- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003

JERUSALEM — Saddam Hussein, more slowly than in his own country, is beginning to fall from his pedestal among the people who have held him in highest esteem — the Palestinians.While waning pro-Saddam demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip continue, anti-Saddam opinions for the first time are being heard in mounting chorus from newspaper columnists and other opinion makers.”The Arabs were saddened by the fall of Baghdad,” wrote Palestinian columnist Fuad Abu Hijleh, “but this feeling faded at the sight of Iraqi citizens storming the secret service headquarters and the dark torture cells where many perished. Our Arab brothers want to rid themselves of the tyrant regimes and of those who steal their resources.”What Palestinians have seen on their television screens in the past few weeks has gone far toward dampening enthusiasm over Saddam.The view of the opulent palaces of Saddam and his sons clashed harshly with scenes showing the poverty of the people. Palestinian news outlets also have carried pictures of former prisoners bearing signs of severe torture.Palestinians are beginning to perceive the swift coalition victory and the virtual absence of Iraqi military resistance as Saddam’s betrayal of the Arab cause.Although they recognized the strength of the American-led forces, Palestinians expected the Iraqis to put forth an honorable battle that would make the invaders of Arab land pay such a high price that they would not readily repeat the exercise.A Palestinian journalist in Nablus quoted in the Jerusalem Post said that many people in his West Bank city believe that Saddam has attempted to save his own life and the lives of his sons by betraying his people. “The people are very angry with Saddam because they weren’t aware that he was such a big dictator,” he said.Palestinian commentators have extended their retroactive criticism of Saddam to include all Arab leaders who are corrupt and rule without their peoples’ consent, although they make no references to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.”The entire Arab order is in urgent need of reconstruction,” said Taisir Nasrallah, a leading figure in the Fatah organization, which is the backbone of the Palestinian Authority. “What happened in Baghdad proves that the Arab order is dying.”Saddam had been a hero to the Palestinians since the Gulf war of 1991, when he sent 39 Scud missiles crashing into Israeli cities.Back then, Palestinians in the West Bank cheered at the sight of the missiles carving a luminescent trail through the night sky and exploding in Tel Aviv. Saddam was seen as the one Arab leader with the will and the courage to tackle the Palestinians’ nemesis, Israel.His stock among the Palestinians rose greatly during the bloody intifada, or uprising, of the past 2½ years.He forwarded $10,000 payments to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, seen in Israel as a significant incentive for young militants to blow themselves up.He also allocated substantial sums to Palestinians who otherwise lost kin in the conflict.

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