For months, the Palestinian Authority has tried to play down its support for Iraq. PA approval for the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his efforts to conceal weapons of mass destruction from the United Nations were referred to obliquely.
But over the last two weeks, the Palestinian media have launched an intensive campaign in support of the Saddam regime and against any U.S.-led war against Baghdad.
The campaign has hailed the support by the Saddam regime for the Palestinians and attacked the United States as seeking to control the Arab world.
The PA-owned PBC television, the voice of the PA, reported on a celebration by the Arab Liberation Front on December 18 in Gaza City. The report showed members of the front with Iraqi flags and welcomed by senior PA officials. At the end of the celebration, a message of support from Saddam Hussein was read by the group. The message urged the Palestinians to maintain their war against Israel.
On the following day, Palestinian newspapers reported that Saddam granted $280,000 to 25 families of those killed in Palestinian operation against Israel in the Gaza Strip.
The PA daily Al Hayat Al Jedida reported that a member of the PLO Central Committee, Abu Ahmed Halab, urged for the continuation of the war against Israel.
‘Iraq Will Be a Graveyard’ At the celebration, the Iraqi-sponsored Arab Liberation Front also called for the bolstering of the intifada, or uprising. Islamic opposition representatives expressed their support for Saddam.
Ibrahim Al Zaanin, a member of the front, expressed his support for the Iraqi leadership headed by Saddam Hussein and “stressed his condemnation for the conspiracy that the Iraqi people are facing.”
A Palestinian poet, Omar Khalil Omar, read his poem on the role of Iraq and he warned that Iraqi territory will be “a graveyard for American soldiers if it advances with its aggression.”
The Arab Liberation Front is sponsored by the Saddam regime. Baghdad has trained and sent agents to drum up support for Saddam and buy weapons for attacks against Israel.
Saddam is also said to have relayed money to help produce bombs, mortars and rockets for the PA, the ruling Fatah movement and the Islamic opposition Hamas.
Palestinian sources said the Arab Liberation Front has become the darling of the Arafat regime.
They said the front has been given the green light to hold rallies throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They are usually low-key affairs that are given limited press coverage. The coverage is usually that of the rewarding of checks to the families of suicide bombers and those killed in operations against Israel.
Saddam Ups Awards to $25,000
At first, Saddam provided $10,000 to those families. But since June Iraq has raised the reward to $25,000. Ceremonies in which checks have been awarded were held in Bethlehem, Gaza City, Hebron, Jenin and Tulkarm. Arafat conducts most of his contacts with the Saddam regime through PA Public Works Minister Azzam Ahmad. Ahmad has also been the Palestinian ambassador to Baghdad and spends much of his time in the Iraqi capital, where he relays funding and orders from the Saddam regime to Arafat. In 2001, Arafat appealed to Saddam for his assistance. Ahmad is believed to have relayed the request. In the fall of that year, Israeli security services captured a 15-member cell of the the Iraqi-based Palestine Liberation Front that had been operating in the West Bank.
The PLF is led by Mahmoud Abul Abbas, responsible for the 1985 hijacking of the Achillo Lauro cruise ship and welcomed by Arafat to the Gaza Strip in the mid-1990s. The group was said to have smuggled weapons via the vehicle of PA security chief Maj. Gen. Abdul Razeh Yehye, who recently resigned as interior minister. Iraq has been recruiting leading Palestinians to condemn the United States and stop any offensive against Saddam. About 70 leading Palestinians have signed a petition against any war with Iraq. The petition said such a war would end up with the entire Arab world coming under the control of Israel and the United States. Those who signed the petition included members of the Palestinian Legislative Council and Palestinian National Council. “The collapse of Iraq would result in the entire Arab world becoming contingent upon the imperialists and Zionists,” the petition said. “Taking control over Iraq would facilitate the liquidation of those neighboring regimes which have maintained their independence and liberty, such as Syria, Lebanon, and Iran.”
The Palestinians envisioned a U.S.-imposed effort to force Arab regimes to institute democratic reforms. They said the PA would be threatened with destruction unless it accepts Washington’s plan for the Middle East.
Pro-Saddam Tone Grows Shrill
Throughout December, the tone of much of the coverage on Iraq grew shrill. Pro-Iraqi news and editorials were spread throughout the newspapers. The United States was portrayed to be a threat to world peace. Many of the same articles were bandied from newspaper to newspaper. Al Hayat Al Jedida led the tone with an editorial on December 22 that read: “The Real Nuclear Threat is from the United States and not Iraq.”
On December 12, a column in the same newspaper read: “How America profited from the Frightening War Against Iraq?” Next to it was an editorial entitled “What Comes After Resolution 1441?” On December 22, Al Hayat Al Jedida ran a series of anti-U.S. cartoons. One showed President George Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell. Their noses grew long as Pinnochio as Bush said, “Saddam is a liar.”
The Palestinian Authority newspapers consistently linked the future of Iraq with that of the Palestinians. In many cases, similar terminology was used for both. So, Al Quds on December 22 headlined the leading column “The Roadmap to Iraq… and the Sick Middle East.”
That terminology was taken from the roadmap drafted by the so-called Quartet of the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia.
On the back page of the same edition of Al Quds, a cartoon appeared showing Iraq as an island surrounded by barbed wire. Sharks encircled the island, described as “Arab Iraq.”
PA Bans Pro-Saddam Rallies
Palestinian newspapers have not contained any news of Palestinian demonstrations against Iraq. Palestinian sources said the regime of Yasser Arafat has banned all mass demonstrations that seek to focus solely on support for Saddam. The Palestinians have used demonstrations for other causes to rally support for Iraq. But virtually all of the Palestinian media have ignored this. Instead, the Palestinian media have highlighted rallies for Saddam in the Arab world and the West. Virtually every day, Palestinian newspapers have run photographs of demonstrations in support of Saddam. Palestinian newspapers also provided front-page coverage of a December 17 pro-Saddam rally in Cairo.
Ironically, official Palestinian Authority newspapers have published half-page ads nearly every day calling on Palestinians to apply for compensation from the United Nations for those damaged by the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The ads by the PA Palestinian Compensation Commission publishes the names of those who are eligible for compensation because they were kicked out of Kuwait in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf war. The ads call on Palestinians hurt by the war to provide a picture from a travel document during their time in Kuwait and their entry into the West Bank or Gaza Strip.