Reflections on Palestinian Attitudes during the Gulf War
Gulf war
Israeli left

"Why not?," Qa'id replied, more perplexed than annoyed by my question. Indeed, few persons I met in Palestine even understood that cheering the Scud missiles was a "controversial" issue. As I approached the Barham home on my first day in Bayt Sahur, Abu Issa (the grandfather) excitedly beckoned to me from the balcony to come upstairs. After the usual greetings, his first impulse was to describe a wide arc in the air as he made the hissing sound of a missile. He then broke into a wide grin as everyone in the room laughed appreciatively. It was one of the few moments during my entire stay when people seemed genuinely-if ever so ephemerally-happy.

Norman Finkelstein received his Ph.D. in political science from Princeton University and is presently teaching international relations and political theory at the City University of New York. He wishes to thank Carol Chomsky, Noam Chomsky, and Samira Haj for comments on an earlier draft of this essay. Many of the references to the Hebrew press are taken from Israel Shahak, ed., From the Hebrew Press: Monthly Translations and Commentaries from Israel. 

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"Why not?," Qa'id replied, more perplexed than annoyed by my question. Indeed, few persons I met in Palestine even understood that cheering the Scud missiles was a "controversial" issue. As I approached the Barham home on my first day in Bayt Sahur, Abu Issa (the grandfather) excitedly beckoned to me from the balcony to come upstairs. After the usual greetings, his first impulse was to describe a wide arc in the air as he made the hissing sound of a missile. He then broke into a wide grin as everyone in the room laughed appreciatively. It was one of the few moments during my entire stay when people seemed genuinely-if ever so ephemerally-happy.

"So, why did you cheer the Scud missiles?," I asked Qa'id, an agricultural engineer, again. We were speaking in Fawwar, the refugee camp near Hebron where he lived. Outside, Israeli soldiers were passing through in a jeep, announcing yet another curfew as they shot teargas canisters and sound bombs into houses. Everyone in the room was hugging the wall. Everyone, that is, except a three-year-old standing on the window sill and shouting "Stone them!" as she shook her fist. Qa'id replied that the Scud attacks were the first time he saw panic in the eyes of the Israelis. "I wanted them to feel the same panic they caused me." Musa's six-year-old daughter, Marwa, said that she was "happy Saddam sent missiles to Israel because Israel killed many of us, sent Baba to prison and beat us." Musa, an English teacher also from Fawwar, had served three 6-month stints of administrative detention (once apparently for keeping me as a guest) and had been repeatedly humiliated, beaten, and tortured.

The "sweet taste of revenge" is not the most elevated of human sensibilities; it is also not a uniquely Palestinian one. Consider the American reaction to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. In War Without Mercy, John Dower reports that Japan's "surprise attack provoked a rage bordering on the genocidal among Americans." Thus, Admiral William Halsey, soon to be- come commander of the South Pacific, vowed after Pearl Harbor that by the end of the war Japanese would be spoken only in hell, and rallied his men thereafter under such slogans as "Kill Japs, kill Japs, kill more Japs." Public opinion polls in the United States indicated that more than one in ten Americans consistently supported the "annihilation" or "extermination" of the Japanese as a people, while a comparable percentage was in favor of severe retribution after Japan had been defeated ("eye for an eye," "punishment, torture," etc.). The incineration of Tokyo in March 1945, which left some one hundred thousand civilians dead, 16 square miles of the capital city destroyed and more than a million people homeless- "scorched and boiled and baked to death," in the words of the mastermind of the new strategy, Major General Curtis LeMay-evoked "no sustained protest," according to Dower. Indeed, there was "scarcely a murmur of protest on the home front," with the Allied air raids-"one of the most ruthless and barbaric killings of noncombatants in all history," in the words of a key aide to Douglas MacArthur-"widely accepted as just retribution." Elliott Roosevelt, the president's son and confidant, said in 1945 that the United States should continue bombing Japan "until we have destroyed about half the Japanese civilian population." A poll conducted by Fortune magazine in December 1945 found that nearly a quarter of the respondents wished the United States had had the opportunity to use "many more" atomic bombs before Japan had a chance to surrender. [1] 

"You can't blame us for cheering when the boot of the Israelis is on our neck," protested Nasir, as we sat in the rehabilitation center he administered for Palestinian youth permanently disabled by the beatings or bullets of Israeli soldiers. "It's not our fault if we hate the Israelis, it's their fault." The "politically correct" response is that the Israeli citizens should not be held accountable for the crimes of the Israeli state. It is also, in my view, a politically invalid response.

Collective responsibility is a notoriously imprecise concept. Yet one can, I think, mark off three points along a spectrum that are not controversial. At one extreme is a dictatorship in which the citizenry has no say in state policy or intervenes at extreme peril to itself. The midpoint is a typical democracy in which the citizenry is able to shape state policy. It may not actually do so, but the means are there if it chooses to. At the other extreme is a democracy in which the citizenry bears responsibility not only for the shaping of state policy but for its execution as well. One example is a democratic state with a mobilized citizen-army. Collective responsibility evidently increases as one moves from one end of the spectrum to the other. Let me now turn to Israel, which is located, I think, towards the democratic extreme of the spectrum.

The first point to make is that, contrary to widespread belief, the citizenry of Israel has generally embraced the harshest and most repressive state policies against the Palestinians. Consider the following, highly revealing, examples. The results of public opinion polls taken in June 1982, the first month of Israel's invasion of Lebanon that ultimately left almost 20,000 Palestinian and Lebanese souls dead, showed that more than 80 percent of those polled thought that launching the war was entirely justified. A poll taken in mid- August 1982, as Israel's "battering of Beirut reached new heights of savagery," still found that more than half the respondents would vote to re-elect the Begin-Sharon government and more than 80 percent supported the invasion of Lebanon. Indeed, public support heightened pari passu with the heightening of the war's savagery. Israelis only turned against the Lebanon invasion when the domestic costs-initially, the worldwide outcry against the Sabra-Shatila massacres that threatened to isolate Israel internationally and, later, the escalating IDF casualties-proved too onerous. Likewise, a poll taken in April 1989, when Israel's repression in the occupied territories had escalated, found that more than 70 percent believed that there was no contra- diction between the army's handling of the uprising and "the nation's democratic values," and more than half believed that the army should deploy yet "stronger measures" to quell the remarkably non-violent Palestinian revolt. Only one in four supported any diminution in the levels of Israeli violence.

