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A heart torn: Las Vegas Strip or Gaza Strip?

Obviously, this is Las Vegas!
Obviously, this is Las Vegas!
Photo by Dolev Schreiber

Ask an Israeli- or Palestinian-American who lives in Las Vegas why he or she chose to live there and the response would be, “It looks just like home, but more peaceful. The mountains are a little bigger, but the climate is similar and you don’t have to travel far to reach the Strip.” The biggest difference is that the Las Vegas Strip is lighted by neon lights and the loud sounds that make a heart race are a result of free shows and music while the Gaza Strip and its surroundings are lighted by rockets that produce a deafening sound. It is no wonder, therefore, that Las Vegas makes for a much more comfortable home.

Both the Las Vegas Strip and the Gaza Strip receive less than 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rain per year. Around the two Strips lies a vast desert of mostly hard, infertile ground of which snakes, mice, lizards and bighorn sheep call home. Some small insignificant sand dunes can form here and there, but for the most part the two deserts are characterized by thorns and low shrubs. To take it even further, while the Gaza Strip lies along the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, the Las Vegas Strip stands not-too-far from the shores of Lake Mead. And both convert waste water for agricultural use. One noticeable difference is that Gaza’s proximity to the sea makes it a little cooler in summer and warmer in winter than Las Vegas, but also a bit more humid (check out Gaza statistics at the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics website and Las Vegas Statistics at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website.)

Interestingly, the area of the Gaza Strip is comparable to the area of the city of Las Vegas (130 square miles or 355 square kilometers) while the population of the Gaza Strip is 4 times that of Las Vegas. Furthermore, Clark County, to which Las Vegas belongs, is almost 60 times bigger than the Gaza Strip, but has the same number of residents (approximately two million!) This is roughly the same area as the entire state of Israel (8000 square miles or 21,000 square kilometers), in which the Gaza Strip is currently located, which has a population of nearly eight million, according to the CIA World Fact Book. These statistics were taken from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics and the United States Census Bureau. The population density around Las Vegas, therefore, is much less crowded, which allows its residents to get away from the turmoil of the city and into remote areas much quicker than any such possibility in Israel.

Lastly, under the Gaza Strip runs a system of sophisticated tunnels used to smuggle supplies and people across the borders from and to Egypt and Israel (read a grim article about the tunnels on the BBC website.) Ironically, there are also tunnels under the Las Vegas Strip, although they are used for a much different purpose. The Las Vegas tunnels were built as flood tunnels and still serve the city when rainfall exceeds the capacity that the streets can handle. Most of the year, when the tunnels are dry, they make for good unofficial living quarters for the city’s homeless population (see Matthew O’Brien’s book Beneath the Neon.)

To sum it up, there are many surprising similarities between the Las Vegas and Gaza Strips. Now, more than ever, it is indeed comforting to both Israeli- and Palestinian-Americans to share a common home near the Las Vegas Strip.