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Palestinian Refugees Ask: Why Disarm Iraq But Not Israel? - 2003-03-17

In Jordan, Palestinian refugees worry about the consequences of a war in Iraq on the peace process, despite U.S. and British promises to push the process forward.

Palestinian children playing in a schoolyard near the center of Baqa'a refugee camp appear oblivious to the prospect of another war in the Middle East.

But some parents, like Amira, say their children are very aware of the dangers that surround them

"The children are already frightened," said Amira. "When I left the house to go shopping, my four-year-old daughter said mommy please be careful. There might be a war. Don't stay away too long."

Amira says her other child, who is 10 years old, mixes up talk about a war in Iraq with what he hears and sees about the violence in the Palestinian territories. He thinks the violence will come to him in Jordan, too.

Unlike the last Gulf War, few Palestinians here voice any real support for Saddam Hussein. But they criticize the U.S.-led effort to wage war against him.

In the crowded market street of this refugee camp, an elderly woman in black veils sits on the curb, selling fruit from a basket at her feet. Asked about the prospect of a war against Iraq, she calls it a war against Muslims, although U.S. and British officials have repeatedly said it is not.

"We're Arabs. Iraq is an Arab country," she said. "We don't want a war against Iraq. We want peace. Why don't they pick on Israel."

"We see TV pictures of Palestinians being killed or injured by Israel," said Emad, 28, reflecting a spreading anger and frustration over the prospect of war in Iraq at a time when the peace process appears to be in shambles. "The United States should force Israel to stop."

Emad complains that a war in Iraq only diverts attention from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and his dream of a Palestinian homeland.

Emad is one of about 100,000 Palestinian refugees living in the Baqa'a Camp. They, or their parents and grandparents, fled their homes in the 1948 and 1967 Arab-Israeli wars. The dispute over their right to return has been one of the key hurdles to achieving a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace agreement.

President Bush has publicly called for a peace agreement that envisions a two state solution with Israel and a Palestinian state existing side-by-side.

Many Palestinians remain skeptical.

A new antiwar song by Egyptian singer Shaban Abdel Rahim talks of Western double standards. The song has become a hit in the refugee camp and elsewhere in the region.

"Enough, enough," he sings. "They want to disarm Iraq. That's okay. But, why don't they disarm Israel too."

The music shop owner says he is resigned to a war in Iraq and will not be sorry to see Saddam Hussein go. But, he worries about the spillover into Jordan. He says Jordan's economy is still recovering from the 1991 Gulf War and he complains that many young people in the camp are out of work. Life is hard enough already, he says, and a war will only make it worse.