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Martyr Saddam? By: Michael Widlanski
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, January 02, 2007

In a bizarre and rare display of unity, Palestinians of all political stripes saluted Saddam Hussein, the late Iraqi dictator, while strongly condemning those who carried out his execution.

“Saddam Hussein has entered history as a symbol of state nationalism [wattaniyya] and Pan-Arab nationalism [qawmiyya]…who helped the Palestinian revolution,” asserted a communiqué issued by the Fatah movement of PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. The Fatah statement  was read on official Palestinian radio and TV.


“The execution of the former Iraqi president was widely condemned,” observed Voice of Palestine radio, the official mouthpiece of the Palestinian Authority headed by Dr. Abbas.


“This is a blow against all that is Arab and all that is Muslim,” declared VOP radio anchorwoman Samah Massar.


VOP radio spent several minutes detailing the condemnations of Saddam’s hanging, quoting at length from statements by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Marxist-oriented Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and others.


“This is a political assassination,” declared a statement from Hamas. “This is state terrorism,” averred the statement from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a group that pioneered airplane hijackings in the 1960’s.


The longest condemnation cited by VOP radio and official PBC television came from the Fatah movement of  Abbas himself, a man who is perceived by many Western observers as a “moderate” and whose government has just been given 2,000-4,000 automatic rifles by Israel, Egypt and the United States.


“The Palestinian Liberation Movement—Fatah—condemns the execution of  Former President Saddam Hussein,” declared VOP radio in its opening headlines Sunday morning.


It is against international law and international principles,” declared the Fatah movement’s communiqué.


“This is a betrayal of all that is Arab and Islamic,” declared the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the strike force and suicide squad leaders of Fatah, in a separate statement read on Voice of Palestine radio.


Fatah and its late leader Yasser Arafat also applauded Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and his subsequent missile attacks on Israel, and there were numerous signs that Arafat tried to copy some of Saddam’s techniques.


For the last five years, the Palestinian Authority/Fatah movement under Arafat and his successor Mahmoud Abbas and the Hamas and Jihad have developed their own rocket threats, launching hundreds of  Qassam rockets at targets in Israel .


For his part, Saddam saw in the Palestinians and their combat a way to demonstrate his Pan-Arab leadership credentials, and he regularly financed the families of Palestinian human bombers who blew themselves up in Israeli stores, hotels and bus stations. The Palestinians never forgot this.


Even the regularly scheduled Fatah celebrations of  its own anniversary were overtaken by crowd salutes to the dead Iraqi dictator.


“By blood and by spirit, we will redeem you O Palestine,” chanted Palestinian crowds holding aloft pictures of Saddam, as they paraded  in the rain-swept main square in Gaza Sunday evening.


The  pictures were shown l on Abbas’s state television outlet, PBC [Palestine Broadcasting Corporation, in a spot where PLO Chairman Abbas was set to address the crowd marking Fatah Day, the anniversary of the first Fatah terror attack on Israel on January 1, 1965: the strike at Israel’s National Water Carrier.


The reasons for Palestinian affection for Saddam—from Hamas to Fatah—also seem based on strong areas of agreement: a combination of Qawmiyyah [Pan Arab nationalism] and Pan-Islamic sentiment. These two principles were  basic to Saddam’s mass appeal to “the Arab street” as well as to  the popularity of one of Saddam’s greatest fans, Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader who preceded Mahmoud Abbas as head of Fatah, the PLO and the Palestinian Authority.


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Dr. Michael Widlanski is a specialist in Arab politics and communication whose doctorate dealt with the Palestinian broadcast media. He is a former reporter, correspondent and editor, respectively, at The New York Times, The Cox Newspapers-Atlanta Constitution, and The Jerusalem Post. He has also served as a special advisor to Israeli delegations to peace talks in 1991-1992 and as Strategic Affairs Advisor to the Ministry of Public Security, editing secret PLO Archives captured in Jerusalem.

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