By Claude Salhani - Trend:
Summary: As bombs continue to fall on Gaza it may be somewhat premature to talk about peace in the Middle East but it is never too early to dream of peace. Imagine a Middle East without war and imagine what the people of the region could achieve if conflict was not omnipresent.
Imagine if billions upon billions of dollars currently being wasted on defense budgets in the combined countries of the region was invested instead in the advancement of social welfare, in encouraging businesses, and stimulating the sciences.
Consider the leaps and bounds that could be made in research and development in technology and medicine if the best brains in the Middle East could work for the benefit of the people of the region instead of looking for ways to emigrate to America and other greener pastures, as is currently the case affecting faculty members from the universities at Ain Shams to Yarmouk and from Beirut to Tel Aviv.
Imagine the rise in intellectual power if students in the Middle East could exchange ideas rather than insults, debate in lieu of hate, and scholarly theses in place of explosive devices. How would the level of education and understanding improve if scholars could lecture across the region without being prevented by man-made frontiers, both physical and mental?
These are just a few basic ideas in a sea of endless possibilities, where the only barriers are those erected by demagoguery and backward thinking. Of which, alas, the Middle East abounds.
Still, imagine the Middle East with a flourishing tourism trade where visitors bringing hard currency by the bucketful arrive on pilgrimages to the Holy Land without fear of bombs exploding in roadside cafes.
Imagine a Middle East where border disputes are a thing of the past. Hard to imagine? Look at Europe; how many wars were fought between France and Germany? Between France and England? Between Germany and Russia? Between the Austrian-Hungarians and their neighbors? How many armies waltzed across Poland and how many times were the borders shifted, re-drawn and shifted back?
Look at Europe today. Twenty-seven nations speaking 23 different languages as diverse as French, Lithuanian, Hungarian and Maltese, practicing dozens of different religions, but united in the single largest economic market in the world. War in Europe today is unimaginable because the EU has intertwined the economies of its member states in such a manner that it is simply unthinkable for any two members to resort to armed conflict any longer. How difficult could it be for the Middle East where there are only two languages and far fewer religions?
So imagine a similar political climate enveloping the Middle East where tourists arrive by cruise liner to Beirut or Haifa, or by charter flights to Baghdad, Tehran or Ben Gurion airports and are free to roam throughout the region without worry of fundamentalist abduction or of Israeli threats of retaliation on a massive scale, as is going on in Gaza today. Visualize how business and as a result the standard of living would benefit if people and merchandise could be driven from Lebanon to Israel, to Gaza and on to Egypt.
Think of what the tourism industry could offer with its temperate climates most of the year. When Europe is freezing in the dead of winter, and depression and suicide rates climb to their highest point in northern Europe, when the sun is visible for just a few hours a day, if that, the beaches of Beirut, Tel Aviv and Gaza only a couple of hours by plane from any European country can be very enticing - and economically sound.
Imagine a vast industrial zone established in Gaza where labor is abundant, easy to train, and inexpensive; and where European and US car manufacturers can open assembly plants and textile mills to market their products in the Middle East and Africa and beyond.
Imagine Christian pilgrims looking to follow in the footsteps of the great prophets, travelling unhindered from Israel to Palestine to Jordan to Syria and to Lebanon. Imagine Muslim pilgrims doing the same from Makkah and Medina to Karbala, Jerusalem and Qom. Imagine Syrian Jews being allowed to return to visit Damascus.
Imagine a Middle East without refugees! Where the camps of shame - now 66 years in existence, and where second - and now third-generation refugees are still squatting amid rancor and misery - no longer exist.
Imagine those camps replaced by decent, modern and comfortable apartment buildings with all the amenities of modern life; where the idle youth who were once only too happy to be offered an AK-47, a monthly stipend consisting of a few hundred dollars, along with unlimited prestige that accompanied the uniform of a "freedom fighter," and nothing else, let alone hope for a better future, can now aspire to a better life for themselves and their families. Give them a taste of what life should be like, then take a head count to see how many remain in line for suicide missions.
Amid the death and destruction what would it take to for neighbors to be, well, neighborly? The answer is somewhat simple: the day the antagonists in the Middle East will agree on peace is when they develop greater love for their children that the hate they harbor for their enemies.
Claude Salhani is a political analyst and senior editor with Trend Agency.