Better Living through Chemistry

The US justifies periodic saber rattling against Saddam Hussein by claiming that Iraq is the only country to have employed chemical weapons in battle. Forgotten amidst the propaganda is dissident Iraqi tribes’ first encounter with chemical weapons during an uprising against British rule in 1919. The Royal Air Force asked Secretary of State for War Winston Churchill for authorization to use chemical weapons “against recalcitrant Arabs as an experiment.” Churchill approved the request, saying, “I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favor of using [it] against uncivilized tribes.”

Vegas Jericho

Casinos Austria, an Australian-based firm, is currently training Palestinians as croupiers and blackjack dealers in the West Bank city of Jericho in preparation for the late August opening of a $46 million luxury casino hotel, located just across the road from ‘Aqabat Jabir refugee camp. Junior partners in the project are Palestinian investors and Arafat’s Palestinian Authority. The Casino hopes to attract international tourists as well as Israeli gamblers, who lost access to their favorite casinos in Turkey, which have recently been closed. It is not yet known whether the casino will bar would-be Palestinian gamblers as a concession to Hamas, which considers gambling haram, forbidden by Islam.

Mediterranean Dump

The environmental organization Greenpeace has been campaigning since 1994 against Israel’s sea dumping of toxic sludge. Israel is the only country in the world that is known to allow routine dumping of industrial wastes at sea, in contravention of the 1972 London Convention and the 1995 Barcelona Convention regulating dumping in the Mediterranean. In June, two Greenpeace inflatables confronted the Israeli ship Aribel while it was dumping in international waters off of Haifa. The inflatables flew banners of protest and called on the Aribel to cease dumping and return to port. The ship declined and has since carried on dumping at night, apparently to hide the evidence. Previous Greenpeace efforts to persuade the Israeli government to stop issuing dumping permits to Haifa Chemicals (a US-owned firm) resulted in promises from current Minister of Environment Rafael Eitan (Likud) and previous Minister of Environment Yossi Sarid (Meretz). Both promises were subsequently broken.

Nablus Bills Due

Ghassan Shaka‘a, mayor of Nablus, appointed by Palestinian Authority President Arafat, has doubled the price of water and electricity in the municipality and cut off service to more than 300 families who cannot afford to pay bills dating back to the intifada (when Palestinians were encouraged not to pay utility bills as an expression of national resistance). Palestinian municipalities purchase electricity from the Israeli government and then set their own prices. Shaka‘a has set rates that are double those of cities like Gaza, Tulkarm and Ramallah. (Ghassan Shaka‘a is a scion of one of Nablus’ “notable” elite families; his father, Bassam, the Nablus mayor in the 1970s, was a leading nationalist figure whose legs were blown off in a terrorist bombing by Israeli extremists in the early 1980s.)

Maid Insurance

The new al-Sulayman al-Suwayd Manpower Service Company is Saudi Arabia’s first company to offer employers insurance if their (foreign) workers do not fulfill their contracts. It is estimated that one third of all maids working in Saudi Arabia come from Sri Lanka; approximately one third of them fail to complete their work contracts.

Kuwaiti Fried Chicken

Cultural imperialism trendspotters are following the arrival of Kentucky Fried Chicken in Damascus last May with keen interest. The first US fast food franchise to hit Syria, its grand opening was attended by two US congressmen and scores of nouveau riche Syrians. Predictably, the advent of “finger-lickin’ good” chicken elicited hostility from nationalist circles. One Syrian intellectual observed that “the countries where you can find KFC, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s will never go to war with the US.” Such sentiments seem to have impelled the Syrian government to do an about-face. Soon after KFC opened, the word “Kentucky” was removed from the restaurant’s billboard and replaced with “the Syrian-Kuwait Company for Tourism Embellishments.” The initials “KFC” remain, however, now standing for “Kuwait Food Company,” the Colonel’s agent in several Arab countries. The plan to open more KFC branches in other Syrian cities now appears to be stalled, but an official of the Kuwait company expressed hope that, if the peace process resumes, more KFCs might be opened.

How to cite this article:

"Al Miskin," Middle East Report 208 (Fall 1998).

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