Thursday 24 September 1998
The Oasis, a glittery glass palace on the outskirts of town, half an hour from Jerusalem and half an hour from the Dead Sea, opened last week. The idea is to enable Yasser Arafat, whose Palestinian Authority is based in Jericho, to earn some much needed revenue. One of the many paradoxes about The Oasis is that Palestinians, the people in whose territory the casino stands, may not go there.
The casino, with its 200 slot machines, is designed to attract Israelis, who are said to have an insatiable craze for gambling. Managed by Casinos Austria, ownership is partly Palestinian, partly Austrian, with some international financing. Several casino dealers have come over from England.
Another paradox is that, in the week the casino opened its doors, the border between the West Bank and Israel was closed, for security reasons. Opinion in Israel is divided. Some people admire the Palestinians' enterprise in promoting this $50m (pounds 32m) project and wish that Israel could follow suit. The southern resort of Eilat would love to sport a casino. Other people abjure the evils of gambling. The fate of the ancient city of Sodom on the Dead Sea is a reminder of what can happen to those who flout divine authority.
Surprisingly, gambling is not forbidden by The Bible. Various instances of drawing of lots are mentioned, but more as a way of taking decisions rather than gambling as we think of it. Later religious commentaries, both in Judaism and Islam, sought to condemn gambling - which shows how widespread its practice was. In modern times, a better understanding of what gambling is all about has led to a more tolerant attitude. Most societies now regard gambling not as a sin, or even a vice, but simply as one of the things that people do. It has become an aspect of the entertainment industry, albeit one which requires close control to stop it getting out of hand.
While on vacation in Israel, I never feel the need to gamble, as I might in London or other places. Daily life is just too exciting as it is. No doubt Israelis and tourists will flock to Jericho, some to gamble and others (so I am told) to launder money, which they can longer do in Turkey since the casinos there were shut down. In any case, if The Oasis proves a success, it will trumpet the fame of Jericho anew through the Middle East.
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