April 10 2003

Thoughts of NSWAS members regarding the war with Iraq

Based on questions posed by the British Friends of NSWAS and edited by Howard Shippin

Is anyone in the village in favour of the war?  Does anyone believe that some good will come of it?

No one was found to be in favour of the war. Some took a moral stand against any war:

Boaz Kita'in: I am against the war because in principle war has failed as a solution for conflict between peoples. War and the use of force are morally invalid. Nobody has the right to kill unless in self-defence. I don't think force can be used as a way to usher in democracy.

Ety Edlund: Any violent act must be negated in principle. No country has a right to destroy another regime.

Raida Hatib: War is never a solution to regime change. War should have been the last option.

Some questioned the Americans' motivation for the war, either because they thought there wasn't sufficient rationale or out of a deep distrust for American policy:

Boaz Kita'in: The claims of Bush and America that Saddam is very dangerous to humanity do not convince me. The claim that they are liberating the Iraqi people from the cruelty of Saddam by killing thousands of Iraqis is absurd.

Nava Sonnenschein: Nobody thinks Saddam is a great leader but to go to war against an entire people is not something that can be condoned. America is an empire. It is motivated by its interests in oil and the weapons trade. It is scary that the US can invade any place that threatens its interests...

Raida Hatib: It is a fact that they want the oil and don't care much about the Iraqis. When Saddam was against Iran it was the same regime but the Americans didn't care and they armed Saddam against Iran and the Kurds. When his regime stopped being loyal and invaded Kuwait, he became a threat to the Americans. All the Middle East regimes are the same. But the others aren't considered a threat.

Daoud Boulos: We know their real motive behind the war is changing of the area geopolitically and of course controlling the oil resources. Bringing democracy and freedom, and ridding Iraq of a terrible dictator were used as a pretext. This is a new form of colonization. The British didn't do a good job when they left the Middle East and the Americans want to correct it.

Most people were willing to look pragmatically at the situation now that the war had taken place, and consider what good might be produced from it, but were distrustful of American intentions:

Boaz Kita'in: Perhaps dictators in the area will be more careful in their belligerence towards other countries and a little more humane a little towards their own people. Perhaps. Maybe the Americans will be more committed to press the sides to reaching a solution - between Palestinians and Israelis.

Daoud Boulos: It is hard to judge right now what the benefits will be. On the face of it I am happy Saddam is gone, as he was a terrible man. In that sense it is good. What comes next is very complex – also because we know the motives involved. We see that the real aim is not only to change the regime in Iraq but to influence the whole area. They want to change the faith and principles of the people. That's where they will fail. They won't be able to change what people believe in and what they think. This is a very religious region and when they see a foreigner they see him as someone who is coming to corrupt them, rather than to help them.

Ilan Frisch: It is possible that the war will prove to be positive for Iraqis if the Americans leave quickly and manage to set up a local government (although I am not sure western style democracy would work there). It depends on many things such as whether an international force would be introduced. Maybe it could have a good effect upon the Middle East and the Palestinian - Israeli conflict, if the Americans would join with Europeans in order to exert pressure, they could finally solve the problem here. There are many questions that still remain open.

Rayek Rizek: I was against the war and wasn't convinced by American motives. I still suspect their intentions. I don't trust them, but since the war has taken place, now I must think what will come of it. I don't want to sink into depression and try to search for whatever positive results there may be. I hope this will be the beginning of larger change in the Middle East. Most Arabs today live under dictatorships. Again, if there is any hope this will depend on how America deals with the Palestinian conflict. We see the main cause behind the war as the Palestinian - Israeli conflict. Even the oil question is connected with this.

Is there any feeling at the village that with the overthrow of Saddam and his regime, there will be some lessening of hostility towards America among Arabs in the wider region?

Ety Edlund: I think America long ago stabbed itself with this and that it will only add to the hostility - there is also wide opposition around the world against the war.

