Saudis channel anger into charity
Frustrated by what they see as US bias, Saudis are sending millions of dollars to aid Palestinian families.
JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA
Bombarded by television images of Israeli violence and bloodied Palestinians, Selma Dajani felt compelled to act. Little did she know that a modest idea would turn into a flood of support and underscore the depth of popular pro-Palestinian and anti-American feeling in Saudi Arabia.Skip to next paragraph
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"We were glued to the TV, and just so frustrated because we couldn't do anything," the Palestinian housewife says.
Then she and a group of friends decided to sell T-shirts to raise money to send a truck of donations to the West Bank. They sold 400 T-shirts imprinted with the word Palestine wrapped in barbed wire in a single day. In less than three weeks, huge support enabled them to send 69 trucks full of supplies.
"The response was amazing," Mrs. Dajani says. "One woman brought all her gold to sell; others brought their children to work.... It shows how much people wanted to give."
From Dajani's back yard to the donation offices of the government-sponsored Saudi Committee for the Support of the Al Quds [Jerusalem] Uprising in the capital, Riyadh, Saudis are channeling their anger into charity.
Tens of millions of dollars have been sent to aid the Palestinian families of those killed civilians and suicide bombers alike. More than 100 people seriously injured in the 19-month uprising have received medical care in the desert kingdom. And a boycott of all products from America Israel's strongest ally has spread like sand caught in a hot desert wind.
"I am so angry, and everyone I know is angry," says Omar, a young Saudi professional who was educated in the US. "You can't find a single American product in my house not one. I don't even eat hamburgers anymore."
But while Saudis view their aid as an Islamic duty, Israel accuses Saudi Arabia of funding terrorism by supporting the families of suicide bombers and militants. Among the documents Israelis collected during their West Bank offensive last month were letters from the Al Quds fund that referred to a payment of more than $500,000 to 102 families of those Israel calls "terrorists."
Saudis dismiss those claims and say their aid is only necessary because of Israeli military actions. They draw a line as do senior US officials between Saudi support and that of Iraq's Saddam Hussein, who has offered $25,000 to families of any suicide bomber.
Although 15 of the 19 hijackers on Sept. 11 came from Saudi Arabia and more than one-third of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are Saudi, according to US officials Saudi Arabia has never knowingly supported terrorism, Western diplomats and analysts say. "The Saudis are not supporting Palestinian terrorist groups," says a US official here. "If they were, we would have a tremendous problem."
Analysts note that some private Saudi money has been funneled in the past to Palestinian groups, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which carry out many of the suicide attacks.
But that is far removed from the new reservoir of popular sympathy for the Palestinian cause, Saudis say. America's staunch support for Israel is fueling a regional boycott of American products that has reached fever pitch.