Israelis queue for gas masks : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

ISSUE 1972 Wednesday 18 October 2000

Israelis queue for gas masks as they prepare for a violent future By Alan Philps in Jerusalem

Clinton brokers peace deal, but no one will sign

QUEUES formed at gas mask distribution centres in Jerusalem yesterday as wary Israelis prepared for what many fear could be a violent future. "We have to be ready for anything that might happen," said Rafi Lieber, 41, a father of four. "Of course the Palestinians do not have gas weapons, but you never know what to expect. We are not panicking, but maybe we will see a repeat of 1991, when Saddam Hussein sent his Scuds against us."

All over the country Israelis have been rummaging through their cupboards for the gas masks they were given in 1991 in case of Iraqi chemical weapon attack - though this never materialised. There is no formal gas alert, but the situation is so tense that the army has reopened distribution centres in response to popular demand and cancelled leave for soldiers working in them.

Israelis should be enjoying a holiday week, the Feast of Tabernacles, but all over the country they have cancelled travel plans to stay at home and watch the situation. Many tourist hotels in the north and by the sea, which would usually be packed, are half empty.

"You need to have a certain state of mind to enjoy a holiday, but we do not have it now," said Yossi Fatael, of the Israeli travel agents' association. He said 40 per cent of foreign tourists had cancelled, but other travel agents said the figure was even higher.

"Up to 90 per cent of Americans have cancelled their holidays, but they are always the first to react," said a spokesman for the Travex travel agency. "The Europeans are a little braver or more realistic - they are cancelling at a rate of 30-40 per cent."

Israelis have been warned not to travel to Muslim countries and not to attract attention by reading Hebrew newspapers when abroad. If a taxi driver seems to be seeking you out, avoid him, one security notice advises.

Fears of a resumption of bomb attacks by Hamas, the Palestinian extremist organisation, have made many Israelis wary of going to cinemas and shopping malls, or travelling by bus or train. The Jerusalem Mall, the biggest shopping centre in the Middle East, has been unusually empty for two weeks.

But news of the ceasefire brought some of the crowds back yesterday, despite fears that the agreement would be short-lived. "I have brought my daughter here to see a film and get her a gas mask," said Esther Shmueli. "You have to try to continue a normal life."

Even if the security fears abate, the violence of the past 20 days has caused a sea-change in Israeli public opinion and a widespread feeling of anguish and depression.

"Those people who thought that Yasser Arafat was wholeheartedly committed to peace and would never allow violence to take root in his people have suffered a knockout blow," said London-born David Horovitz, editor of the Jerusalem Report. Even those who believe that Arafat was just carried along by the violence are disillusioned by his inability or disinclination to stop it."

-- Martin Thompson (, October 18, 2000


Unrest sparks gas mask panic


The IDF is keeping its gas mask distribution stations open every afternoon this week in response to a flood of inquiries from the public. Usually, the stations are closed during the Sukkot and Passover holidays. Since the start of the current round of violence on September 29, calls have topped 6,000 per day, compared to the usual 150 during periods of calm. mador=14&datee=10/18/00&id=96899

-- Martin Thompson (, October 18, 2000.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