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Lobby of the Intercontintal Hotel in Jericho


Intecontinental Hotel
photo by Rhonda Spivak


Outdoor Pool Area not open during winter season at Intercontinetal Hotel
photo by Rhonda Spivak


Jericho scene
photo by Rhonda Spivak

 
WHEN YASSIR ARAFAT GAMBLED: A TRIP TO THE INTERCONTINENTAL HOTEL IN JERICHO

by Rhonda Spivak, March 3, 2013

I was almost set to leave Jericho, in the unilaterally declared Palestinian State when Faisal my Arab driver from East Jerusalem drove up near the five star newly opened Intercontinental Hotel in Jericho.
 

I was going to take a peek at the Hotel, go to the washroom there, and then leave Jericho to head back to Jerusalem, to Israeli jurisdiction. On one hand, I was eager to leave, knowing that every minute when I am in Jericho, I am under the jurisdiction not of Israel or the Israel Defense Forces but of the Palestinian Authority. We had just passed the Palestinian security services building/compound, and I was very aware that Faisal did not want to go anywhere near any Palestinian security or government buildings. This was obvious by how fast he sped by them, (especially if he sensed I might try to get a photo) or avoided taking streets near them. In fact there was one palatial looking PA government building that I had asked Faisal to see, but he kept ignoring the request, or saying we’d get near there soon. We never did get there, and I don’t think it was an accident. Faisal knew I was from Canada, and while it’s possible he thought I was Jewish (a friend of mine had used a Hebrew word when he had picked me up),I think he wanted to make sure he got in and out of Jericho without having any contact with any PA police whatsoever.

When I got out of the car to enter the hotel, Faisal automatically went to the parking lot to wait for me. I asked him if he wanted to come see the hotel. He declined. Then I said, I was hungry and wanted him to join me and my friend for lunch, “Come on. It’s my treat.” Faisal was taken back, not expecting to be invited and said he had eaten already. “I’ll buy you dessert, come on.” He agreed. Faisal, who only lives 20 minutes away in East Jerusalem, had never been inside the hotel, always assuming that it was out of his price range.

 

The hotel clerk told us that the hotel gets many guests from Europe and Russia, and also gets a lot of internal Palestinian tourism. The hotel, near the entrance to Jericho, with landscaped grounds at the back—a swimming pool, Jacuzzi, full-service spa and palm –fringed tennis courts, was a beautiful oasis and also virtually empty.

As soon as we got to the pool area, Faisal asked me to take photos of him in front of the grounds and excitedly began posting the photos of himself on face book, telling face book users that it was amazing to find such a beautiful resort in Palestine. Within minutes, he was getting responses from Arabs in Saudi Arabia who wanted to know more about it. (I’m glad he didn’t post the photo with my friend and I on face book, in case someone form Saudi Arabia were to realize that Faisal was with the editor of the Winnipeg Jewish Review).

 

WHEN WILL ARAFAT’S CASINO RE-OPEN?

The Intercontinental Hotel where we ate lunch is right next to what used to be Jericho’s Oasis Casino, a casino which gambled on there being real peace in the region but lost. After the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, Yasser Arafat’s PLO, together with Israel and the United States sought out private and public investment to assist the newly formed Palestinian Authority to boost its economy.

 
The Oasis Casino which opened in September 1998, constituting the largest private investment project in the Palestinian territories. It was the first major cross-border development project involving Israel, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Jordan, with a construction cost estimated at US$ 92 million.
 

Of course, the President, Yasser Arafat and the PA could have decided to build infrastructure such as housing, highways, electric generation plants or water treatment facilities, but decided on a casino based on the notion that Israelis, who can’t gamble in Israel since it is not legal, would flock to Jericho over the closest other casinos located in the Sinai and on boats outside of Eilat.

“I never went to gamble,” Faisal said to me, since Islam, like Judaism, prohibits gambling.

 

The PA ignored the opposition of its population and religious leaders and built the casino with the expectation that it would generate millions of dollars in investment proceeds and tax returns. Jericho was chosen as the location for the casino given it is convenient to get there form not only from Central Israel (Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem) but also because it is close to Jordan. (It also has historic tourist status and has natural beauty). http://blog.toursinenglish.com/2012/03/jericho-tour-casino.html

 

 
It was purposely built near the entrance to Jericho only a few hundred yards from the last Israeli checkpoints before entering Jericho, making it easy for visitors to forget that they were even in Palestinian controlled territory. Palestinians, unless they would hold a foreign passport, were banned from using the facility.

After only a year of operation, the casino welcomed daily an amount of 2800 visitors.
 

