Oh, Bush, not everyone who mounts a steed is a horseman
The Palestinian street is proud of Saddam Hussein's staying power and points to the similarity between events in Iraq and the Palestinian struggle.
The longer the fighting in Iraq goes on, and the more the Iraqi resistance shows itself to be tenacious, the greater the feeling of pride among the Palestinian public and the spite it feels for the Americans.
As expected, there were mass demonstrations of support for the Iraqis in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip on Friday, though it's difficult to draw an inference from this about the actual impact of the war on the Palestinian street - there were far larger and far stormier demonstrations elsewhere. Palestinian spokesmen are talking a great deal about the lesson they have drawn from the fighting so far.
One of the most important subjects from the Palestinian point of view is what they call the Americans' psychological warfare. The Arab world in general, and the Palestinians in particular, are very sensitive to mendacious reporting in the media. The full ugliness of the phenomenon was experienced nearly 36 years ago, in the first two days of the Six Day War.
At that time, the Arab media, and especially an over-enthusiastic announcer named Ahmed Said, who was the star of the Egyptian radio station "Voice of the Arabs," broadcast huge lies about an Arab victory - the exact opposite of the truth. After the war, when the defeat and its scale were known, discussions about the function and level of the media were held in many places in the Arab world.
Now the Palestinians are saying that the world's most important and most credible networks, such as the BBC, Fox News and CNN, are very much like the lying Voice of the Arabs station of nearly four decades ago. The principal of a Palestinian school from the Beit Hanina neighborhood of Jerusalem has drawn up a list of examples of false American reports from the first few days of the war. At first there were reports, for example, about the defection of Iraq's deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, who was said to have fled to the Kurdish region in order to avoid taking part in the campaign. That quickly turned out to be a lie: Tariq Aziz appeared in public and scoffed at the reports. Then it was reported that Saddam Hussein had been a casualty of the first attack on Baghdad and had been removed on a stretcher from the bunker where he was hiding when the American missiles struck.
Next, the American media (as well as other outlets) "killed off" the two Iraqi vice presidents, Izat Ibrahim and Taha Yassin Ramadan, and reported extensively on the collapse and disintegration of the entire Iraqi leadership.
In short order it turned out that none of this was correct. Correspondents, especially from the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera cable channel, constantly showed these and other Iraqi ministers doing their jobs efficiently and devotedly. The Information Minister, Mohammed al-Sahaf, with his arrogant, crude style, appears almost every day. The Foreign Minister, Naji Sabri, traveled to Cairo in the midst of the fighting via Syria. The health minister was filmed visiting hospitals and the minister of supply described to Arab stations the distribution of vital commodities in the country's various districts. A Fatah activist from East Jerusalem observed that it would have been a good thing if the members of the Palestinian leadership had behaved in a similar manner when the Israeli army besieged Yasser Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah. Instead, he said acidly, all the top Palestinian officials had simply gone home and left Arafat to his fate in the Muqata.
Jenin in Baghdad
The principal from Beit Hanina has more to offer: he shows another series of distorted American reports, this time about the battles. At least twice there have been claims that Basra had fallen and also that an uprising had broken out in the city, and there were reports that 8,000 soldiers of the Iraqis' 51st Division had surrendered, including, supposedly, the commanding officers. The Iraqis transmitted a response to the media (again to Al-Jazeera) in the form of interviews with the commander of the division, General al-Hashami, and with other top officers from the division.
Another example: the American reports about the southern port city of Umm Qasr, which were premature and exaggerated. According to the Iraqis' data, the defenders of the city consisted of no more than 120 soldiers (in addition to civil militiamen) and they held out for five days until the city was taken.
A popular poet named Tawfiq Amarana last week published a poem in the organ of the Palestinian Authority Al-Hayat al-Jadeeda. Written in street language, the poem was in honor of Umm Qasr (which means "mother of the fortress"):
"Ho, people! America's flags are seen to be lies / When justice triumphs, the falsehoods remain / The lie has a short rope / Ho, Bush, lies are doltish, without a leg to stand on, with no explanations / Ho, people! Everyone knows the aggressor's fate, he ends up in the mud and doesn't know it / Umm Qasr mocked your father, ho, Bush / Because not everyone who mounts a steed is a horseman, ho, son of Texas!"
Of the dozens of announcements of Palestinian solidarity with the Iraqis, three stand out: two of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and the third of Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the military arm of the Fatah movement. Hamas and Islamic Jihad call on the Iraqis to adopt the methods of sacrifice of the intifada, meaning suicide bombing; and Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades urge the masses in Arab countries to attack American and British targets.
Over the past several days, quite a few intifada activists in the West Bank and Gaza have been trying to identify similarities between the Palestinians' struggle against Israel and the Iraqi resistance to the American and British forces. In both places there is great human suffering, heavy losses among the civilian population, destruction and economic damage.
Many Palestinians believe that the determination of the Palestinian struggle and the readiness to die for the cause (suicide attacks) have made a deep impression on the entire world, including the ruler of Iraq. A small organization called the "Arab Struggle Front," supported by the Iraqis, operates in the West Bank and Gaza; its members distributed the money Saddam Hussein sent to the families of the Palestinian martyrs. An authoritative source in East Jerusalem related recently that about four months ago the organization's activists received a request from the office of Saddam Hussein for a full report of the fighting that took place in Jenin during Operation Defensive Shield in April 2002. The reference was to the well-known battles that were fought in the Jenin refugee camp, which later were the subject of investigation by several commissions of inquiry. Saddam's aides wanted to know how a few dozen Palestinians, equipped with only light arms, had held out against hundreds of Israeli soldiers who had the best weapons in the world - tanks, planes and missiles - and had killed 20 of the Israelis within a week.
The report sent to the Iraqi president about the Jenin fighting stated: "We proved to the Israelis that a military giant can fail in the face of a pygmy with willpower."
Be that as it may, Saddam Hussein mobilized millions of civilians and prepared them for the war against the Americans. Iraqi women and teenagers were given rifles and are using them against American helicopters.
According to one Palestinian report, a million RPG antitank weapons were distributed to young Iraqis so they could take on the columns of tanks. Baghdad, with its six million residents, could become a death trap for the U.S. and British armies, whose military advantage - their sophisticated weapons - will be rendered ineffective in house-to-house combat. In the background, of course, will be photographs of women and children who have been killed, the victims of the urban fighting, which will continue to undermine the flimsy legitimacy that the war has gained in world public opinion.