During the first Gulf war, the Iraqis were lobbing Scud missiles at Israel. These primitive projectiles were highly inaccurate, and all the Iraqis could do was aim them at the general targeted vicinity and hope for the most damage. Only a handful of people were killed by these missiles, and one of them actually died of a heart-attack, not from the missile itself. The Israeli government was concerned that the Iraqis might augment their missiles with poison chemicals. Hence, all Israeli citizens were issued gas-masks and told to don them when the sirens went off. Families with toddlers and infants were issued special tents. Instructions were given to seal the room one was in with duct tape. We were told to seal the room completely.
I say “we” because I was there at the time. I was living in Jerusalem, and even though we could sometimes hear the scuds being blown up overhead by American Patriot missiles, we knew Saddam would never direct his attacks toward Jerusalem. This was obvious to me. Any scuds, falling on Jerusalem, would be just as likely to kill Arabs as Jews. Besides, how would it look for Saddam if one of his missiles landed on Al ‘Aqsa Mosque?
When war broke out, I had been in the process of rebuilding a house. The house was a pile of rubble when we bought it; all the walls had to be torn down and rebuilt. What an adventure that was! Especially considering the street we were on was so narrow it could only accommodate foot traffic. The fact that the city would not issue building permits in our area (which was officially “condemned”) made it all the more interesting. We had to remain on very good terms with the neighbors and do everything discretely. Not an easy task when the walls were about two feet thick and made of unhewn stone and dirt. There were about a dozen large truckloads of refuse and I would often work secretly in the wee hours of the night. By day, I’d visit Damascus Gate and hire Arabs to come over and haul the refuse with their trucks. Haggling with them was never fun – and they always demanded more when they saw the distance between the nearest parking spot and my narrow street. I would work with them to keep down the cost.
We (I was married at the time, and with kids) were lucky to have a neighbor who knew everything about construction. Phillipe was from France, and his vast knowledge was matched only by his good heart. He helped us with the foundations, whose concrete I mixed by hand, after bringing each bag of cement, sand and gravel from the the building supply depot, a quarter of a mile away, on a wheelbarrow. He helped with the plumbing, the electricity, the cinder block walls, the windows (which he custom-fashioned from scrap metal and stone) and everything else. Due to the lack of a permit, we had to work fast when the time had come to demolish the only outer wall facing the street. Once we’d gotten rid of the last of the unhewn stone, we immediately started laying the cinder block to close it up.
We were about half-way through when the siren went off. “Okay! We’re sealing the room” I hollered. By that time, we knew there was little to worry about from the scud missiles, so we continued to work without even donning our gas-masks.
Sirens would go off at all times of the day and night, so there’s no doubt that some people were in the middle of having sex when it happened. And that’s my theory on how the gas-mask fetish was born – because I know a lot of y’all were wondering about that.