Daoud Boulos: There is a big gap in the Arab countries between the official statements of the regimes and the feelings of the people. As one who watches the Arab media I can say the outrage against America has intensified at the grassroots. The hostility has increased because they see it as brutal intervention, rather than as liberation. They see it as taking the resources of another country and attempting to tame the Arabs. This feeling of hostility is not going to subside.

Ilan Frisch: If the Americans remain for long they will be seen as a conquering army. If America doesn't take the oil and leaves quickly, their credit might grow in Arab world.

Rayek Rizek: From what I see, I realize there is big majority that doesn't trust American intentions. They see American policy as complementing Israeli policy. Though they have helped free Iraq of Saddam, this won't help their situation in the Middle East. People know most of these bad regimes have been put there and supported by America, despite their bad human rights record.

Is it the case that most Palestinians look upon Saddam as their friend? (This is the impression we get from our media.)

Raida Hatib: I think the Palestinian people in general are miserable and helpless and he gave them hope. I don't believe after all the horrible things that he did people can still be in favor of him personally.

Daoud Boulos: Palestinians consider him as their friend because he always spoke out and said the things they wanted to hear. It is questionable how effective this was, but the slogans were important for them. He was the only Arab leader who was supportive of them. He didn't go with the mainstream. He met with the radicals and called for a Palestine between the Jordan and the sea.

Rayek Rizek: Most Palestinians were in favor of Saddam. He was the only Arab leader whose picture would be raised at demonstrations, etc. The Palestinians speak from their experience as refugees. I have heard from many palestinians who say the Iraqis were the most respectful for refugees. They have strong affection too for Iraq, also because it supported them in every war against Israel. Saddam had his own reasons to use the Palestinian cause, but still he was the only leader who spoke out for it. The Iraqis would always be the ones to argue for the Palestinian cause at the UN, and even the Americans could not ignore this. It forced the connection between the Palestinian issue that was made after the first Gulf War, which in turn led to the peace process that started in Madrid, etc.

Is this also true of Israeli Palestinians? What do Israeli Palestinians think about the war, and how are they able to express their views?

Daoud Boulos: Among Israeli Palestinians Saddam didn't enjoy any real support. When the war began they were supportive of him because they were against the war, and dismayed by the suffering of the Iraqi people. Israeli Palestinians spoke about the illegality of the war, and were against it especially since it was waged against an Arab country. All the newspapers spoke out against it. They blamed America as an outlaw state. They expressed these opinions both in Arab newspapers and on Israeli TV news programs, when they had the opportunity.

Raida Hatib: Saddam for me was symbol, because he had sympathy for Palestinian case. The only one who would demand a solution to the conflict and spoke of the rights of Palestinians. Though we knew of dreadful things that happened under his regime. Personally I have never been in favor of any Arab leader and didn't believe any Arab army would help. Of all of them I prefered Saddam because he was clear about the Palestinian case. Even if it was just words in the air. Iraq for me is a symbol of culture and the source of my religion. I am very angry about the disaster that has happened there and how Iraq looks now. I always had image of green country with a very rich and authentic culture. A few days ago when Iraqis were still fearful of the regime and under heavy bombing they were chanting “With blood, with soul, we will redeem Saddam Hussein,” this made me angry. They are being bombed and all they care about is Saddam... as long as Arab nations are more loyal to their leaders than to their country there will never be a good proud Arab nation. And then yesterday, everything was turned upside down. They were stamping on Saddam's image. I don't think Palestinians have the same fear – they are stronger. I think that in Palestine there will be real democracy, unlike in the US. But I think freedom always has to come from inside, not from the use of outside force.

To the Jewish members: How did you feel when you saw Palestinians demonstrating and chanting in favour of Saddam Hussein?

Yael Sharon: I don't think they really like him. I think this is actually protest against the Americans. People hate the American involvement. A demonstration of support for Saddam is one of opposition to America. So it doesn't anger me.

