Blocking Mideast Peace
Bingo in America Feeds Arab-Jewish Conflict in Israel: Hawaiian Gardens, Jerusalem, and The Moskowitz Foundation, Part I of a 3-part series
by Dan Aznoff
Originally published 01 July 2001


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HAWAIIAN GARDENS, CA-The low-income minorities who live in the tenement apartments in this tiny town southeast of Los Angeles share a nightmarish bond with Palestinian residents of the Ras al-Amud neighborhood in Old Jerusalem.

Both groups share vivid memories of a knock on the door that led to the uprooting of their families. In Hawaiian Gardens, poor black and Hispanic families were moved out of their homes through eminent domain to make room for a community redevelopment project that eventually became a gaudy, neon-covered gambling parlor.

The knock on the door was much more ominous for the Palestinians. It was also a notice of condemnation. Not by the Israeli government wanting the property to enhance the community. But from Arabs groups who threatened to kill any Palestinian who sold their land to make room for Jewish settlers.

"Selling to Jews was like signing their own death certificate," said Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak, founder of The Coalition for Justice in Hawaiian Gardens and Jerusalem ( ). "They are forced to move. Not just out of Jerusalem, but out of the country if they have any hope of staying alive."

The development in each country, critics say, is the direct result of the influence peddled by Dr. Irving Moskowitz. Opponents claim that the retired Miami physician bought enough influence in Hawaiian Gardens that he persuaded the city council to use public funds to build him a casino. Gross receipts from his card room and the bingo parlor around the corner--estimated to be as much as $35 million per year--have been used by Moskowitz to buy out neighborhoods in East Jerusalem to create new communities for Jewish settlers.

"We are not denying that Dr. Moskowitz used his own money to buy the homes in Jerusalem. In most cases the homes were purchased for twice what they were really worth because the Palestinian owners knew the danger of selling to Jews," explained Moskowitz attorney Beryl Weiner. "The money was probably used by the families to escape the country before the Arabs were able to carry through on their threats."

The Moskowitz-funded activities in East Jerusalem have been described by moderates as a roadblock to the stalled Peace Talks in the Middle East. The area is home to more than 200,000 Palestinians who pay Israeli taxes and benefit from the country's social services. The area was occupied by Israel in 1967 and later annexed to the city of Jerusalem, a move that has never been recognized by the international community.

Money has reportedly been funneled straight from the bingo parlor profits in Hawaiian Gardens to build settlements in East Jerusalem, Hebron and the Golan Heights. Moskowitz has publicly denied that any profits from gambling have been secretly sent to Israel, explaining that all monies have come directly from his own personal fortune.

His latest project is a 132-unit complex of flats in East Jerusalem that is expected to dramatically change the demographics of the neighborhood. Yeshiva students and their families are scheduled to occupy the row of flats later this year.

Arab neighbors see the new residents inciting violence in the area, including Khalid Hamdallah who lives with his family in a one-story house on a narrow strip of land adjacent to the new structure. The lorry driver claims that he turned down large sums of money for his small olive grove.

Azzam Abu Saud, the director of Jerusalem's Arab chamber of commerce, said he will never leave his home despite the fact that friends are too frightened to visit his house because it is next door to the new settlement.

"Moskowitz creates more violence and tension in the city," Barak Zemer of Peace Now told a reporter from Mother Earth News. "He makes it harder for the people who live here."

Sixty Palestinians and 15 Israelis were killed during riots in 1996 that were sparked by the opening of a Moskowitz-financed tunnel next to land considered sacred by Muslims.

The devoutly Orthodox Moskowitz was born in New York, but raised in Milwaukee. He now lives in Miami, while relatives in California oversee his business interests in Hawaiian Gardens. He took over the city's floundering 800-seat bingo parlor in 1988, and soon the non-profit foundation that bears his name was taking in an estimated $33 million per year.

According to city records, Moskowitz then bought up more than one-third of the commercial property in the one-square mile municipality. According to his supporters, Moskowitz has been extremely generous with both Jewish and non-Jewish charities in the area, helping to finance congregations in Long Beach as well as sending children from nearby Orange County to Jewish camps each summer.

By 1997, the Irving I. Moskowitz Foundation was supporting Hawaiian Gardens with monthly installments of $200,000, an amount that was roughly half of the city's annual budget. When the funds abruptly stopped, the city was forced to shut down its police force and slash its employee payroll by more than two-thirds from 105 to 30.

Part II : More on what the Foundation does with its money; a Jewish Latina comes home

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2003 design by elbop for the Coalition for Justice in Hawaiian Gardens and Jerusalem