Why bin Laden is hailed as the hero of Palestine
By Said Ghazali, The Independent UK, 11 October 2001
In the West Bank city of Nablus, Ali al Masri, a 72-year-old shopkeeper, says he plans to hang a picture of Osama bin Laden, the world's most wanted man, on his wall. When Iyad Musmar, a 28-year-old carpenter, saw the Saudi dissident on TV lambasting the US, he was delighted and cried out "Allahu Akbar" "God is great". Amani Khader, the 10-year-old daughter of a local politician, says she now loves bin Laden like a father.

These are just a few of the voices to rise out of the desperate landscape of the West Bank in the past few days. Suddenly we have a new "saviour" on the streets of Palestine, and it is a man who, the West believes, murdered at least 6,000 people.

I believed in saviours once. In the 1950s we believed in Gamal Nasser. He told us we would get our land back. But then came 1967 and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, which continues to this day.

Then there was Yasser Arafat. I used to believe in him, too enough to spend 18 months in jail in 1974 for joining Fatah, his mainstream movement. He also made grand statements about liberating the homeland. All we got was a string of failures, although he always claimed them as victories. Under him we lost 20,000 people in Jordan during the Black September massacres of 1970. Thirteen years later we were kicked out of Beirut, leaving Lebanon in ruins. In 1993 he signed the Oslo accords, endorsing a deal under which we would have no control over our borders, water, economy, or skies. In the end, our "great liberator's" only job would be to keep his people in line, using his police forces to provide security for the Israelis.

Palestinians used to applaud Saddam Hussein, clapping stupidly as his Scud missiles flew into Israel in 1991. Many Palestinians have begun to feel more ambivalent about him. So now he sends his emissaries with sacks of money to support the families of those killed by Israel. But his days as our hero are past.

Now the Palestinian intelligentsia is saying that the true new saviour is George Bush who is fighting terrorism and promising a state for us. But Bush is the closest ally of Israel. Little surprise then, after all these disappointments, that some have turned to bin Laden.

Palestinians will always oppose the war against Afghanistan, seeing it as an assault mostly on civilians. These victims are not responsible for the September 11 attacks. On the streets people support bin Laden not because they approve of the killing of 6,000 civilians, but because they share his anti-Israeli, anti-American sentiments.

Palestinians, like other Muslims, also oppose the presence of American soldiers in the Arab peninsula. They also admire bin Laden as a millionaire who has preferred to take the harshest choice in defying America and the West.

Supporting him does not mean endorsing terrorism, although many wonder what terrorism means. Are Iraq, Iran, Syria, Hizbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad to be branded terrorists, and not Israel?

Palestinians have made this man their new hero because they believe he is going to punish the greatest superpower in the world, a country that has helped Israel to keep us living in permanent misery, and will liberate Palestine.

The other day I approached one of Yasser Arafat's policemen who had just finished dispersing students marching in Nablus in protest against the American bombers and in solidarity with Osama bin Laden. What do you think of bin Laden, I asked the officer? "He is the greatest man in the world. He is our Messiah." So why, I asked, do you act so brutally against his supporters? "I have bad orders," came the reply, "But God will help."

The author is a freelance journalist living in Palestine.

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