The little public opposition that exists to these policies of the Israeli state, furthermore, is feckless, indeed, largely symbolic. Referring to Peace Now, General (Res.) Mattityahu Peled, a founding member of the Progressive List for Peace and a professor of Arabic literature at Tel Aviv University, observed in a recent interview in Progressive magazine that "it's one of the worst things that ever happened to us." "Nice people in Israel," he explained, "who feel unhappy with the situation but are not prepared to do anything about it, they get together twice or three times a year, and as the saying goes here, they give their conscience to the laundry. They get it back cleaned up, and they go back home happy and satisfied. There is nothing more to it than that. They stand at a demonstration. They shout a few slogans. They go home satisfied that they have done the job, but they are not prepared to shake the system. So this is a substitute for real action." [2] 

Yet Israelis must bear, not only the responsibility that redounds on citizens in a democratic state that pursues criminal policies, but also the much larger share of responsibility that redounds on citizens who directly implement the criminal policies of a democratic state. The point is made with stunning clarity in a recent essay in the New York Review of Books. The writer, Ari Shavit, is an Israeli journalist who did reserve duty as a guard in Gaza Beach, "one of the best" Israeli internment camps for Palestinians. Let me first quote Shavit's meditations on camp life:

Most [Palestinians] are awaiting trial; most were arrested because they were throwing stones or were said to be members of illegal organizations. Many are in their teens. Among them, here and there, are some boys who are small and appear to be very young .... The prison has 12 guard towers. Some Israeli soldiers are struck-and deeply shaken-by the similarity be- tween these and certain other towers, about which they have learned at school .... [T]he unjust analogy with those other camps of fifty years ago won't go away .... And I, too, who have always abhorred this analogy, who have always argued bitterly with anyone who so much as hints at it, I can no longer stop myself. The associations are too strong . . . Like a believer whose faith is cracking, I go over and over again in my mind the long list of arguments, the list of differences .... But then I realize[] that the problem is not in the similarity-for no one can seriously think that there is a real similarity-but that there isn't enough lack of similarity. The problem is that the lack of similarity isn't strong enough to silence once and for all the evil echoes, the accusing images. Maybe the Shin Beth is to blame for this-for the arrests it makes and what it does to those arrested. For almost every night, after it has managed, in its interrogations, to "break" a certain number of young men, the Shin Beth delivers to the [soldiers] a list with the names of the friends of the young men . . . [and I watch as] the soldiers . .. go out almost every night to the city and . . . come back with children of 15 or 16. The children grit their teeth. Their eyes bulge from their sockets. In not a few cases they have already been beaten .... And soldiers crowd together in the "reception room" to look at them when they undress. To look at them in their underwear, to look at them as they tremble with fear. And sometimes they kick them-one kick more, before they put on their new prison clothes .... Or maybe the doctor is to blame. You wake him up in the middle of the night to treat one of those just brought in-a young man, barefoot, wounded, who looks as if he's having an epileptic fit, who tells you that they beat him just now on the back and the stomach and over the heart. There are ugly red marks all over his body. The doctor turns to the young man and shouts at him. In a loud, raging voice he says: May you die! And then he turns to me with a laugh: May they all die! Or maybe the screams are to blame. At the end of the watch . . .you sometimes hear horrible screams . . . from the other side of the . . . fence of the interrogation section . . . , hair-raising human screams. Literally hair-raising .... In Gaza our General Security Services therefore amount to a Secret Police, our internment facilities are cleanly-run Gulags. Our soldiers are jailers, our interrogators torturers. In Gaza it's all straight- forward and clear. There's no place to hide.

And just who are these "jailers" and "torturers"? Let me quote Shavit again:

I am here doing my annual reserve service, like any other Israeli man. ... What is happening here is that an entire population of our reservists- bank clerks, insurance agents, electronic engineers, technicians, retailers, students-carries out the task of imprisoning another entire population, theirs-tile layers, plasterers, lab workers, journalists, clergy, students. This is something without parallel in any part of the world today that is thought to be decent. And you are a partner in it. You comply .... Only one out of 60 of us refuse to do guard duty in the interrogation section. Only four or five look troubled. Most of the rest get accustomed to it very quickly .... And these people, your friends, ordinary Israelis ... , these good people who are solid citizens . .. undergo here, without the slightest difficulty, the silent metamorphosis that is required of them .... I make a quick calculation. I estimate that several hundred young men at least must do reserve duty in this internment camp each year. So in all camps of this type, the number of reservists each year must amount to at least several thousand. Thus in the 40 months of intifada, more than 10,000 Israeli citizens in uniform have walked between the fences, have heard the screams, have seen the young being led in and out. One out of every hundred Israeli men has been here (or maybe one out of 70, or one out of 50). And the country has been quiet. Has flourished . . . . 10,000 (if not 15,000, if not 20,000) Israelis have done their work faithfully-have opened the heavy iron doors of the isolation cell and then closed it. Have led the man from the interrogation chamber to the clinic, from the clinic back to the interrogation chamber. They have looked close up at people shitting in terror, pissing in fear. And not one among them has begun a hunger strike in front of the house of the prime minister. Not one among them that I know of has said, This will not happen. Not in a Jewish state. [3] 

Peace Now and kindred spirits in the Israeli "peace camp" profess that they, at any rate, were filled with anguish as they did service in Lebanon and the occupied territories. Yet, how one feels is clearly of subsidiary importance to what one does: a murderer is still a murderer whether he kills with a heavy heart or a light one. Yehuda Ya'ari, the highly respected editor of Kibbutz, not too long ago issued a scathing attack on the two-facedness of Peace Now, which, he said, coupled the most elevated of ideals with the basest of actions. Declaring his intention to "emigrate from Israel to- morrow," Ya'ari wrote:

I am emigrating because "Peace Now" serves Arik Sharon and Arens. They flash their brass, serving as battalion commanders in repressive missions, and then righteously and hypocritically lecture before their regular audience of a few thousand .... When they receive an order to disperse [Palestinian] gatherings or imprison hundreds of thousands in their own homes, they obey it in the name of democracy-which is good for one people and unnecessary for another people. And, in the name of Israel's security .. ., they destroy the home of the entire family, even if only one of its members is suspected of something, leaving children and a wife and elderly parents outside. Between one rally and another, between one slogan and another, between one great speech and another... , they uproot orchards and awaken sleeping children. [4] 

The worst, incidentally, that can be said of Palestinians is that they cheered as others fired lethal weapons at Israel. The best that can be said of Israelis is that they anguished as they themselves fired lethal weapons at Palestinians. The Palestinian "worst case" would seem to be, from every standpoint (legal, ethical), rather less culpable than the Israeli "best case."

