Joseph Cox
Finding Beauty in Complexity

The ‘Day After’ can be more than a good story

Gaza City, 2006

In 2016, I started work on The City on the Heights. In the book, a geographically small city – akin to Hong Kong, West Berlin or Amsterdam – was created to serve as a model for an Arab world roiled by sectarian violence.

Unlike so many books that suggest new ways forward in conflict zones, the City on the Heights did not approach the Syrian Civil War with rose-colored glasses. The story featured terrorists, torture, sectarian murders and extreme violence. Nonetheless, as the plot unfolds, we see how a city for refugees can turn into an economically dynamic, independent and peaceful model for a region at war.

I wrote the City because I’ve long believed that the most important variable in any social equation is not policy, economics or law – but culture. It is culture that must be understood, and then worked with, before any true change can be realized. The City was an opportunity for me to explore this concept in the context of culture.

Fast forward eight years. Israel is in desperate need for a “Day After plan for Gaza. The conventional options include withdrawal, wall-building, international aid, and suppression. Over the course of the last decades, each of these has been tried, and each has failed. Something new is clearly needed. A few months ago, a friend (with a lot of friends) challenged me. She said “forget the op-eds, forget the fiction – write me a detailed proposal of exactly what you’d do and I’ll make sure it gets seen.”

Building off the work that started with The City on the Heights I did just that. What emerged was the North Gaza Project.

The North Gaza Project (NGP) was developed around a single core principle: Cultural and civic development must be encouraged and developed prior to shifting power to the local population in Gaza. That cultural and civic development is underpinned by enabling people to lead productive and increasingly self-sustaining lives in which they feel a connection to a higher purpose.

In practical terms, this yielded the follow general guidelines:

  • Self-selection: The population that lives within the NGP is self-selecting. It works, from day one, with those who at least profess an interest in creating a new reality and it expels those who align themselves with Hamas or other terrorist organizations. This stacks the odds in favor of the project’s success, despite the possibility that many Gazans would oppose it.
  • Defined Milestones: Judicial and other responsibilities are delegated to the local population only once a track record of success have been demonstrated using pre-defined metrics. This borrows heavily from modern quality control systems. Issues that escape the locally governed management systems (from terrorist activities or judicial collusion) would slow or reverse the process of delegation. At the same time, a good track record will yield greater and greater local control.
  • Investment, not Debt or Aid: Aid tends to corrupt local societies (see the Palestinian Authority, the former Afghani government etc…) This is because those who are best at ‘repurposing’ aid rise to power and control. The result is often rebellion by extremists who hate the values of the aid-providers themselves. At the other extreme, developmental loans tend to cripple developing economies under extreme debt burdens. The North Gaza Project side-steps both of these issues. National and personal debt is issued not in dollars or a local currency, but on the basis of average local work days. The Project might borrow 100,000 local work days of value to build a road. That might be $1.3M (at present earnings of $13/day). The terms of the loan might have the Project repaying 50,000 local work days in 10 years. If productivity rises from, say $13/day to perhaps $100/day, the value of these loans would rise dramatically (to $5M). Nonetheless, the relative cost to the local population would actually be lower than when the loans were taken. If the local economy takes a hit, the value would drop, but the local burden (50,000 days worth of work in 10 years) would remain the same. There would be no crushing debt burden. In effect, this sort of ‘loan’ is actually an equity investment in the success of the Project. Those who lend, both to the Project and to individuals within the Project, would be invested in its success. It should be a model for all emerging economies.
  • Simple, Growth-Focused Tax: The tax and welfare systems are designed to encourage investment and productivity. The NGP institutes a progressive consumption tax (a sales tax). This tax has negative rates for low levels of spending that supplement the earnings of the working poor as well as carve-outs for investment activity in order to encourage business. This would be the only tax and would be carried out on a transaction-by-transaction basis. There would be no regular quarterly or annual filings or multiple levels of tax. This system is  possible only with modern fintech. It would result in the most efficient tax system in the world, while encouraging  productivity, ownership and responsibility.
  • Political Rights only after the establishment of Civil Society: The system does not guarantee political rights from day one. As demonstrated in Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and even Rwanda, political rights most effectively follow the creation of a civil society, not the other way around. Examples abound of this process being reversed, including in Russia, Egypt, Tunisia, Sudan, Haiti and even Gaza itself. By walking towards political rights in a clear and well-defined way, the Project rewards civic growth and protects against the risks of elections that mimic the illness of a society that has not yet developed civic values.
  • Weapons Last: Arming of a local police force would only follow the professionalization of local police management. In other words, an armed locally-staffed police force would only come after significant strides have been made in the establishment of a civil society.

Yesterday, it was reported that the Israeli government’s official policy is one of establishing non-Hamas zones in the North – to be followed by the gradual extension of civil and political rights to the local population. 

Sound familiar? Now, I know there is no bright line that can be drawn from the City on the Heights to the North Gaza Project to the news that hit yesterday. Indeed, until the details are released, it isn’t clear how many of the above principles have been taken into account in the official roadmap. Already, it is clear that some have not.

Nonetheless, the news gives me hope that my work (and that of others who are struggling to learn from the mistakes of the past) will eventually contribute to a better tomorrow.

About the Author
Joseph Cox lives in Modiin, Israel and has written 12 books. The latest published book is "A Multi Colored Coat... an autobiography of sorts".
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