Palestinian Refugees Rally Behind Saddam

ABU AZIZ, a Palestinian refugee who has been displaced twice, says that he was beginning to despair of a solution for the Palestinian problem until Iraqi President Saddam Hussein declared that the Gulf crisis should be linked to the Israeli occupation of Arab territories. ``We have tried everything and nothing worked. What Saddam is doing is the only way left,'' Abu Aziz says.

Like many refugees in the Bakaa camp, 10 miles north of Jordan's capital, Amman, Abu Aziz hopes that by challenging Western interests in the Gulf Saddam might force the international community to address the Palestinians' plight.

According to Palestinian political activists, Saddam captured the Palestinian refugees' imagination earlier this year after threatening to wipe out half of Israel if it attacked his country.

While Saddam's announcement alarmed the West, it was a source of inspiration for the refugees, who felt that here, finally, was an Arab leader ready to confront Israel with action and not just words. Despite Saddam's efforts to link Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait to Israel's relinquishing of Arab territories, however, the world community has not been receptive.

Activists explain that although experience has taught Palestinian refugees not to be swayed by Arab leaders' revolutionary rhetoric, they felt Saddam was serious because he remained undeterred by Western pressure and criticism.

``Immediately after the end of the war with Iran we felt that Saddam was ready not only to support us but to take part in our struggle,'' says Abu Kefah, a veteran leftist activist in the camp.

In Abu Kefah's view, Saddam's occupation of Kuwait and his later insistence on linking the Gulf crisis to an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories proved that he was ready to render ``a great service to the Palestinian cause.''

Although thousands of Palestinians from this camp work in the Gulf states, including Kuwait, refugees here are frustrated by the pro-US policies of the oil-rich emirs and what they see as insufficient aid to the Palestinian uprising in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

``The Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO] has to almost beg them to support the intifadah while they pour billions on their luxuries and the US-backed Islamic mujahideen [rebels] in Afghanistan,'' a political activist says. PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat has publicly criticized the Gulf States for giving priority to the Afghan mujahideen, supplying more than $12 billion in aid and military equipment since 1979, compared to $2.5 billion provided for the Palestinians over the last 20 years.

Many Palestinian refugees here blame Arab political inaction and the reluctance of the Gulf states to offer sufficient aid to the Palestinian intifadah for the uprising's failure to achieve its goals after three years.

``At the beginning of the intifadah, we were very hopeful that the end of our suffering was in sight. But the intifadah was abandoned and more and more Palestinians were killed every day,'' says Abu Aziz.

For Abu Aziz, now in his sixties, it has been a long history of crushed dreams. His ordeal is typical of the lives of many of the 80,000 refugees in Bakaa.

After the first displacement, ``we clung to any spark of hope, even any piece of news on the radio or political speech was enough to make us believe that our problem would be solved,'' recalls Abu Aziz, whose family is from Jaffa, in present-day Israel.``Later we looked forward to Arab radical regimes and United Nations resolutions, but they all failed us,'' he says.

According to political activists, most of the Bakaa camp residents belong to families which were uprooted twice, first after the creation of Israel in 1948 and again after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. They have spent most of their lives in refugee camps.

Bakaa, like all nine camps in Jordan, which house more than 800,000 refugees, has developed into a shantytown with dusty unpaved roads that turn into muddy alleys in winter.

Some refugees who were financially able moved out. But most have stayed on as a political statement.

Activists in the camp say the refugees' bitterness was compounded as they watched the West mobilize troops and the UN swiftly move to punish Iraq.

The refugees' growing disappointment and anger comes out in hostility toward Western journalists. Recently, a Dutch television crew filming in the camp caused a loud demonstration against the US.

``Why did President George Bush send thousands of troops to the Gulf? Where was the US when Israel forced us out of our country and was killing - is still killing - Palestinian children?'' asked a Palestinian woman in the camp.

``Why did the United Nations not take any real measures to put an end to the Israeli occupation? Why is the world neglecting us? Do they not see that we exist?'' an 11-year-old boy asked.

When the refugees found out the crew wanted to understand why they support Saddam, the mood turned to defiance. ``We support him all the way. He is using the only language the West understands. Even if he failed to liberate our land, at least he would make the arrogant West pay the price,'' another man said.

``By blocking all the ways to a peaceful solution that guarantees their national rights, the US and Israel have driven our people to despair. Our people hope that Saddam will force the West to swap oil for peace. For the Palestinian, it seems like the last chance,'' says Yasser Abed Rabo, a member of the PLO executive committee.

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