While the entire Arab world covered the Saddam Hussein capture in great detail, the official Palestine Broadcasting Corporation radio carried a short, curt announcement of his incarceration, and Arafat issued a brief statement about the “sadness” that he felt about the arrest of his comrade in arms.
Iraq remained one of only two nations (the other one being Saudi Arabia) that launched the war in 1948 that never signed any cease-fire, armistice or peace treaty with Israel. Iraq remained one of the pillars of support for the Arab League’s continuing war against Israel and the continued Arab League support for the Arafat’s strategy to defeat the Jewish State in “phases”. No Arab country has been more supportive of the PLO cause than Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
And the PLO has never forgotten to express its appreciation for Saddam Hussein.
Let us turn back the clock by one year.
At that time, we dispatched our Palestinian reporter to film PLO ceremonies in which The Palestinian National Authority handed out $25,000 checks for Palestinian Arabs whose loved ones had been “martyred” in suicide murder attacks against Israelis. The checks were accompanied by a plaque in honor of Saddam Hussein, since Saddam was the source of funds for these “awards”.
One year ago at this time, we dispatched our Palestinian reporter to film PLO mass rallies for Saddam Hussein where thousands of Palestinian armed terror groups marched through Gaza flailing their weapons in support of Saddam Hussein’s war on America and the West. These mass rallies finished with ceremonial burnings of the American, British and Israeli flags
Indeed, one of most active factions of the PLO terror campaign over the past three years has been The Arab Liberation Front, which was sponsored by the Saddam regime.
Israeli intelligence sources reported that Baghdad sent agents to drum up support for Saddam in the Palestinian Authority and to supply weapons for attacks against Israel.
Saddam is said to have relayed money to help produce bombs, mortars and rockets for the Palestine Authority, the ruling Fatah movement and the Islamic opposition, Hamas.
At first, Saddam provided $10,000 to families whose loved ones had committed suicide murder attacks. But, by June, 2002 Iraq raised the reward to $25,000. Ceremonies in which checks were awarded were held in Bethlehem, Gaza City, Hebron, Jenin and Tulkarm. Arafat conducted most of his contacts with the Saddam regime through PA Public Works Minister Azzam Ahmad. Ahmad had also been the Palestinian ambassador to Baghdad and spent much of his time in the Iraqi capital, where he relayed 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 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 Achille Lauro cruise ship and welcomed by Arafat to the Gaza Strip in the mid-1990s (Abbas was captured by the US in hiding five months ago). The group was said to have smuggled weapons via the vehicle of PA security chief Maj. Gen. Abdul Razeh Yehye, who resigned December 2002 as PA interior minister. Iraq has been recruiting leading Palestinians to condemn the United States and stop any offensive against Saddam.
In May 2001, when suicide bombings became routine, the Iraqi president announced: “Whoever carries out such an operation is not committing suicide but is sacrificing his soul for Allah.” In order to give more weight to his words, he raised the rate and decided to give the family of each suicide bomber $15,000. A few months later the rate was raised to $ 25,000. All told, Iraq granted more than $15 million to honor the families of suicide murderers.
In March, 2002, at a meeting with a PLO delegation headed by Arafat protege Farouk Kadumi, Saddam announced his intention to give the PLO one billion US dollars, in the framework of the “oil for food” program approved for Iraq by the UN. The grant was held up by the UN’s sanctions committee, which claimed that giving such generous aid contradicted Iraq’s claim that its people were suffering under the yoke of the siege.
Throughout December, 2002 the tone of the official PA media coverage on Iraq grew shrill. Pro-Iraqi news and editorials were spread throughout the official PA 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 like Pinnochio’s 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.”
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.”
When four U.S. soldiers were killed early in the war by an Iraqi suicide bomber, the Palestinian Authority decided it was time to act. The PA renamed the center of the Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank city of Jenin after the killer of the American soldiers. The camp square is now called Ali Al Na’amani. The celebration was followed by rallies in which scores of Palestinian gunmen and officers fired into the air in a recreation of the Iraqi battle against the United States.
The Palestinian Authority and its media swept into the swirl of support for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein during his short war against the US and Great Britain. Palestinian newspapers, radio and television — all of them controlled and censored by the PA — have made Iraq the model of the Palestinian struggle. The PA has linked its fate to that of the rapidly-fading Saddam regime. Newspapers contain daily announcements of support by the PA.
Here’s the way the PA announced the dedication of the Jenin square to the memory of the Iraqi suicide bomber: “The officials, the institutions and the National Islamic Forces in the Jenin Refugee Camp decided to continue the blood donor campaign for Iraq and decided to name the center of the refugee camp ‘Ali Al Na’amani’ in memory of the martyr who was the first suicide bomber in Iraq.”
Official PA media turned the Iraqi-U.S. confrontation into a struggle for Islam. The media have portrayed the United States as seeking to destroy the religion of nearly 1 billion Muslims and uprooting their heritage. It is a theme that is stressed repeatedly by Muslim clerics financed by the PA and quoted by the Palestinian media.
For example, PA religious leader, Sheik Mohammed Abu Hunud, sought to cow Muslim leaders into supporting Saddam by saying they are sacrilegious and calls on Palestinians to join in a holy war against the United States:
“Allah, purify the Islamic soil from the treason and defilement by Britain and the United States. Allah, make their possessions a booty for the Muslims, Allah, annihilate them and their weapons, Allah, make their children orphans and their women widows.”
“To my brothers in Iraq, to the president of Iraq, to the Iraqi leadership, to the Iraqi people, the Iraqi clans, the glorious women of Iraq, we say: Strike, my brother!Let them realize that Iraq’s soil is a land of fire and that they will drown in its waters.”
PA radio, called the Voice of Palestine, provided half-hour sermons of Islamic hatred against the United States for Palestinians throughout the region throughout the Iraqi war. These sermons were written and read by religious Sheik Yusef Abu Sneineh from the Al Aqsa mosque on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.
“Our enemies should be confronted by men having faith in God,” Abu Sneineh said. “History will record the defeatism of the Islamic leaders, who are sitting back with folded arms following up TV reports on the ugly massacres committed by the U.S. and British invasion forces. This is a disgrace. Allah, help our Muslim people in Iraq be victorious over the infidels! Allah, destroy the enemies of the Muslims, for they are within your power! Allah destroy them all!.”
Nowhere was the support for Saddam as graphic as in the political cartoons in official PA dailies. Saddam and his regime are seen as both victors and victims, glorious knights and the pitifully defeated. The cartoons filled all of the official Palestinian dailies.
According to a senior official in Israeli intelligence, “the wide support that the Iraqi leader enjoyed on the Palestinian street is not only because of the financial aid. The Palestinians explain their deeply felt solidarity by emphasizing the similarity that they see between their suffering and that of the Iraqi people. They saw the American war against Iraq as a mirror of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the struggle between East and West”.