gazans internalize the values that go into building a free, pluralistic, civil society?
Both the optimist and the cynic go silent.
A final story. At Moshav Nativ HaAsara you will find a remarkable art installation. This moshav sits right at Israel’s border with Gaza, alongside the enormous gray concrete wall which separates the two.
Tsameret Zamir is a ceramics artist living on the moshav. She wanted to transform the ugly, but necessary, wall into a statement of peace. How? By turning it into a colorful mosaic made of thousands of ceramic pieces that she has handcrafted, and which others affix to the wall.
Tables next to the wall are covered with tiny ceramic flowers, doves, and the word ‘peace’ in English, Hebrew, and Arabic. They await the hands of residents and/or visitors who wish to attach the images to the wall in a gesture of peace.
Art that gives form to hope, to a message, to a prayer.
I had the opportunity to add a piece to this mosaic a few weeks ago, along with a delegation of visitors in Israel for P2G@20, which celebrated 20 years of partnership between communities in Israel and the Diaspora.
As I glued my piece to the wall, the optimist and the cynic began arguing yet again.
If the people of Gaza were free, might there be a few souls who would craft a message of peace on their side of the wall?
I don’t know the answer. The only insight I gained was from this bit of the wall, on which the words ‘peace’ and ‘סבלנות’ (patience) appear side by side.
Because right now, to maintain any hope for the first, we will need a lot of the second.