As the possibility of U.S.-led war against Iraq draws nearer, concerns are mounting in Israel and the Palestinian territories about its possible impact. Israelis fear they could be targets for Saddam Hussein, and they have warned their citizens to prepare for the worst. Here in Ramallah, there are no gas mask distribution centers and no American-supplied Patriot missile batteries being put in place. Of course, no one here thinks that the West Bank or Gaza Strip will be a target for Saddam Hussein.
Ask most Palestinians here, and they say they have other problems to worry about: the continued Israeli military occupation and attacks, daily curfews, the collapse of the Palestinian economy and the likelihood that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his new right-wing coalition government may impose even tougher measures.
A Palestinian civil servant, who gave her name only as Najwa, said that, should a war against Iraq come, there is an even greater fear.
"I'm worried from one point: the world, all the people, all the nations, will look at Iraq and what are [is] happening there, will forget us," she said. "So, Sharon will do whatever he imagines, and will press us more, and more and nobody will hear."
Many other Palestinians share that fear. Kamal says Israeli military actions in Gaza, where Israeli tanks and troops have been conducting major operations against Palestinian militants in the past several weeks, are taking a terrible toll on the civilian population. He says things may only get worse, and adds this thought, with a measure of resignation: "We are living since we were born in a state of war, and our children also got used to war. So, we are not as worried [about] it as much, as everything is in the hand of God," he said. Moatasser, a Ramallah electrician, also says he trusts in God. But Moatasser has a different vision of the future. He expresses his contempt for the current Arab governments, which he accuses of conspiring with the West to prevent the realization of Islamic goals.
"These regimes are all part of an international conspiracy to keep the Islamic state asleep," Moatasser said. "The Islamic state will wake up, will have its renaissance, and it will rule and govern the whole world where peace will prevail eventually, because now, Europe and all the rest of the Western countries are controlled by huge companies that are just looking for their own interests."
Palestinian Interior Minister Hanni al-Hassan has been involved in Palestinian politics for decades, and wants to see a future Palestinian state, one that lives side-by-side with the Jewish state of Israel. However, like the other Palestinians we spoke to in Ramallah, he is concerned about what may happen to Palestinians during a war against Iraq.
Mr. al Hassan told VOA he fears that Israel might try to use a war to crack down harder on the Palestinians and destroy even more Palestinian homes, farms, fields and orchards. This, he said, will only increase the Palestinian hostility toward Israel.
"We are telling the Israelis 'what you will do more?' They have uprooted hundreds of thousands of trees. What will it change if they will uproot another 50,000? What will it do if they destroy another 1,000 houses?" he asked, "What the Israelis are doing only spreads hatred."
Israel says the destruction of Palestinian homes and property is a necessary deterrent against further Palestinian attacks against Israel. Palestinians say it is simply a form of collective punishment. Minister al Hassan said the only solution is to talk.
He said he met recently with a representative of Prime Minister Sharon and emphasized that point. "No one is benefiting from armed struggle and from violence in Palestine. I am speaking to the Israelis: let us finish this bloodshed; we are not in need to look in the past. ... And then we will start, they will end occupation; I will assure them security."
Hanni al Hassan and other Palestinian leaders hope that, should a war in Iraq come, the rest of the world will not forget the other, low-grade war, already underway in the Palestinian territories.