Furthermore, the official position of Peace Now and the "left"-leaning Citizens' Rights party is that all Israelis called upon to serve must do so; the "peace camp" is categorically against what Israelis refer to as "refusal." One stated rationale of the popular Citizens' Rights member, Yossi Sarid, and the "peace camp" generally, is that "peaceniks" are less likely to commit criminal acts in the occupied territories. Yet, as Gabi Nitzan recently observed in Hadashot, the nearly 140 Palestinian children shot dead during the intifada were not all "killed as a result of disobeying the rules. On the contrary, most were victims of good-natured soldiers who meticulously fulfilled the rules of engagement." The problem, he continues, is "not the particular political convictions of the soldiers," but, rather, "the presence of the Israeli army in the towns and villages with the declared intention of suppressing a popular uprising of an occupied people," which "guarantees that children, women, old and young people, will be killed wholesale. That's the way it is and one must either join in or refuse." Sarid, who was filled with disgust as the Palestinians "climbed up on their roofs and shouted like lunatics Allah Akhbar and applauded as the evil missiles fell on our heads," specially complained that "when a stray bullet kills one of their children, it also tugs at our heart. When a missile is deliberately fired at our children, it fills their hearts with joy." It is not certain that the Palestinians who "shouted like lunatics" from rooftops were rejoicing at the thought of dead Israeli children. What is certain, however, is that by not sanctioning refusal, Sarid and the Israeli "peace camp" in general are sanctioning in effect if not in intent the killing of Palestinian children-albeit with an anguished heart. [5] 

Finally, the public display of one's anguish at performing an onerous but appointed duty is typically an exercise in self-extenuation and -exoneration: I'm pained, ergo I'm good. It is interesting in this regard to note the German historian Joachim C. Fest's remarks about Rudolf Hoss, the commandant of Auschwitz, who in his autobiography wrote that he "never grew indifferent to human suffering. I have always seen it and felt for it." Fest comments: "[What he believed to be sympathy for his victims was nothing but sentimental pity for himself, who was ordered to carry out such inhuman acts. Thus he was able to claim merit for a completely self-centered sentimentality, which placed him under no obligation to take any action, and to credit him- self with the mendacious self-pity of the 'sorrowful murderer' as evidence of his humanitarianism."

Returning to the Israeli scene, not everyone is fooled by the manipulative outpourings of angst, or is unaware of the purposes they serve. Writing in the New York Review of Books, Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit ridiculed the "shooting and crying" literature that proliferated after the June 1967 war as a kind of "kitsch." Its "clear but unstated message," he wrote, "is one of rueful moral self-congratulation: we are beautiful, but we must shoot to kill-but not before we go through an agonizing search of our tormented soul." Margalit went on to argue that this kind of "self-righteous" sentimentality can also be "evil" since it turns the "fighting soldier into an object of complete innocence" and the "enemy" becomes "all the more deserving of severe punishment." A Hadashot columnist considered the case of Major General Amram Mitzna. Mitzna, whose brooding good looks made him a favorite among Israelis, presided over some of the worst atrocities in the occupied territories during the intifada. The columnist described Mitzna as "quite practiced when it comes to putting on a mournful expression and rolling his eyes like someone engaged in performing a difficult task for his ungrateful country." "Despite the serious emotional difficulties involved in the task," he continues sardonically, Mitzna "keeps a stiff upper lip and remains unperturbed .... Every time [a Palestinian] is shot in the back, he sheds tears and every time [a Palestinian] is killed, he gives a sermon about his moral rectitude which, because of bitter reality, cannot but get sullied." "This whole spectacle," the columnist scornfully concludes,

is so repulsive, hypocritical and feeble that it finally makes you want to call on [Mitzna] to forthrightly face the dilemma: does he want to shoot or does he want to cry? While it is true that a general must carry out the orders of the political echelon, he does have a choice. He can resign, and in so doing end his responsibility for the children shot in the back, the brutality, the humiliations, the harassment, the physical and psychological torture .... Just don't let him send us people to whisper to us that he's the best of the lot, and that if he leaves, a real murderer will take his place. The "killers" who arrive on the job with a bad record are usually much more careful than those who are supposedly "one of us." They also don't blur the picture with crocodile tears. [6] 

One fringe benefit for Israel of its anguished posturing is that the willfully gullible American media lap it up. Israel's never-ending "image problem" is thus kept within manageable bounds. For instance, as Israel unleashed an unprecedentedly brutal wave of repression to crush the first stirrings of the intifada, the Times's headline read, "Israel's New Violent Tactic Takes Toll on Both Sides," and the New York Review of Books blazoned across its front page, "The Agony in Israel" [7] (emphasis added).

Let me conclude this discussion of collective responsibility by quoting the admirably candid and forthright view of Shulamith Aloni, chair of the Citizens' Rights party. Asked if she was disappointed by the Palestinian response to the Gulf crisis, Aloni responded:


Why should I be disappointed? Have I done anything for them? Has the Israeli Left done anything for them? The Israeli Left are loyal citizens of Israel, supporting the establishment and upholding the security system. Sometimes we think we are different. That we have done something for the Palestinians .... We felt we did a lot. De facto, we did not. The government continues to rule in the territories-suppressing human rights, destroying, killing-and we have a share in it because we have not gone into revolt. We obey the law. We serve in the army .... In short, we abide by the rules of the democratic game. And therefore, we are partners . .. all of us. We are a fig leaf for Israeli democracy .... The Palestinians have no obligation towards us. We have done nothing for them and they do not owe us anything. [8]

It was the "harshness of the Israeli occupation during the Gulf crisis," said Musa, that explained the Palestinian response to the Scud missiles. He re- minded me that in the past he and his friends had never approved of attacks on Israeli civilians. Yet, Musa admitted, their attitude had changed during those terrible months. The accumulated hatred of the Palestinians in effect crystallized, according to him, as Israel turned the screws the full limit and the rest of the world stood by silently-indeed, approvingly.

