Michael Nazzal, chairman of Jordan Hotel Association,
presents a peace plaque to Janos Damon,
then chairman of
Tourism4Peace and general manager of the Israel Hotels
Baeri Envisions Olympics
AN one man change the
world? Think of all the individuals who earned the Nobel Prize
by contributing to the betterment of mankind. They left their
mark on the world.
Right now there is no
more worthy cause in international relations than a resolution
to the intractable Israeli/Palestinian struggle. Any person who
can provide a solution deserves the Peace Prize.
Rafi Baeri may very
well become the hero of the Middle East.
For six years he has
pursued the far-fetched notion of altering the landscape of
Arab/Jewish enmity. He wants to change the fight over land into
a fight over sports.
"I’m working to bring the
Olympic Games to Gaza/Tel Aviv," he told me. "The idea is the
brainchild of Peer Wisner, Deputy Mayor of Tel Aviv."
Baeri is vice president
of marketing and sales at the Dan Hotel chain in Israel. I met
him during his July visit to the Dan offices in New York.
London will have the
Olympics in 2012, Rio de Janeiro will host it in 2016, but 2020
is up for grabs. Baeri wants Israel and Gaza to run in tandem
for the 2020 honors.
But will the militant
Hamas, which started a civil war to drive the moderate
Palestinian Authority out of Gaza, and vowed never to recognize
the Jewish state, cooperate in a Gaza/Tel Aviv Olympics?
"It can be done," Baeri
He claimed history backs
him up. As proof he cited Athens and Sparta, eternal enemies,
always at war. Yet every four years they held a truce and
competed in the Olympics instead of the battlefield.
"In our own day during
the 2010 World Cup," he said, "the world came to a standstill.
Everyone, foe and friend, focused on sports."
Baeri said many of his
Arab and Palestinian friends think it’s a wonderful idea.
Rafi Baeri and Janos Damon reveal their vision of
Tourism4Peace at the American Tourism Society
in 2006 at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. Pictured
from left are Raed Saade,
president of the Arab
(Palestinian) Hotel Association; Rafi Baeri, chairman of
the marketing committee
of the Israel Hotel Managers
Association and vice president of marketing and sales of
Dan Hotels Israel; Janos Damon, then chairman of T4P and
general manager of the
Israel Hotels Managers
Association; and Abdul Hakeem El Hindi, general manager
Jordan Hotel Association.
"We want to create a
better travel environment between Israel, Palestine, Egypt and
Jordan. The mainstream Palestinians are enthusiastic about the
idea. They don’t want their children to keep on fighting."
statesmen and diplomats have failed to find a resolution to an
enduring conflict, Baeri believes he can win the hearts and
minds of both sides with sports and travel.
"Maybe this will become a
turning point for Gaza. If Hamas is really working for the
people, as they claim, they will have to embrace an Olympics
with Tel Aviv."
Rather than promote his
dream in the political arena, Baeri has been working with
colleagues in neighboring countries in the travel area. While
the politicians have failed to reconcile the people of the
Middle East, he feels strongly that travel, tourism and sports
can only help.
He said he wants the
people, the intellectuals and the sports community to digest the
idea first. The politicians will come around in time.
He began the initiative
in 2004 by forming a committee with Janos Damon, who was
secretary general of the Israel Hotel Managers Association.
After Damon died this year at age 80, Michael Nazzal,
chairman of Jordan Hotel Association, became president of the
committee, named Tourism4Peace.
Of course it takes cash
to realize a dream of such Olympic proportions. Baeri sounded
quite positive: "I have no doubt there will be enough funds
Baeri is optimistic, but
is he realistic? Can two enemies come together in the name of
sports and travel?
Janos Damon, from left,
chairman of Tourism4Peace; Elhamy ElZayat, chairman of
Emeco Corp, Cairo;
Fahmi Nashashiby, owner of Golden
Walls Hotel in Jerusalem; Richard Elias, vice chairman
Holyland Tour Operators Association, Bethlehem, and
Raed Saade, chairman of the
Arab (Palestinian) Hotel
Association in Jerusalem, at the third Tourism4Peace
board meeting in
October 2006 in Den Hague, Holland.
You don’t have to go all
the way back to ancient Greece to look for clues. Same thing has
already happened in our time, this year in fact.
After Israeli commandos
thwarted a Turkish-led flotilla’s attempt to breach the Gaza
blockade last spring, an angry Turkey—heretofore Israel’s
closest ally in the Islamic sphere—announced it was breaking
diplomatic and military relations.
What about economic
reprisals? No way. It was business as usual.
As The New York Times
reported, "pragmatism is trumping politics."
How? The Turks who wanted
to cut off all relations with Israel "did not know that their
cellphones, personal computers and plasma televisions were made
using parts and technology from Tel Aviv."
The Times report
added that "most of the software Turks use in everything from
cellphones to medical equipment is made in Israel. So unless
Turks want to stop using their computers, boycotting Israel
would mean punishing themselves."
So if the people of Gaza
want to stop punishing themselves, they will welcome a Gaza/Tel
Aviv Olympics in 2020 for the economic benefit of both peoples.
Politics can’t bring them together, but business pragmatism will