none.gif (43 bytes)mag_header02.gif (1948 bytes)
mer_header02.gif (882 bytes)mag_header01.gif (1660 bytes)


June 1998
return to index




MER - 6/23/98:

Like the Indians of America, Palestinians have become day laborers building housing for the "settlers" who have taken away their lands while all around them their society crumbles and decays. Drugs and alcohol have become prevalent; the social and family structures have seriously collapsed. And now, compliments of the corrupt and inept "Arafat regime", luxury gambling casinos are on the way!

In another twist of fate, Palestinian workers more far more believing in Hamas than Arafat are building the very "Haram" casinos they will never enter and which will further corrupt and infect their society.

"We will break their bones" Yitzhak Rabin, then Defense Minister in the Likud Government of Yitzhak Shamir, proudly declared when the Palestinian Intifada began 10 years ago. He found in Arafat the kind of corrupt, gullible and despotic "leader" he needed to pursue such goals through far more crafty means.




JERICHO, West Bank (AP - 6/8/98)) - The curtains are tightly drawn at the Seven Trees restaurant to keep what many in this Muslim town would consider a shameful secret - young Palestinians are training to deal blackjack and spin roulette wheels.

The croupiers are to go to work this fall in a luxury casino hotel being built in the desert near biblical Jericho and just across the road from the mud-brick huts of the Aqabat Jaber refugee camp.

Yasser Arafat's government considers the $46 million casino is an important marker on the Palestinians' long road from dependence on international handouts to prosperity.

But Islamic militants - led by the Hamas group, Arafat's most powerful political rival - say they will try to scuttle the project. Gambling is "haram,'' or forbidden by Islam, they say.

At stake is more than a Palestinian mini-Las Vegas.

The casino planners, headed by Mohammed Rashid, Arafat's free-wheeling economic adviser, believe Palestinians will have an economic future only if they can attract large numbers of tourists and develop a service industry. Hamas fears that would lead to the dismantling of traditional Palestinian society. "We consider this project a serious challenge to Islam and to Muslims,'' said Ismail Hanieh, a Hamas leader.

The casino planners are trying to keep things under wraps until the opening, tentatively set for late August.

No billboards announce that the gray concrete colossus going up next to the Jerusalem-Jericho highway will be a 200-room, five-star hotel with 220 slot machines and 28 gaming tables.

In Jericho, the training of the casino staff is kept quiet, too. In recent weeks, would-be croupiers, cashiers and security guards have been learning their trade behind drawn curtains in a hall of the Seven Trees garden restaurant otherwise used for weddings.

During a recent visit, a reporter caught a glimpse of blackjack and roulette tables in the hall and job applicants filling out forms at outdoor tables, but was not permitted to interview any of them.

Instructors from Britain, Denmark and elsewhere were brought in by the lead contractor, Casinos Austria International Ltd., which is based in Brisbane, Australia.

Its parent company runs 12 casinos in Austria and is involved in an additional 100 gaming halls worldwide. Palestinian investors and Arafat's Palestinian Authority are junior partners in the Jericho project.

Rashid said the casino hotel and an adjacent golf course would eventually employ 1,200 people, 98 percent of them Palestinians.

Already, the project has proven a boon for Aqabat Jaber, a refugee camp of 4,000 people and few jobs. Every morning, workers from the camp trudge across the road to the construction site. Others stream in from Jericho and other West Bank towns.

Those less lucky sit near the camp's main square, pondering whether it is more important to feed a family or observe the edicts of Islam.

Abdel Rahman Yaghi, a blacksmith, said he sought spiritual advice when offered a two-day welding job at the casino. The camp preacher said no, but Yaghi, a father of six, went anyway. "We have to work, and we have to live,'' he said, sipping mint tea outside his idle workshop.

Jericho's preacher, Sheik Harb Jaber, has allowed members of his flock to do construction work at the site, but said it was absolutely "haram'' to seek employment in the casino itself.

"Gambling is the work of the devil,'' Jaber said during an interview in his Jericho home.

Claiming most townsfolk agree with him, Jaber said he will keep preaching against the casino, but do no more than that.

Rashid said he didn't mind criticism but warned that the Palestinian Authority would not tolerate any violence aimed at the casino.

"We are not forcing anyone to work there. We are not forcing anyone to visit,'' Rashid said.

Casino officials are evasive about whether they will bar Palestinians from gambling as a peace offering to Hamas.

Casinos Austria said in a statement it will try to attract gamblers from "Israel and international markets, i.e. non-Palestine passport holders.''

Most Israelis are reluctant to enter Palestinian-governed areas, fearing attacks by Islamic radicals. However, the lure of slot machines is powerful, especially now that the casinos in Turkey, once a popular destination for Israeli gamblers, have shut down.

The Jericho casino is conveniently close - just a little over an hour's drive from Tel Aviv and 30 minutes from Jerusalem. From the nearest Israeli military outpost, it's just 200 yards to the roulette tables.

Most foreign visitors to the Holy Land now book into Israeli hotels and spend only a few hours in Palestinian towns. Rashid wants to tempt them to stay longer.

In addition to building the casino, he plans to celebrate the millennium in Bethlehem, Jesus' traditional birthplace, with an international beauty pageant and a world class soccer tournament.

"To attract tourists, you don't only take them to see where Jesus was born. You have to give them attractions,'' he said.

From: Associated Press, 6/8/98.




Copyright Mid-East Realities & The Committee On The Middle East.
All rights reserved.  POBox 18367 - Washington, DC 20036 .  MER@MiddleEast.Org

Phone (202) 362-5266, x 638    Fax (202) 362-6965    Web http://www.MiddleEast.Org