The worst was the protracted, strictly enforced curfew. The West Bank and Gaza became-in the words of one Israeli journalist writing in Hadashot-a "vast internment camp." Generally, Palestinians were confined to their homes for fully 45 days, with the curfew lifted only 2-3 hours every 3- 4 days. In Gaza, the curfew was lifted for only 2 hours each week, and only women were permitted to leave their homes. Deheishe refugee camp was placed under curfew almost continuously for nearly 100 days. Musa deemed the curfew totally unjustified, pointing to the calm that prevailed when it was intermittently lifted. B'Tselem-the Israeli human rights group-claimed that, at any rate by the fourth week of the war, security grounds could no longer justify the curfew. Even when it was temporarily lifted, Palestinians were still forbidden to travel from one district to the next without special passes. Haa’retz published an interview with a disgruntled but still "redhot" Likud supporter serving in Nablus during the Gulf war who compared interdistrict travel to "passing through the Seven Gates of Hell." The soldiers, he said, "were so consumed with hate that they tried every means to harass and humiliate." Even Palestinians with authorization were held for hours at a time at roadblocks. Then, "there were soldiers who ordered drivers to take the chairs out of the car and to remove the spare tire, and to play their cassettes-one at a time.” [9] 

Educational institutions were ordered shut and the school year was severely truncated for the fourth time in as many years. (Israeli schools already resumed a partial schedule by the second week of the war and a full schedule soon thereafter.) Health services collapsed. The curfew prevented medical personnel from reaching their places of work and Palestinians in need of medical care from telephoning an ambulance or driving to a hospital. The Likud supporter cited above recalled that soldiers routinely denied transit permits for the local hospital because the Palestinians making the request "didn't appear to be sick." "What kind of situation have we reached," he asked, "when simple soldiers diagnose the medical condition of residents?" And "when they caught a doctor travelling during the curfew, they made him stand with his hands up against a wall for an hour-and-a-half until they decided what to do with him." Al-Maqassed Hospital in Jerusalem registered only 150 births, as against an average of 500 in a normal month. [10] 

Economic life ground to a halt. Laborers employed in Israel or local industry could not travel to work. Farmers could not harvest their crops. The average daily losses during the curfew were minimally estimated at more than $5 million. Musa's biggest worry throughout the war was his family in Fawwar. With no one working there wasn't even money to purchase flour. Conditions teetered on the catastrophic. One Israeli journalist suggested that "some senior Israeli officers, even if they do not seek consciously or on purpose to starve the Palestinians, are still prepared to abandon the starving to the mercy of Allah." Indeed, Al-Hamishmar reported that a convoy of Israeli and Palestinian doctors trying to deliver formula to "hungry babies" in Nablus "suffering real starvation" was repeatedly harassed by the military authorities. Even as the war wound down, the situation continued to deteriorate. A journalist for Hotam who visited Gaza in April sought to "sound the alarm bells . . . of every decent person" with the "terrible facts" of the "massive unemployment" that was "rapidly turning the Gaza Strip ... into a disaster area on the brink of hunger and beyond it." "Half-starving children are already crying in the street at night because of hunger. Desperate parents with empty pockets stand by helplessly, nourishing feelings of hatred and revenge as they count pennies for a pita and vegetables and worry about buying milk tomorrow." [11] 

Palestinians accused of breaking the curfew (nearly 2,000) received fines ranging from $250 to $500. Most could not afford to pay and were jailed for as many as six weeks. (Even in good times the fine would be onerous. The average monthly wage of a Palestinian worker is $500.) Military authorities used the occasion of the curfew to demand the payment of taxes-taxes not even due until the coming year. The journalist reporting from Gaza observed that "the Israeli government not only doesn't lift a finger to prevent the unprecedented deterioration, but even makes matters worse by sending revenue collectors to hound these unfortunate people whose pockets are already empty . . . . Everyone is doing his job, everyone is obeying orders. The thousand arms of the government perform a thousand actions . . . with impenetrable indifference-and the result is a terrible catastrophe, methodical starvation of the residents of the Strip." One Gazan was quoted to the effect that "You are killing us without guns. Killing us with regulations, forms, instructions." [12]

Besides the curfew, Palestinians I talked to chafed most at the memory of the gas masks-or, more precisely, the lack thereof. In August 1990 as I left the occupied territories, Iraq had already invaded Kuwait and the threat of war throughout the region loomed large. Israel had already begun distributing gas masks to its own citizens. One Palestinian friend commented with a mixture of cynicism and despair that, if war did break out, the Israelis would at least have some protection, "while we will be left to die like rats." I repeated her concerns in the States, but they were uniformly dismissed as the macabre fantasy of someone whose judgment had been impaired by venom: Israel would never be so cruel or callous. Yet after all, she wasn't so far off the mark. The Israeli government at first refused to provide Palestinians with gas masks because, it alleged, "the areas of Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip are not the target of possible Iraqi missile attacks"-but this did not prevent the distribution of masks to all the Jewish settlers in the occupied territories. Even after the Israeli High Court reversed the government decision and several Iraqi missiles did indeed land in the West Bank, only 3 percent of the Palestinians received a mask. What is more, no Palestinian child was given one. The U.S. media bombarded viewers with poignant images of Israeli children donning gas masks. Yet, as American news anchor Amy Goodman put it in a rare dissenting opinion, the one image worse than Israeli children with gas masks was Palestinian children without them. Musa told me that, after daily seeing Israeli children on television with gas masks, his three-year-old daughter became so terrified that she tearfully pleaded with him for one. Finally, he spent hundreds of dollars to buy a mask "and give her security." [13] 

