If you're ever in Gaza and have the time for a museum visit, pop by the Al-Mathaf Hotel. Here in dusty glass showcases you’ll find treasures on display dating back to the days when this coastal area was still one of the ancient world’s major trade centers. Tempora mutantur (times change) — the wealth of the Philistines is well in the past: Gaza today is about misery, war and death.
The Palestinian strip of coastland has become a cipher for an apparently unsolvable conflict. For decades this small scrap of land has been thrown back and forth between powers, administered by Egypt, occupied by Israel. And it is one of the bitter paradoxes of world politics that nobody wants responsibility for the area that is nevertheless constantly fought over.
To break the cycle of catastrophe you need not only considerable effort, strength, good will, luck — you need the right timing. And the question is: Might we finally strike the right time now for Gaza? Of course, experience in the Middle East has shown that as a general rule the pessimists turn out to be the realists. When something changes here, it’s usually for the worse.
And there’s no dearth of horror scenarios for what will take place after this war, particularly as the brutality of the fighting provides ample reasons for renewed hatreds. But if in all the routine gloom you allow yourself another point of view, there are several indications that the time is ripe for change.
A pro-Palestinian protest in Rome — Photo: Bruno
The reason for this is not only that, historically, wars — with all the ruin they cause — can mark a turning point in and of themselves. But what changes the game this time is that all players say that after this devastating clash there can be no going back to the way things were. The old status quo was intolerable: Gaza’s 360 square kilometers have been a prison for 1.8 million people. There’s just enough to eat so as not to die. But there’s not enough to make life worth living — no perspectives, no hope.
This misery feeds the extremism that no military mission no matter how massive can ever conquer. Gaza’s status quo ante is torture for its people, a scandal for the world, and a permanent or at least periodic threat for Israel. Gaza needs breathing room — and the world needs a plan.
The blockade politics practiced by Egypt and Israel can now conclusively be seen as failed. Instead there must be internationally coordinated efforts that result in a guarantee of Israel’s right to peace from rockets and the right of those living in Gaza to prospects in life. Free import and export of goods must also be guaranteed, even as weapons must be prevented from entering the area. Both freedom and control are needed.
So much for the vision. The path to it is thorny indeed. One prerequisite for success is that the outside world, which previously deliberately ignored this infamous Strip, invests a lot of attention, money and patience in the build-up plan. Israel particularly must do a great deal: That country has to bring about a political paradigm change and recognize that neither fear tactics nor the concept of divide-and-rule in their relations with the Palestinians can hope to bring any lasting security.
And Hamas ruling Gaza is certainly not the right partner for the implementation of such an ambitious plan. The goal must ultimately to be a fight against not only the misery but the extremism — and thus to deny support for the extremists.
The only person who can solve this problem is President Mahmoud Abbas with the unity government he formed before the war started. So far, Israel has opposed this government. That was a mistake that must be urgently righted. Abbas must become the discussion partner for all sides and reap the gratitude of Gaza’s people when life there improves. What will beat Hamas isn’t weapons, it’s prosperity. An empowered Abbas could also breathe new life into the idle peace process.
All of this is a plan in the conjunctive. Right now not even the dust from all the fighting has settled. Gaza will most likely not find its way back to the luster it enjoyed in ancient times. Nevertheless, in recent years the chances have never been so great that history could take a positive turn.
It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.
PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.
Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.
Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.
Share capital of one billion
The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).
The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.
Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.
While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.
The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down
Raising Initial Coin Offering
Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.
For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."
What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".
Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.
Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.
Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.
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