By Nadia W. Awad – The West Bank
Dubai was the center of attention again last week as it spent $20 million on an exorbitantly lavish, all-night party to celebrate the opening of its latest hotel, the Atlantis Palm Jumeirah. Described as the party of the decade, no expense was spared. Two thousand celebrities accepted an all-expenses-paid invitation to join the celebrations, with Hollywood stars such as Robert de Niro, Lindsay Lohan, Wesley Snipes, and at least one Olsen twin found sipping Dom Pérignon with Dubai’s royal family. Kylie Minogue was paid somewhere in the region of $1 and $3.5 million for a 45 minute performance, followed by DJ Sam Ronson and others. The 1,539 room hotel boasts the exclusive Bridge Suite, which alone costs $35,000 per night to stay in. We all know the Chinese like to do things big, but the fireworks display at the Beijing Olympics was dwarfed by the Atlantis’s display, which was seven times the size of the Beijing show and could apparently be seen quite clearly from space.
But before you start wondering whether you’ve wandered onto the wrong site or are reading an article from The Insider, rest assured – this descriptive introduction does have a point! I don’t believe I was the only person to read about the party and its copious expense without thinking that the timing of the whole event was in very poor taste. As I read a description of the elaborate fireworks display, I couldn’t help but consider the 1.5 million Palestinians living in darkness in Gaza, courtesy of an Israeli blockade on food, fuel and medical supplies– 20 days and counting so far. Meanwhile, the world is sinking deeper into a global financial crisis which Dubai seems to be in denial of; millions of people have and will lose their jobs; and military and humanitarian crises are still ongoing in places like Darfur, Iraq, DR Congo and Zimbabwe. Not to mention the 2,000 or so flights to Dubai for the A-list celebrities that probably chipped off a little more from our melting polar icecaps. Still, there was no evidence of concern as tycoons and celebrities streamed into Dubai for what was reportedly the world’s most expensive private party. In true capitalist style, the rich have once again found a way to ‘party as the world burns’.
However, this article is not a criticism of capitalism, or the activities of the world’s rich. There are plenty of other people who are better adept at doing that job. Rather, my argument is with Dubai itself, as an emirate of the UAE and a member of the Arab and Muslim world. There is no denying that Dubai, along with the other emirates, has given millions in aid to the Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority, for which Palestinians are ever grateful. There is even a section of Gaza named after Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the late ruler of Abu Dhabi, who funded the construction of housing units there. Nevertheless, there is more than one type of support that can be given. Unfortunately, Dubai usually resorts to what it does best – it throws money at a problem, just as it has thrown money to the Palestinian people. When it comes to moral and political support, it is less forthcoming. While we are aware that the original residents of Dubai support the Palestinian cause, we rarely hear their government take a controversial stance on it. True, like most other Arab and Muslim nations, Dubai does not have diplomatic or political relations with Israel. However, it has relations of another kind. In this regard, the name Lev Leviev comes to mind.
Earlier this year, controversy erupted when Dubai announced it had allowed the diamond magnate, Lev Leviev, to open two retail stores in the Gulf emirate, including one just opened in the Atlantis. What it did not announce was that Lev Leviev is an Israeli billionaire and a major funder of illegal settlement construction in the Palestinian Territories, including infamous settlements such as Har Homa and Maale Adumim. Two of his companies, Africa-Israel and Leader Management & Development, as well as several other subsidiaries such as Danya Cebus, have been primary forces in the displacement of Palestinian villagers from their lands in the West Bank. Leviev is also a major donor to the Israeli Land Redemption Fund, which is known to use illicit means to obtain Palestinian land for Israeli settlements. Granted, the Dubai authorities initially displayed an unwillingness to award the Israeli billionaire a license to do business in Dubai; but apparently those feelings of reluctance were dispelled when Leviev used American and European connections to persuade Dubai officials otherwise.
To donate millions of dollars in assistance to the Palestinians and then to profit from business dealings with a primary funder of Palestinian land theft is hypocrisy at its best. The lavish hotel opening last week was just another example of Dubai’s lack of tact and sensitivity. The Atlantis itself is owned by Solomon Kerzner, a South African billionaire, but the cost of the party was split between him and the Dubai government-owned Nakheel PJSC, also a developer of the hotel. Perhaps business is merely that, business. But in the heart of the Middle East, it would have behooved Dubai to express a little solidarity with the suffering of its fellow Arabs, the Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, perhaps by donating some of the firework display funds to purchase fuel for Gaza’s power plant, or by having a moment of silence. Or perhaps by kicking Leviev out of the emirate, or at least, putting pressure on him to refrain from illegal settlement building. Big business is not the only goal in life.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband infuriated the Israeli government when he informed them of his intention to press for EU tariffs to be imposed on produce and products coming from Israeli settlements. Londoners demonstrated outside a large supermarket to bring attention to the fact that produce coming from the illegal settlements is being sold in Britain under the misleading ‘West Bank’ label. On the other hand, Dubai, who has more in common with us historically, geographically, culturally and religiously, is helping to bankroll a major Israeli settlement builder, indirectly causing untold misery for Palestinians. Dubai is not the first Arab state to have business dealings with Israelis, nor is it likely to be the last; but to have dealings with such a man as Leviev helps to undermine efforts to stop illegal settlement construction. As one Palestinian official in Gaza said, “We never imagined that a day would come when we would have to appeal to an Arab country to refrain from harming us and undermining our cause."
To say Palestinians feel a bit betrayed is an understatement. We definitely need humanitarian aid, but more importantly, we also need Arab and other international nations to stand by us morally and politically, shoulder to shoulder, in the face of an ever-worsening Israeli occupation. And as always, actions speak louder than words.
(Originally published in MIFTAH – www.miftah.org – November 24, 2008)