Palestinians cheered the Gulf war as an act of retribution against the Israelis, yet ironically, in crucial respects, they perhaps suffered more during it. Consider even the basic question of loss of life. According to the official Israeli figures, one person was killed outright and twelve additional deaths "resulted indirectly" from the Scud attacks. Yet, B'Tselem reported that, in the month of January 1991 alone, fully fifteen Palestinians were killed out- right by Israeli security forces, including five children. "The especially high number of children," the human rights organization cautioned, "should be noted." Alas, selectively transfixed as the Western media was by the trauma of Israeli children, it never was. [14] 

"We suffered terribly during the Gulf war. But, believe me, I cannot re- member a time when we Palestinians were happier." I was speaking with Nidal, an English teacher in Bayt Sahur. Her two brothers have been in jail for the past seven years, her brother-in-law was just released from jail, and her sister-in-law is now being threatened with deportation. Her husband has lived the past decade in Qatar where he was forced to seek employment. "Every time I saw a Scud missile in the sky headed for Israel, I saw hope. Each missile equaled hope." She gestured an equal symbol with her index and middle fingers. "Hope that Israel would finally be forced to negotiate and the nightmare of the occupation would finally end."

I heard this sentiment repeated, in one form or another, over and over. "It wasn't that we wanted the Scuds to kill Israelis. We just wanted them to feel scared enough that they would finally make peace," said one. (Nidal believed most Palestinians would have had second thoughts if pressed on the matter of civilian casualties. Musa averred that Palestinians knew the Scuds weren't doing real damage, or else the Israelis would have retaliated.) "We thought the Scuds would make Israel understand that real security comes with peace, not with land," said another. "We hoped the Scuds would show Israel that there was a price to be paid for continuing to torture us," said a third.

Indeed, most Palestinians are convinced that Israel only understands force. It will negotiate peace only when it must reckon with the consequences of not negotiating peace. Rassan Andoni, a physicist from Birzeit University, told me that for years the Israeli left misled Palestinians by urging them to beg Israel for peace, to first kneel and then appeal to Israel's ethical sense. In face, Andoni said, the Israeli right is much more realistic (honest?) about its society: Israel defers to power, not morality. The historical record largely confirms this judgment. Consider that, in 1971, Anwar Sadat offered Israel peace on even better terms than the 1977 Camp David Accords. Israel turned him down. It went to the negotiating table with Sadat only after the Egyptian attack of October 1973. Similarly, Israel partially withdrew from Lebanon in 1985 because of the unexpected resistance, and large number of casualties inflicted, by the Lebanese. Indeed, for fully a decade the PLO mainstream had offered Israel a two-state settlement, but only after the intifada did Israeli elites begin even to contemplate such a resolution. Now that the Palestinian revolt has been nearly crushed, however, all interest has vanished. [15] 

Palestinians cheered Saddam Hussein for many of the same reasons they cheered the Scud missiles. On the eve of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, morale in Palestine had reached a nadir. For three years Palestinians had resisted Israel's brutal repression, yet had nothing to show for it. They now despaired of being able to affect their fate. (One index of these broken spirits, incidentally, was the absence of any resistance to the curfew during the Gulf war.) They also despaired of international opinion. An economist from Jerusalem commented that Palestinians always knew that children with stones could not defeat the Israeli army. However, the intifada was seen first and foremost as an appeal to international opinion: a call to rescue. The world community failed to answer that call. Three years of intifada thus left Palestinians feeling impotent as well as cynical. Into this void stepped Saddam Hussein. He was just the right person in just the right place at just the right time, unfortunately.

Talal, a tailor in Bayt Sahur, said Palestinians embraced Saddam because they were convinced that only a "strong man could solve our problems. He seemed incredibly strong and we felt incredibly weak. The match seemed perfect." Palestinians now claim they didn't support Saddam's invasion of Kuwait. That is only a half-truth. The other half is that they didn't oppose it either. The fact is they just didn't care. No one I talked to in August 1990 defended Saddam when pressed far enough. Indeed, they couldn't. Palestinians of all people could not coherently justify an invasion, occupation and annexation. So, ultimately, they dismissed all my arguments in the name of realpolitik: no one cared about morality when it came to Palestinians; why, then, should Palestinians lose sleep over morality when it came to the Kuwaitis? Nassar, a psychologist from Hebron, said "it was as if we Palestinians were trapped in a well screaming for help. The whole world is peering down at us. It hears our pleas but does nothing. Then along comes Saddam. A brutal dictator? Yes, we all knew that. Nonetheless, he extends a helping hand. Did you really expect us to refuse it?" Palestinians also praised Saddam as the first Arab leader to support them with actions, not just bluster, against their oppressors: in attacking the Israeli heartland and openly defying the U.S., he had restored to Arabs their human dignity.

As Israeli columnist Boaz Evron observed in Yedi'ot Aharonot, the Palestinian response to the Gulf crisis was as predictable as it was unremarkable:

With the intifada going nowhere, the U.S. "dialogue" with the PLO a waste of time, and the world standing idly by-naturally, you grasp at every straw, even if the straw is actually poisoned bait. You become excited at the sight of an Arab leader who dares to confront all the world and is shaking it from one end to the other, even if you can't imagine living under his rule in your worst nightmare. An Arab state is suddenly treated like a big power with whom it is not at all easy to deal. This does something to the collective "ego."

"The enthusiasm for Saddam," Evron continued, "is really the frustration with America, with Europe, and with the Israeli left-with all of us who failed to draw back the occupation regime even one inch." Evron also noted that there is ample precedent for the Palestinians' pact with the "devil." He pointed, for example, to the deal Prime Minister Shamir's Stem Gang tried to strike with Hitler at the beginning of World War II to fight the British "and even the most wicked would not say that they wanted Hitler to rule here," and the millions worldwide who rallied behind Stalin during World War II as the one bulwark against fascism "even though they understood perfectly the nature of the Soviet regime and would not under any circumstances have wanted to live there." [16] 

"We cheered as Iraq attacked Israel and the world condemned us," a student in my English class in Hebron bitterly observed. "Israelis cheered as the U.S. attacked Iraq and no one condemned them. Why?" The simple answer, I said, was that Palestinians were, not for the first time, the victims of a double standard.