But then the Second Intifada broke out (an intifada we now know was planned by the Palestinian Authority, (see http://jcpa.org/article/the-palestinian-authoritys-responsibility-for-the-outbreak-of-the-second-intifada-its-own-damning-testimony )

During the first days of the Second Intifada, Palestinian militants reportedly used the casino to fire at IDF soldiers, who in turn blew a hole into its front. Due to security concerns, Israeli tourists stopped coming and the casino was closed down and remains closed. Today, Israelis are forbidden to go into the Palestinian territories.

According to the website of Green Olive Tours, there are still stories you can hear today surrounding the casino and issues of corruption, involving both Israeli and Palestinian politicians. It suggests that one of the owners of the casino bribed Israeli PM Ariel Sharon with US $3 million to re-open the Casino, but this doesn’t make sense to me since the casino was never reopened.

 
The Green Olive Tours website also says that “Similarly and unsurprisingly Yasser Arafat, himself an associate of the Oasis and his economic advisor Muhammad Rashid, seem to have been involved in money laundering through the casino.”

http://blog.toursinenglish.com/2012/03/jericho-tour-casino.html

Casinos Austria International, the operating company of the Oasis Casino states that the Casino is equipped and ready to re-open as soon as the political climate is right:

 
“Due to the ongoing situation in the Middle East and the closure of the area around Jericho to Israeli citizens and tourist visitors, the Oasis Hotel Casino Resort had to close its casino operations in October 2000. Prior to its closure, the casino was one of the most successful casino operations worldwide, with over 120 gaming tables and some 300 slot machines. The casino remains fully equipped and ready to reopen as soon as political circumstances in the region permit.”
 
 

As to when exactly the casino will re-open, all bets are off.

LUNCH AT THE INTERCONTINENTAL

 

When we sat down for lunch, Faisal wanted to know how much it was to stay at the hotel. I said it was actually pretty cheap, (about $150 US), and quite a bit cheaper than in Jerusalem. “I could come here with my wife and kids for a night or two,” he said, surveying all the facilities he could use. I told him that if I were an Israeli Arab living in Jerusalem, I’d come there without a second thought.

Faisal studied the menu—and learned, also, to his surprise, that the prices of the food (which was good) were less expensive than Jerusalem, and said he would take his wife there for dinner. We laughed at how travelling with me, he had learned about something in Jericho that he hadn’t known before.

 

I think it was the unexpected setting that made Faisal relax and he began telling us about one of his uncles who lived in East Jerusalem under Israeli jurisdiction where it is illegal to have more than one wife. “But my uncle has two wives—one who lives with him in Jerusalem, and one who lives with him here in the West Bank, so the Israelis won’t know about her. It’s very common,” he said.

I asked Faisal, who was in his forties with two teenage children, whether he would want two wives.

 

“No, one is more than enough. A half would be Ok too.”

I had met Faisal outside a hotel in Jerusalem, and we had agreed on a price for him to drive us the next day to Jericho. At lunch, he said, “I almost wasn’t sure I would be able to drive you here since I was up until past 4 a.m. last night. It’s a funny story actually. I got called by a German man late last night staying at the American Colony Hotel to take him to find a prostitute. I took him to the Talpiot industrial park but he couldn’t find any prostitute he liked. So he asked me to drive him to Tel-Aviv, where he found a Russian Israeli prostitute, and I waited for him and walked down the Tel-Aviv beach until he was ready to leave and go back to Jerusalem. I made $300.00.”

 
I replied, “You made $300 and you didn’t even touch this German guy. Imagine what she made.”
 

Faisal laughed, and I asked him if he’d ever taken his wife to any of the restaurants in Ramallah. He said he had only dropped people off there, and never dined there. I recommended El-Snow Bar, set in a beautiful shaded area with pine trees, told him that it wasn’t expensive. Faisal was very surprised that I could recommend a restaurant in Ramallah. [He would have been even more surprised if he had realized that I was Jewish, not Christian. I secretly got a kick out of the fact that here I was a Canadian Jew telling a guy who lives 20 minutes from Ramallah where he could take his wife to dine!].

I asked Faisal if he would want to live in a Palestinian state or Israel, and he said he would want to remain in Israel, as it was an unknown as to what a Palestinian state would be, and he would have to see what really emerged, and right now “Abbas was a clerk for Israel.” He said “There could only be a state if Israel were to leave all of the settlements [built over the Green line]-such as Ma’ale Adumin.”

 
In the meantime, what Faisal wanted for his children was to get the best education possible. “It would be very good if they could go to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.”
 
 
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.


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