BAGHDAD – He just lost two sisters – two civilians killed in Palestine by the Israeli military machine, two more victims of the Palestinian tragedy. Maybe he should be grieving, and gloomily accepting condolences. But he remains unbreakable – and he only accepts “congratulations.” Let’s call him the Baghdad Palestinian.
After duly accepting congratulations, he receives the foreign visitor into his own house and, speaking in Arabic through an interpreter, he agrees to talk. It’s not an easy decision. For a Palestinian living anywhere in the Middle East, “we don’t know who is a friend or an enemy anymore. The situation is frozen in the countries that surround Palestine.”
His two sisters lived in Nablus, in the same family house, since the 1960s. He says “they were assassinated” in the beginning of the latest Israeli invasion, “maybe by a rocket, maybe by a missile shot from an Apache helicopter.” The house was destroyed. He learned about his sisters’ death in Amman, where he was reached by some Nablus friends. “They are still there, under the rubble.” But he is quick to emphasize, “We believe that martyrs do not face death, they ascend to life in Paradise.”
He is technically a Palestinian refugee in Iraq. He had been working as a Palestinian militant in 1969, until he was arrested and had to spend two years in jail in Nablus. He was then deported from Palestinian territory and forced by the Israelis to sign a “declaration of no return.” Even his request to see his ailing mother was “refused for security reasons.” Also for security reasons, he cannot say directly whether he carried out political activities. “Every Palestinian does. Every Palestinian proudly carries with himself the spirit of the revolution.”
He is proud to live in Baghdad, which he defines either as “the country of the honest” or “the country of the militants.” “I’m proud to be living on the soil of a nationalist regime. Our problem and the Iraqi problem are intimately linked. I support the Iraqi jihad in Palestine.” He refers to the Jerusalem Liberation Army – a campaign through which many thousands of Iraqis receive basic military training in the context of a possible order to fight a jihad in Palestine. Videos of the training campaigns are constantly shown on Iraqi television.
The Baghdad Palestinian is unmistakably pan-Arab. “Every country that displays a national will, the US regards them as a target. We Arabs live in 22 different states. We need to have a single nation. The closest to this objective is the slogan of the Baath Party ‘A single Arab nation with an eternal mission’.” He adds, “Our civilization constitutes a unity. The union of the Arab world is the ultimate objective. At the popular level, these daily demonstrations everywhere in the Arab world mean that we can express ourselves as citizens in an unique way.”
Edward Said, one of the most prominent spokesmen of the Palestinian cause in the United States, has repeatedly pointed out how the US administration – and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon – use the word “terrorism” in a uniform way every time the Palestinians react against Israel. Said himself finds the suicide bombing raids unacceptable: but by branding them as terrorism, and insisting that Yasser Arafat stop the Palestinian violence, US President George W Bush and Sharon “totally lose sight of the context, meaning the illegal military occupation of Palestinian territory by Israel for 35 years now, the longest period in modern history (side by side with the occupation of Korea by Japan between 1910 and 1945).”
The Baghdad Palestinian couldn’t agree more with Said, one of the leading Palestinian intellectuals of our times. “Ariel Sharon says that the kamikaze operations come from desperate people. On the contrary: injustice forces them to act. We believe this is our territory. The Zionists used to be dispersed: then they came to live here in our place. The Palestinian territory is a sacred territory.” He then quotes a hadith (saying) from the Prophet Muhammad, according to which Allah ordered a jihad against infidels. The translation reads, “You who are my friends, living beside al-Aqsa, I command you to a jihad against the Zionists and the infidels.” He says that the Koran accuses Zionists of being “killers of prophets” such as Zachariah and Isaiah.
For the Baghdad Palestinian, there is no difference between Jews and Zionists. “As Muslims, we do not incite people to kill other people. Our religion represents peace and tolerance.” He illustrates the point with the situation in Bethlehem. “We, Muslims, we respect Bethlehem as a sacred place for Christians. They have bombed the church where Jesus Christ was born. There are many Palestinian militants who are Christian. The Jews are here to kill, they do not differentiate between Muslims or Christians.” He sincerely expects that “Christians should be deeply involved with us to save Palestine.”
The Baghdad Palestinian places “total confidence” in Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat; “All the Palestinian people do.” He considers Iraq “the country that best represents the Arab nation. The enemy is always the same: the United States – manipulated by the Zionist lobby – is the enemy of all the peoples who fight for their freedom.” And once again he absolutely rejects the label of terrorism. “We are not terrorists. We are involved in a jihad to recover our sacred land.”
The Baghdad Palestinian is not exactly optimistic about the future of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah’s proposal – land for peace – discussed at the recent Beirut summit by Arab leaders. “The Arab countries in Beirut have accepted the Saudi Arabian initiative. How did Israel answer? They attacked our houses.” So the liberation struggle will go on. “We believe in life. We believe that peace is based on justice. British colonialism and later American colonialism cannot uproot Arab territories. If you see an Iraqi and a Syrian fighting alongside a Palestinian, this is what Arab unity is all about.”
One of the astonishing videos constantly played on Iraqi television shows Palestinian youths throwing stones coated with fire against the Israeli army. The Arab expression is hijarah men sejil – literally “stone on fire.” Everybody knows what it means: according to the Koran, the fire comes right out of hell. The Baghdad Palestinian, as he takes the visitor to the front door, seems to imply that these stones will be burning for a long time to come.