The first point to make is that public opinion in Israel was no less unanimous in its support of the U.S.-led attack on Iraq than Palestinian opinion was in support of the Scud missile attack on Israel. Indeed, veterans of the "peace camp"-e.g., Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua, Shulamith Aloni, Yael Dayan, Shaul Friedlander, Menachem Brinker, Avishai Margalit, Amos Elon, Yaron Ezrahi, and Yoram Kaniuk-and Peace Now as an organization were especially vocal in their support for the assault on Iraq, publicly rebuking the international anti-war movement for "being suspicious about America's interests in the region" (A.B. Yehoshua) and invoking the specter of a "second Auschwitz" to justify the possible use of nuclear weapons against Iraq (Amos Oz). Yet, as I argued in "Israel and Iraq: A Double Standard in the Application of International Law," all the counts of the indictment against Iraq- "crimes against peace," "war crimes" and "crimes against humanity"-applied to Israel as well. Surely, Saddam could point to many more UN resolutions condemning aggression, occupation, annexation, and human rights violations ignored by Israel then were ignored by him. One may also wish to argue that Saddam was not really concerned with the fate of the Palestinians when he attacked Israel, which is true enough: he was exactly as concerned with the fate of the Palestinians when he attacked Israel as Bush was concerned with the fate of the Kuwaitis when he attacked Iraq. [17] 

Consider, moreover, the comparative destruction wrought by the Gulf war on Israel and Iraq. According to the official Israeli reckoning, a dozen or so Israelis died directly or indirectly, some 200 Israelis were injured, and several thousand apartments or building were damaged as a result of the 39 Scud missile attacks. Yet, a UN field mission that visited Iraq in March 1991 re- ported that "Nothing that we had seen or read had quite prepared us for the particular form of devastation which has now befallen the country. The re- cent conflict has wrought near-apocalyptic results upon the economic infrastructure of what had been, until January 1991, a rather highly urbanized and mechanized society." The report's basic findings, according to the New York Times, were "not dissimilar" from "United States assessments." In the course of the U.S.-led attack, fully 90,000 tons of bombs were dropped, the equivalent of more than seven Hiroshima-sized bombs. Greenpeace, in one of the most careful studies to date, concluded that "the Gulf war was unprecedented in the amount of destruction inflicted on a nation with 'conventional' weapons in so short a period of time." It estimated that 100,000-120,000 Iraqi soldiers and 5,000-15,000 civilians were killed, or an average of 2,500-3,000 Iraqis killed each day. As many as 25,000 Iraqi troops were "massacred" in a "wholesale slaughter" during the U.S.-led ground offensive. The infrastructures of Iraq's "sophisticated" medical, energy, transportation, water treatment and telecommunications systems were destroyed, as were as many as 10,000 homes. A Harvard University Medical team returning from Iraq in May predicted that, because of war-related damage, child mortality, which had already soared in the first four months of the year, with 55,000 more children dead than in the comparable period for the previous year, was likely to increase to at least 170,000 additional deaths by the end of the year. Furthermore, as the recent reports of thousands of Iraqis being buried alive by plows mounted on tanks and combat earthmovers testify, the U.S.-led attack on Iraq was scarcely a "clean" war. Indeed, Noam Chomsky points out in Z magazine that the very first phase of the war which targeted civilian infrastructure such as power, sewage and water systems was a "form of biological warfare, designed to ensure long-term suffering and death among civilians so that the U.S. would be in a good position to attain its political goals for the region." By far the biggest lie of the Gulf war, in fact, was the claim that it was a war- "if," as Chomsky writes, "the concept 'war' involves two sides in combat, say, shooting at each other." The Israelis (along with many others in the west) were effectively cheering, not a war, but a "slaughter" (Chomsky's word). What the Palestinians cheered didn't even amount, by comparison, to a slap on the wrist. [18] 

"We Palestinians also remember who started the war between Israel and Iraq," Talal said. He was referring to Israel's destruction of the Iraqi atomic reactor in 1981, justified by the unique moral doctrine that only Israel among Middle Eastern states had the right to threaten its neighbors with nuclear annihilation. Indeed, as he stood poised to launch the Scud missiles at Tel Aviv, Saddam Hussein's list of legitimate grievances against Israel was a lengthy one. Ian Black and Benny Morris recount in Israel's Secret Wars that, beginning in 1968 and throughout the early 1970s, Israel (alongside Iran and the U.S.) was engaged in a "coldly calculated" and "cynical enterprise" to weaken Iraq by subsidizing and directly fomenting civil insurrection among the Iraqi Kurds, and sabotaging efforts at a negotiated settlement between the Kurdish leaders and Baghdad. Andrew and Leslie Cockburn report in Dangerous Liaison that, exactly as Iraq claimed during the Gulf crisis, Israel "had planned an attack on Iraq's nonconventional capabilities" a year before (but "to the intense disappointment of the raiding party, the White House refused to grant permission"). [19] 

When Saddam invaded Kuwait and Bush began to gear up for war, the Cockburns continue, "The reaction from Israel . . . was enthusiastic. Israeli spokesmen urged the president to show no mercy against Saddam." Already in the first month of the Gulf crisis, official Israeli thinking as related by Ha Aretz's chief political commentator was-to quote the article's headline- "Strike Now." According to a London Times dispatch in October, President Chaim Herzog had even urged the U.S. to use nuclear weapons. And in December it was reported in the Hebrew press that Foreign Minister David Levy had threatened U.S. and European officials that Israel would unilaterally attack Iraq in the event that the U.S. failed to "obliterate" the Iraqi military arsenal. (Some Israeli commentators speculated that Levy's threat was an effort to preempt a negotiated settlement by pressuring the U.S. to launch an immediate attack.) Finally, the Cockburns report that, "from the first minutes of the war," it was Israeli-made bombs that "were falling on Iraq." Of course, Israel had its legitimate grievances against Iraq-most notably, Baghdad's harboring of Palestinian terrorists. The balance of legitimate grievances would seem to be clearly on the Iraqi side, however. In any event, Israel's pose of wounded innocence as the Iraqi missiles landed on Tel Aviv was pure hypocrisy. [20] 

In the disastrous aftermath of the Gulf war, most Palestinians were reluctant to criticize Saddam. Some continue to cling to illusions about the war itself, doubting, for instance, the reported small number of U.S. casualties.

