The execution of Saddam Hussein sent many Palestinians into deep mourning Saturday as they struggled to come to terms with the demise of perhaps their most steadfast ally.
Unlike much of the rest of the world, where Saddam was viewed as a brutal dictator who oppressed his people and started regional wars, in the West Bank and Gaza he was seen as a generous benefactor unafraid to fight for the Palestinian cause, even to the end. In Israel, where Saddam was seen as a bitter enemy, there was little sadness. But Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh expressed concerns about Iraq's path in the post-Saddam era.
Sneh told Israel Radio that Israel was concerned about the strengthening of Iranian influence in the Shi'ite sections of southern Iraq and also in the central government. Iraq had also become a regional "power station" for terror that could spread chaos throughout the Middle East, he said. "We have to be worried about what is going to happen now," he said. Saddam's final words were reportedly, "Palestine is Arab."
"We heard of his martyrdom, and I swear to God we were deeply shaken from within," said Khadejeh Ahmad from the Qadora refugee camp in the West Bank. "Nobody was as supportive or stood with the Palestinians as he did."
During the first Gulf War in 1991, the Palestinians cheered Saddam's missile attacks on Israel, chanting "Beloved Saddam, strike Tel Aviv," as the Scud missiles flew overhead. He further endeared himself to the Palestinians during the recent uprising with Israel by giving US$25,000 to the family of each suicide bomber and US$10,000 for each Palestinian killed in fighting. The stipends amounted to an estimated US$35 million. Saddam's support for the Palestinians, whose cause is deeply popular with Arabs throughout the Middle East, was at least partially aimed at gaining widespread support throughout the Arab world.
"Saddam was a person who had the ability to say, 'No' in the face of a great country," said Hosni al Ejel, 46, from the al Amari refugee camp near Ramallah. "He wanted the Palestinian people to have a state and a government and to be united. But God supports us, and we pray to God to punish those who did this," said Ghanem Mezel, 72, from the town of Saeer in the southern West Bank. Others were happy to hear Saddam's final words, knowing that his support for them remained unshakable until the end.
Palestinians in the West Bank town of Bethlehem opened a "house of condolences" where people can gather to mourn Saddam. The organizers hung Iraqi flags, pictures of Saddam and broadcast Iraqi revolutionary songs.
It's not that I am surprised that the Palestinian's mourn the passing of Saddam. After all, these are same people who pioneered suicide bombings against civilians, airplance hijackings, school seiges, and refined the use of teenagers as guidance systems for suicide operations. But the Palestinians do seem to be somewhat out of step with a significant number of Iraqis. Taken from the Telegraph:
Thousands of Iraqis sang, danced and unleashed celebratory bursts of gunfire yesterday as Saddam Hussein finally faced the consequences of his tyrannical rule in a Baghdad courtroom.
But in Shia parts of the country volleys of gunfire filled the sky and in Baghdad's Sadr City, a Shia stronghold, crowds ignored the curfew to take to the streets and hand sweets to children to mark the joyful and cathartic moment.
In Najaf there were people dancing on the street and Shia policemen were seen firing their weapons into the air.
NBC has this brief account of the Kurdish reaction:
Celebratory gunfire also rang out in Kurdish neighborhoods across the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, where taxi driver Khatab Ahmed sat on a mattress in his living room to watch trial coverage with his wife and six children. "Thank God I lived to see the day when the criminals received their punishment," the 40-year-old exclaimed on hearing of Saddam's death sentence.Me too.