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Palestinians Identify With Plight of Iraqi People

Since the war in Iraq began, Palestinians have been glued to their television sets and radios to find out what is happening. Some have also turned out in frequent anti-war demonstrations to show their support for Iraq and their anger at the United States.

When Palestinians turn on the television news, the first thing they see is the war in Iraq, images of airplanes dropping bombs, heavily armed coalition soldiers moving through the streets of Iraqi cities, marines kicking down doors, as they look for Iraqi fighters, and Iraqi women cradling injured children, dismayed by the devastation around them.

"We support the Iraqi people, because they are people like us," she said. "I don't think this is a war against Saddam, this is a war against civilians."

Rubba, who teaches English at the university in Ramallah, says Palestinians identify with what is happening in Iraq, because, she adds, they suffer similar hardships.

Since the current Palestinian uprising began in September 2000, Israeli troops and tanks have moved in and out of Palestinian cities. After a string of suicide bomb attacks against Israelis last year, Israeli troops re-occupied most West Bank population centers. Israeli forces have hunted down Palestinian militants, sometimes killing civilians in the process. They have destroyed Palestinian homes, farms and roads, and have often imposed curfews on entire towns and villages. These measures are necessary, Israel says, to protect against terrorist attacks.

At present, curfews on most Palestinian areas have been lifted, although a travel ban remains in effect for Palestinians wishing to travel from the West Bank or Gaza Strip into Israel.

Ghassan Toubassi, a dentist in Ramallah, as well as many other Palestinians, view the U.S.-led war against Iraq as an unjustified invasion.

"There's no cause. It's an unfair war, without any cause. It's aggression," he said.

Dr. Toubassi and many Palestinians dismiss the reasons the United States cites for the Iraq war. An address Thursday by President Bush to Marines in North Carolina was carried live by Arabic television channels.

"No crime of a dying regime will divert us from our mission. We will not stop until Iraq is free," Mr. Bush said.

The American message of liberation does not resonate here. Many Palestinians say they believe that America wants to control Iraq's oil wealth and many, like Dr. Toubassi believe it is also about the U.S. alliance with Israel.

"I think it's forbidden for any country in the Middle East to achieve a certain level of education, of civilization that may threaten Israel in the future," said Dr. Toubassi. He answered "Certainly, certainly," when asked if he thinks there is a link in his mind between what's happening in Iraq and Israel.

The U.S. government rejects such allegations, and Israeli leaders have made it a point to say that Israel is not involved in this war. At the same time, Israeli officials have voiced strong support publicly for the U.S.-led war, which they have described as a major thrust against terrorism.

The Bush administration has said it will soon focus its attention on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and reveal the so-called roadmap, a step-by-step plan drawn up by the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, designed to lead to a final Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement and an independent Palestinian state.

Again, Palestinians are skeptical. Professor Ali Jarbawi, a political scientist at Ramallah's Birzeit University, says Palestinians are angry and disappointed.

"Palestinians feel angry and sad at the same time," he said. "Sad about what's happening to the Iraqi people, and angry because we see the American might against Iraq, and we don't see any movement on the Palestinian front."

Professor Jarbawi says Palestinians do not believe that the United States is willing to pressure Israel to compromise. He says Palestinians now want deeds and not just words.

"Maybe we are weak, but we're not stupid," said Professor Jarbawi. "We know that nothing is going to come out of this [Bush] administration. … This map is an American map. It was put forward on the table, and, under Israeli pressure, it was withdrawn; and since then, it was postponed. We're not very happy about this map, but we've accepted it, and we are waiting not only for words, but for the deeds."

American officials have said the roadmap would be made public once the new Palestinian prime minister-designate, Mahmoud Abbas, forms his government. And that could be within a matter of days.