Even Palestinians who recognize the full breadth of the political and military defeat inflicted by the U.S. will not openly denounce Saddam. In the first place, he did rise to the defense of the Palestinians, even if for purely opportunistic reasons-and no Palestinian I talked to had any illusions about Saddam's real motives when he raised the issue of "linkage" between the Kuwaiti and Palestinian occupations and, later, fired the Scuds at Israel. They refuse to stab him in the back now even if it may be politically opportune to do so. On a deeper level, for Palestinians fully to acknowledge Sad- dam's opportunism, they would have to admit that, yet again, their martyrdom had been cruelly exploited by an Arab leader. This Palestinians cannot do, if only because it makes the support they lent him during the war look so foolish. Finally, Palestinians still believe that, between Iraq and the U.S.-led alliance arrayed against it, the right-even if politically disastrous- thing to do was support Iraq.

A few Palestinians I talked to did criticize Saddam for his "tactical" blunders. Qa'id, for example, compared him unfavorably with Lenin, who had the good sense to sign the humiliating Brest-Litovsk treaty in order to preserve the gains of the October Revolution. Generally, however, Palestinians would not even go this far. More indicative-although admittedly a caricature-of Palestinian sentiment was the opinion of Nidal's father, an engineer who left behind a lucrative business in the Gulf to personally care for his family after his sons were jailed. He insisted that Saddam had handled the Gulf war brilliantly. But, I said, all his calculations were wrong. He did not think the U.S. would fight. It did. He did not think that the Soviet Union would go along. It did. He did not think the Arab states would openly ally with the U.S. and Israel against Iraq. They did. He did think Israel would enter the war if Iraq attacked. It didn't. He did think the Arab masses would go to the streets if Iraq held out long enough. They didn't. So, where was Saddam's brilliance? "Saddam was right, the world was wrong," he shot back defiantly. But the look on his face was one of total despair and frustration.

One day Nidal mentioned to me that not everyone in Palestine cheered the Scud missile attacks. "There were a few exceptions," she said gently. "My- self, for example." "I did not go to the rooftop," she recalled. "When I heard my family whistling, I got this sick feeling inside me. That we were all becoming monsters, beasts." This was not the first time I heard Nidal speak this way. Two years earlier, I had witnessed her reaction as she paused to reflect on her own irrepressible glee as the shebab were stoning a soldier. "Am I losing my humanity?," she had wondered aloud. But, Nidal said, when she learned that Saddam was withdrawing from Kuwait, her attitude suddenly changed. There was no longer any hope that Saddam would force Israel's hand. The occupation would continue. "I then slowly climbed the stairs to the roof," she said, "and glared at the blackness of the sky. It was as if I were possessed. I wanted to see millions of rockets headed for Tel Aviv. I wanted to see the whole world destroyed. Including us."

"Where is justice?" she sighed.

I recently asked my mother, a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and Maidanek concentration camp, her thoughts during the war as news filtered back that the Russians were bombing German cities. "I wanted the Germans to die," she remembered. "I knew I wouldn't live, so I wanted them to die too. We cheered the Russians. We wanted them to destroy anything and everything German. We wished them death every second of the day because we faced death every second of the day."


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Norman Finkelstein received his Ph.D. in political science from Princeton University and is presently teaching international relations and political theory at the City University of New York. He wishes to thank Carol Chomsky, Noam Chomsky, and Samira Haj for comments on an earlier draft of this essay. Many of the references to the Hebrew press are taken from Israel Shahak, ed., From the Hebrew Press: Monthly Translations and Commentaries from Israel. 

Generally, Israeli Jews between the ages of 18 and 21 serve two to three years in the armed forces. Israeli Jewish males then do at least 62 days active duty annually in reserve units until age 55, spending all told nine years in uniform.

1. John Dower, War Without Mercy (New York: Random House, 1986), pp. 36, 40-41, 53-55.

2. Avner Yaniv, Dilemmas of Security (New York: Oxford, 1987), pp. 127-28; Chomsky, Fateful Triangle (Boston: South End, 1984), pp. 253-54 (the first quoted phrase is at p. 253); New York Times, 2 April 1989; Progressive, October 1991.

3. Ari Shavit, "On Gaza Beach," in The New York Review of Books, 18 July 1991.

4. Yehuda Ya'ari, "True alarm/The body's place means nothing," in Davar, 22 September 1989.

5. Gabi Nitzan, "Against refusal/For Refusal," in Hadashot, 3 August 1990; Yossi Sarid, "Don't bother looking for me," Ha'Aretz, 31 January 1991. On the mainstream Israeli peace movement's stance against refusal, cf. Daniel Ben Simon, "Red line," in Davar, 10 February 1989; Tom Segev, "Shula Aloni's limit of obedience," in Ha'Aretz, 10 February 1989; Ron Mimberg, "To serve, like leaders, in a humane manner," in Hadashot, 13 February 1989; David Erlich, "Roni Bergman refuses for the firstime," in Ha'Aretz, 3 February 1989; Avihu Ronen, "The courage to be alone," in Ha 'Aretz, 30 January 1989; Amos Oz, The Slopes of Lebanon (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989), pp. 37-39. On the case for refusal, cf. Judith Orian, "My freedom," in Yedi'ot Aharonot, 31 July 1990, and esp. Moshe Negbi, "How fair is it to refuse," in Hadashot, 3 August 1990, who observes that an Israeli soldier no longer has the option not to commit a war crime:  

once the order is not only the whim of some extremist commander but is a norm expressing the evil intentions of the highest political echelons. In such a case, even the most just and sensitive soldier is forced to become a partner, at least passively, in the crime. Even if he refuses to torture the stone-throwers he has caught, he cannot prevent them from being beaten, sometimes to death, in the detention compound. In such a situation, there is, of course, no point in complaining. Under such circumstances, refusal to serve in the territories becomes legitimate, indeed, compulsory. The thirties in Europe have taught us that the majority has no authority to impose on the minority the perpetration of war crimes-and that the minority must not only refuse, but should also revolt by force against such an order.

