The idea of establishing a nuclear museum in Dimona is nothing short of fantastic. It's hard to believe no one thought of it until now. It must have been that opacity cast a fog over creativity.
The plan - as reported in the press last week, and as can be gleaned from the remarks of the designer, the architect Tommy Leitersdorf - is not confined to a museum. It involves an ambitious project that will cover a total area of about 30,000 square meters, with the built-up section to cover 100 dunams (25 acres) at the entrance to the city. The project will include a commercial center of the type that exist at two kibbutzim, Ga'ash and Shfayim, near Tel Aviv, and a tourism area in the style of Disneyland and Las Vegas, including an artificial lake.
This is without a doubt the triumphant post-Zionist answer to the heroic Zionist vision. Perhaps an amusement and leisure project will succeed where other attempts to resuscitate Dimona - proud but unworkable initiatives such as heavy industry, textile plants and a "nuclear research center" - have failed.
The Zionist enterprise has been a constant source of disappointment for the southern development town. The scientists at the nuclear reactor were expected to integrate into the life of the town but opted for more attractive places of residence. The townsfolk, who from the outset were brought there whether they liked it or not, lived in the shadow of the threatening presence of the "textile factory" (the mythological literary name of the Nuclear Research Center) and of the textile factories without quotation marks, in which many of them worked until they were fired as the age of globalization set in. Now, maybe the system that hurt them will redound to their benefit.
There is a sense of historic justice and of the closing of a circle in the fact that these people will now be part of a project that also involves the scientists of the nuclear reactor and in the fact that its location will be the abandoned but impressive building of the Sivei Dimona textile factory, which will be renovated for the purpose.
The entrepreneurs include people of both vision and concrete deed: Peretz Bonei Hanegev, the successful construction company based in another Negev development town, Sderot; the scientists of the nuclear center; Shimon Peres, the father of the nuclear reactor and of the policy of "deterrent ambiguity"; Leitersdorf, former chairman of the Society for the Development of the Negev and the Government Tourist Company, and a visionary in his own right; and the entertainer Dudu Topaz.
The integration of vision, technology and architecture is not new in the Negev. It underlay the idea of making the wilderness blossom, the building of the new towns of which Dimona is one, and the establishment of the Nuclear Research Center, in which the finest architects of the time took part. The same combination underlies the current project, with the added entertainment element as personified by Dudu Topaz - who is without a doubt an extreme postmodernist version of the Zionist man of vision. In light of the cracks that have appeared in the vision, maybe the entertainment element will make the difference.
According to Leitersdorf, one of the problems of the Negev is its image. "In the Israeli consciousness, the Negev is a place where one does reserve duty, where there are sandstorms and failed industries, and where people were taken in the middle of the night in the 1950s to godforsaken towns. That image has to be shattered. What did the Americans do at Las Vegas? They took a rundown place in the middle of the desert and turned it into an oasis and a gold mine."
Leitersdorf has quite a bit of experience in the entertainment sphere. In various design jobs in which he was in involved in Africa, he worked with people from the Disney Corporation, who taught him a thing or two, he said.
"From my teachers and mentors at Disney, I learned that an artificial lake in the middle of a desert is a far more alluring attraction than a lake amid the lawns of Hayarkon Park," he said.
And the secrets of the atom, he added, can be presented interactively, in a way that will be understood by everyone, and with the aid of new illustrative methods. Creative cooperation between atomic scientists, savvy entrepreneurs, and skilled architects and planners of exhibitions, with the help of attractive visualization techniques, can expose what until now was so ambiguous and opaque.
The shoppers and visitors, on whom the success of the project will depend, will not be satisfied with crumbs of information and old wives' tales, and the entrepreneurs will exert pressure.
Sometimes there is something positive in yielding to the laws of the free market and the ambitions of investors for a profit. This could be a notable leap forward in the relations between Israel and its atom - from a policy of ambiguity to one of popularity ratings. Even Mordechai Vanunu never dreamed of anything like this. His appointment as director of the project will be an honorable gesture.
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