Palestinian Irony: Support For Saddam, Fear Of His Missiles With PM-Gulf Rdp, Bjt
JERUSALEM (AP) _ Like many Palestinians, Kifah Al-Atef prays for the success of Saddam Hussein in the Persian Gulf war - and for a gas mask from Israel to protect against an Iraqi chemical attack.
″Saddam supports our cause, our right to an independent Palestinian state,″ she said. ″Maybe he will help make it happen.″
But Miss Al-Atef, a 22-year-old accountant, has the same fear of Saddam’s chemical arsenal as Israelis. She lives in the Arab village of Izariya on Jerusalem’s edge.
″This is a war, and we are afraid,″ she said.
Miss Al-Atef’s seemingly contradictory feelings are common among the 1.7 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, which Israel captured from Jordan and Egypt in the 1967 Middle East war.
The legacy of the long occupation is a confusing mix of anger and dependence, both sentiments heightened since Iraq seized Kuwait in August.
Israelis carry gas masks with them everywhere but few are the Palestinians who have received gas masks.
Palestinians might hate it, but they must deal with the occupation authorities to get a driver’s license, register a child’s birth or mail a letter. Lately, on the radio, they’ve heard the same advice as Israelis on what to do in a chemical attack.
Their 3-year-old uprising was meant to cut ties to Israel and lead the Palestinians to independence. But so far it has only brought death, jailings and frustration.
That has made them ripe for Saddam, who has challenged the United States, threatened Israel and - unlike many other Arab leaders - made good on the threats with missiles that have crashed into Tel Aviv in the past week.
″Since the beginning of the Palestinian problem in 1948, always the Palestinians were defeated. Saddam represents a kind of a victory to them,″ said Saeed Shakhtour, 32, interviewed in the Bethlehem market.
Ali Abu Ghazi, an east Jerusalem grocer, said: ″People are happy he is so strong.″ But Abu Ghazi knew of the death and destruction Iraq’s missiles have caused and said Palestinians did not want war any more than Israelis.
″There are no winners in war, only victims, and we are sorry if Jews are killed,″ he said.
The Israeli army initially decided not to give out the masks in the occupied territories, arguing that the Palestinians are an unlikely target and might use the masks against tear gas fired by Israeli soldiers at rioters.
But a Roman Catholic legal service went to court on behalf of a Palestinian woman from Bethlehem and won a court order requiring Israel, as the occupier of the West Bank and Gaza, to provide the masks in the territories.
So far, however, only about 20,000 masks have been distributed and the army concedes it has just 170,000 for Palestinians, and none of the special type needed for children.
Distribution has been hampered because the army has slapped round-the-clock curfews on the territories since the war began, confining Palestinians to their homes for fear they would back Iraq’s war with violence.
Palestinians are also vulnerable to the Iraqi attacks because they cannot hear the warning sirens. They have set up telephone relays run by people who stay up listening to the radio or can hear alarms in nearby Jewish settlements.
Most, however, have followed Israeli civil defense advice to seal one room in their homes with tape and plastic sheeting to keep out toxic gases should Saddam strike with chemical weapons.
Each night they sit and wait, frightened like the Israelis, but with mixed emotions.
In the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras El-Amud, where Arabs have received gas masks because their area has been annexed by Israel, a father told of his 5- year-old son Samer’s changed reaction to Iraq.
Before the war began, his father said, Samer liked Saddam ″because he has chemicals.″ As the second Iraqi missile attack on Israel began last week, Samer clung to his younger brother and announced: ″I want to kill Saddam.″
Even as some Palestinians cowered in sealed rooms during missile attacks, others went to roofs and balconies to shout ″Allahu Akbar 3/8″ the Muslim rallying cry meaning ″God is Great 3/8″
Bethlehem grocer Abed Salameh judged the reactions this way: ″I know that we Palestinians are more desperate for a homeland than a gas mask. But a gas mask sure can help.″