6. Joachim C. Fest, The Face of the Third Reich (New York: Pantheon, 1970), p. 283; Avishai Margalit, "The Kitsch of Israel," in The New York Review of Books, 24 November 1988; Amnon Denker, "To shoot or to cry," in Hadashot, 23 January 1989.

7. New York Times, 22 January 1988; New York Review of Books, 7 January 1988. (my emphases)

8. Tom Segev, "They won't have to look for Shulamith Aloni," in Ha'Aretz, 24 August 1990.

9. Moshe Negbi, "We do not think about them and their suffering," in Hadashot, 15 February 1991; B'Tselem, Human Rights in the Occupied Territories During the War in the Persian Guy (Jerusalem: February, 1991), pp. 2-5; Yizhar Be'er, "Why harass them?," in Ha'Aretz, 24 March 1991; cf. Danny Rubinstein, "The territories are being punished," in Ha'Aretz, 18 February 1991.

10. B'Tselem, Human Rights, pp. 5, 10-12; Be'er, "Why harass them?".

11. B'Tselem, Human Rights, pp. 7-9; Moshe Negbi, "We do not think about them and their suffering"; Vered Levy, "Sealed Palestinian room," in Al-Hamishmar, 22 February 1991; Oded Lifshitz, "You are killing us without guns," in Hotatn, 26 April 1991.

12. B'Tselem, Human Rights, p. 4, 6; Danny Rubinstein, "The territories are being punished;" Oded Lifshitz, "You are killing us without guns."

13. B'Tselem, Human Rights, pp. 17-21; Michael Sela, "No gas masks for Palestinians: A system of double morality," in Davar, 10 February 1991; Pacifica news anchor Amy Goodman was interviewed on the "Sally Jessy Raphael" program, 28 January 1991.

14. Information Department of the Consulate General of Israel in New York, "For Your Information: Scud Missile Attacks on Israel," 28 February 1991; B'Tselem, Human Rights, p. 23.

15. On the historical record of Arab/Palestinian peace initiatives and Israeli rejectionism, cf. esp. Noam Chomsky, The Fateful Triangle, chap. 3.

16. Boaz Evron, "The excited among us," in Yediot Aharonot, 24 August 1990; It is interesting to note that Jews were among Stalin's most fervent partisans. As Soviet historian Moshe Lewin recently observed in The Nation, (30 September, 1991) Jews "disproportionately favored the Communists" because, unlike elsewhere in wartime Europe, they were not, in Soviet Russia, "condemned to die" simply for being Jewish. Indeed, in a rare acknowledgment in the scholarly literature on the Nazi holocaust, Amo Mayer points out in Why Did the Heavens Not Darken (New York: Pantheon, 1984; pp. 187, 198, 257) that Stalin admitted as many as 350,000 Jewish refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe and even granted them Soviet citizenship, "this at a time when elsewhere such refugees were driven back or interned for being either enemy aliens, stateless, or without visas," and he indirectly contributed to the rescue of some 1.5 million Jews who were evacuated from Soviet territory captured by the Nazis. The U.S., by comparison, admitted only 20,000 Jewish refugees and indirectly contributed to the rescue of perhaps a couple of hundred thousand. (Compare David Wyman's disingenuous conclusion in his much-acclaimed The Abandonment of the Jews [New York: Pantheon, 1984, pp. x, xi] that "Poor though it was, the American rescue record was better than that of Great Britain, Russia, or the other Allied nations." [emphasis added]) Stalin invaded, occupied and annexed the Baltic States on the eve of the second World War. He presided over the cruelest of tyrannies. But, relatively speaking, he was "good for the Jews." So they cheered him on.

17. Hanna Kim, "Israel's left-wing all-stars vs. the rest of the world: 'The war in the Gulf is just'," in Hadashot, 29 January 1991; Gabi Nitzan, "While the Patriots whistle, the Muses sing," in Hadashot, 1 February 1991; Gabi Nitzan, "While the Patriots whistle, the Muses sing (part two)," in Hadashot, 8 February 1991; Lilly Galilee, "Peace Now vs. the European [peace] movements over their attitude to the Gulf War," in Ha'Aretz, 30 January 1991; "Roundtable on the Gulf War," in Tikkun, March-April 1991 (including comments by Shulamith Aloni and Amos Oz); Norman G. Finkelstein, "Israel and Iraq: A Double Standard in the Application of International Law," in Monthly Review, July-August 1991.

18. Information Department of the Consulate General of Israel in New York, "For Your Information: Scud Missile Attacks on Israel," 28 February 1991; "Letter Dated 20 March 1991 from the Secretary-General addressed to the President of the Security Council, 20 March 1991 (S/22366) enclosing Report by Under-Secretary-General Martti Ahtissaari"; Patrick Tyler, "U.S. Officials Believe Iraq Will Take Years to Rebuild," in the New York Times, 3 June 1991; William M. Arkin, Damian Durrant and Marianne Chemi, On Impact. Modem Warfare and the Environment-A Case Study of the Gulf War (London: Greenpeace International, May 1991), pp. 5, 15-21, 23, 55-60, 79-81; Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1986), p. 711; Patrick Tyler, "Health Crisis Said to Grip Iraq In Wake of War's Destruction," in the New York Times, 22 May 1991; Patrick J. Sloyan, "Buried Alive," in Newsday, 12 September 1991; Noam Chomsky, "Aftermath," in Z, October 1991.

19. Ian Black and Benny Morris, Israel's Secret Wars (New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1991), pp. 327-30, 332-37; Andrew and Leslie Cockburn, Dangerous Liaison (New York: Harper Collins, 1991), p. 346.

20. Cockburns, pp. 351, 353 (the London Times dispatch is cited on 353); Uzi Benziman, "Strike Now," in HaAretz, 31 August 1990; Akiva Eldar, Ha'Aretz, 5 December 1990; Shlomo Ginossar, "How tall can we stand?," in Davar, 7 December 1990. 

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