Gaza City's al-Saha market
Dani Rubinstein

TEL AVIVâ€" Just a few days before the decision by the European Parliament to label products coming from Israeli settlements a survey was released to gauge Palestinian opinion about boycotts as a way to punish Israel's policy.

The Jerusalem Media and Communications Center (JMCC), a Palestinian research institute, surveyed 1200 people from East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza about the boycott issue. Some 50% said they supported a full boycott on all made-in-Israel products, yet only 10% said they wanted a boycott of products only from Jewish settlements. In other words, Palestinians don’t care if the products come from the West Bank or from Tel Aviv.

In a similar survey published six months ago, 60% of the people said they supported a full boycott on Israeli products, which means Palestinian support overall for the international sanctions is declining. Only one-third of the respondents said they themselves refuse to buy any Israeli products (often there are no Palestinian substitutes for certain Israeli-made product), and 12% did not support any boycott at all.

The idea of a boycott on Israeli products has been consuming Palestinians for the past decade, since the movement first began abroad. Palestinian officials who visited Europe in the past were asked how could the Europeans be expected to help against the settlements if Palestinians themselves were buying their products.

Basic economics

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad initiated a law at that time that prohibited buying any settler-made products, which included a public list of all the Israeli factories in the West Bank, as well as fines and prison sentences of 2-5 years to those who sell, deal or store settlements products. Moreover, Palestinians who worked in Israeli factories were required to quit their job and find a different one in Palestinian factories.

Even with the measures taken back then by the Palestinian government, the boycott on products coming from Israeli settlements failed for simple economic reasons. Today 40,000 Palestinians work in Israeli settlements and factories in the West Bank. The salary of a Palestinian working in Israeli factories is three times higher than the average West Bank salary.

Though half the Palestinians may still support the boycott on Israeli products, the boycott has no real chance to succeed since the Palestinian economy is so utterly dependent on Israel.

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Society

Why Chinese Cities Waste Millions On Vanity Building Projects

The so-called "White Elephants," or massive building projects that go unused, keep going up across China as local officials mix vanity and a misdirected attempt to attract business and tourists. A perfect example the 58-meter, $230 million statue of Guan Yu, a beloved military figure from the Third Century, that nobody seems interested in visiting.

Statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou Park, China

Chen Zhe


BEIJING — The Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development recently ordered the relocation of a giant statue in Jingzhou, in the central province of Hubei. The 58-meter, 1,200-ton statue depicts Guan Yu, a widely worshipped military figure from the Eastern Han Dynasty in the Third century A.D.

The government said it ordered the removal because the towering presence "ruins the character and culture of Jingzhou as a historic city," and is "vain and wasteful." The relocation project wound up costing the taxpayers approximately ¥300 million ($46 million).

Huge monuments as "intellectual property" for a city

In recent years local authorities in China have often raced to create what is euphemistically dubbed IP (intellectual property), in the form of a signature building in their city. But by now, we have often seen negative consequences of such projects, which evolved from luxurious government offices to skyscrapers for businesses and residences. And now, it is the construction of cultural landmarks. Some of these "white elephant" projects, even if they reach the scale of the Guan Yu statue, or do not necessarily violate any regulations, are a real problem for society.

It doesn't take much to be able to differentiate between a project constructed to score political points and a project destined for the people's benefit. You can see right away when construction projects neglect the physical conditions of their location. The over the top government buildings, which for numerous years mushroomed in many corners of China, even in the poorest regional cities, are the most obvious examples.

Homebuyers looking at models of apartment buildings in Shanghai, China — Photo: Imaginechina/ZUMA

Guan Yu transformed into White Elephant

A project truly catering to people's benefit would address their most urgent needs and would be systematically conceived of and designed to play a practical role. Unfortunately, due to a dearth of true creativity, too many cities' expression of their rich cultural heritage is reduced to just building peculiar cultural landmarks. The statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou is a perfect example.

Long ago Jinzhou was a strategic hub linking the North and the South of China. But its development has lagged behind coastal cities since the launch of economic reform a generation ago.

This is why the city's policymakers came up with the idea of using the place's most popular and glorified personality, Guan Yu (who some refer to as Guan Gong). He is portrayed in the 14th-century Chinese classic "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms" as a righteous and loyal warrior. With the aim of luring tourists, the city leaders decided to use him to create the city's core attraction, their own IP.

Opened in June 2016, the park hosting the statue comprises a surface of 228 acres. In total it cost ¥1.5 billion ($232 million) to build; the statue alone was ¥173 million ($27 million). Alas, since the park opened its doors more than four years ago, the revenue to date is a mere ¥13 million ($2 million). This was definitely not a cost-effective investment and obviously functions neither as a city icon nor a cultural tourism brand as the city authorities had hoped.

China's blind pursuit of skyscrapers

Some may point out the many landmarks hyped on social media precisely because they are peculiar, big or even ugly. However, this kind of attention will not last and is definitely not a responsible or sustainable concept. There is surely no lack of local politicians who will contend for attention by coming up with huge, strange constructions. For those who can't find a representative figure, why not build a 40-meter tall potato in Dingxi, Gansu Province, a 50-meter peony in Luoyang, Shanxi Province, and maybe a 60-meter green onion in Zhangqiu, Shandong Province?

It is to stop this blind pursuit of skyscrapers and useless buildings that, early this month, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued a new regulation to avoid local authorities' deviation from people's real necessities, ridiculous wasted costs and over-consumption of energy.

I hope those responsible for the creation of a city's attractiveness will not simply go for visual impact, but instead create something that inspires people's intelligence, sustains admiration and keeps them coming back for more.

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