MAYBE NOT IN FOUR YEARS, MAYBE NOT IN EIGHT, BUT…

One evening in 2003, I looked at a map of Israel, and I realized that the combined colors of the flags of Israel and the Palestinian Authority were just about the same as those of the Olympic rings.

So?

There were many news stories questioning whether Athens, Greece would have its infrastructure ready for its Olympics. Even the International Olympic Committee wondered aloud whether future Games would need to be regional in order for multiple countries to absorb the multi-billion-dollar costs.

So – what if, someday, somehow, Jerusalem could host the Summer Olympics, with all of the surrounding nations hosting key elements of the Games?

What if the opening and closing ceremonies could be held in Jerusalem, with…

…Lebanon, long known as a tourist destination, taking charge of the hospitality?
…the Palestinian Authority, recognizing the tourism possibilities, arranging extensive tours of Biblical sites within its areas?
…Egypt hosting some of the water events?
…Saudi Arabia leading the equestrian events, in honor of its namesake horse breed?

Imagine a spectacular marathon run from an archeological site in Jordan into Israel…

Impossible! Preposterous! There’s a war going on, terrorists and dictators destroying everything they touch.

The current proposals for peace are tired and obsolete: “Land for peace” results in more bombs, ever closer to all parts of Israel; “ceasefires” are hudnas, opportunities for re-armament for terrorists; international peacekeeping forces are toothless, unable and/or unwilling to do anything more than watch war preparations with binoculars.

We need something different.

It would take perhaps two generations – 40 to 50 years – before such a Games could happen. The first generation would need to adopt the tolerance and related education that recognizes that people can and will think differently and that those differences are okay.

The second generation would literally and figuratively build on the first and implement the physical and logistical preparations needed to host the Games.

Think of the consequences of this preparation; we’ve seen it with each Games:

The host country upgrades all of its infrastructure – roads and all methods of transportation, housing, communications, utilities; People worldwide watch, or better yet visit and participate in a spectacle that (generally) shows the best of human competition and cooperation.

Think of some of the current problems of the Middle East, and how such a regional Games might help:

Most Arab countries suffer from high unemployment rates, a dictatorial ruling class, high poverty rates and have little or no middle class. They have high numbers of young males, many educated with college degrees, and nothing to do. Idle hands are the Devil’s, the saying goes, and such people are ready prey for extreme, violent talk that blames “the other” and promises a quick fix for what appears to be a future of little hope.

Building and upgrading a country’s infrastructure requires workers of all skills and levels, and many would need to be engineers, architects, construction workers, communications technicians, translators, electricians, plumbers and many other professions that make up the middle classes throughout the world. The Arab host countries could create and/or enhance a middle class that would in turn help those nations for generations after the Games.

Think of human nature: We are all competitive, to varying degrees. Competitions are won in two ways – everyone competes to the best of his or her ability, and one simply proves better than the rest; or, someone sabotages the competition and hopes to be the last one left standing.

War is the extreme example of the second type of competition; the Olympics usually highlight the first type. What if we could channel the basic human competitive desire toward the better type? What if each nation, as it agreed to take responsibility for key elements of the Games, said, “We’ll prove to the rest of the world that we can do this part better than anyone!”

With their reputations on the line, they would succeed.

We are all persuaded by the same means, and most powerfully by a two-pronged approach: First, we must be convinced that our current thinking or way of doing things is wrong or bad or just not the best; and second, we must be convinced that an alternative is better.

Worldwide, the Jihadis offer no alternatives; they emphasize and demonstrate destruction. It’s no accident that terrorists have tried to blow up newly (re)built schools, clinics, hospitals and shops; they know nothing else.

The Olympics are that something else. The pride and energy that such an overarching project would require could literally steamroll the Jihadist philosophy into oblivion.

I visited Atlanta in 1978 and didn’t want to go downtown. Now, I work in Atlanta, and, 16 years after it hosted the Olympics, I walk through Centennial Olympic Park at least weekly and walk throughout downtown Atlanta many weekdays. I see the continuing, positive effects of the 1996 Olympics.

The entire Middle East deserves no less. Think of it as “Ping Pong diplomacy gone global,” how mainland China has changed in the past 44 years.

But how? If the ultimate goal would likely not be reached for decades, what interim steps would be best?

Have countries in the Middle East host regional sports events beyond what they currently do? Have an Olympics hosted by multiple nations in a more stable part of the world, perhaps the Scandinavian area, or the newer eastern European nations?

Editor’s note: Cherie Kurland writes from her home in Roswell, Ga.

By Cherie Kurland
For the Atlanta Jewish Times