Eti Edlund: I don't think Palestinians are supporting Saddam. They are upset by what's happening to Iraqis.  Me too. To punish a whole people and destroy a country is a crime. The support of Palestinians for Saddam was due to his being a symbol of someone who stands up against America, which supports Israel.

Is the feeling among Jewish Israelis largely in favour of the war? If so, is it because they see Saddam as one of the major supporters of suicide attacks, and that with his demise they too might disappear?

Yael Sharon: Israelis in general support the war. Many people make the connection between the support for Saddam among the Palestinians and the conflict here.

Ety Edlund: Most Israelis outside NSWAS are happy that America is doing this work for them, but more out of fear of weapons of mass destruction than out of fear of Saddam's support for Palestinians. The first Gulf War shocked people into realisation that they were vulnerable from a distance.

Nava Sonnenschein: Basically the Jews identify with America in this war as they see Iraq as an enemy of Israel and Saddam as a cruel dictator. I don't know if it only because of his support for Palestinian terrorism – that's only one aspect.

Ilan Frisch: Unfortunately Israeli society is too supportive and not sufficiently critical of America and its intervention in Iraq. Maybe because they believe Saddam is a danger, etc. I am not convinced of this, and I also don't see that he has given any real support to Palestinians.

Boaz Kitain: If there is an international bully who is trying to hurt us, then as an Israeli I am not sorry to see him go, but still this does not justify the war.

How have you felt the influence of the war personally and on the village?

Jana Daoud: It influences the mood of the population. I don't know about economics but for sure it influences the political situation. I don't feel its influence personally but I see how the kids are affected, when they see the pictures on TV. My own tendency is to avoid being caught up in it.

Ety Edlund: At the School we felt the tension in the classes, especially at the beginning. The kids were worried about the gas masks - it was hard to them to come with these. Since nothing happened (and Israel was not attacked) there is less expression of tension today. We have to take into account that most of the war took place while the Arabs were on holiday, and now the Jews are on vacation due to Passover, so the school has functioned mainly in a uninational framework during this time.

Nava Sonnenschein: At the School for Peace there were some cancellations of youth encounters at the beginning. Parents were anxious and didn't feel comfortable about their kids going anywhere. This was more true of the Jewish side. On the other hand, work with adults and students continued as usual. Lately there have been several workshops with Palestinians from the Occupied Territories. The war comes up as a subject in the group process, particulary in the work at the universities. Sometimes the groups are divided, with the Jews speaking in favour and the Arabs against. At other times there is more sympathy on the Jewish side for the positions of the Arabs. The Palestinians speak of the suffering of the Iraqis, and about the onesidedness of the media.

The war was the subject of lots of discussions in the staff of the SFP. One of the things we looked at was the role of the media in the war. We are now in the process of organising a conference on the subject and will conduct a study day for our facilitators.

Yael Sharon: At the hotel, the war made for a month with very low occupancy. People were anxious and tense, and didn't feel like going anywhere. This was the oppositie of what we expected, since before the war, lots of Tel Aviv residents had booked in advance in order to escape the cities, in the event of missile attacks. But they didn't come, and at the same time a lot of groups cancelled.

Is there any particular role for the village during this time? Were we vocal enough in expressing opposition to the war? Is the Israeli media taking much interest in the village?

Boaz Kitain: In general I am a little surprised on the lack of interest in the village in the war in Iraq.

Ety Edlund: Although there was little difference between the opinions of Palestinians and Jews in the village, we didn't directly discuss it in the Secretariat. I don't know if we should have been more vocal - maybe the Jewish – Palestinian conflict itself is enough for us to take on. As for myself, I am not one of those who work in a political way. I try to exert an influence in my own area. At the School, for instance if I am teaching the kids about Abraham, I will talk about his two children and how effective he was in not discriminating between them. When I teach about Passover I will include the song “Ehad gad ya” of Hava Alberstein, and that's enough for me.

Nava Sonnenschein: I didn't find any special interest in us from the media. I think our role is to continue to conduct our activities in Israel and the territories. People feel very hopeless and depressed in this time. In addition to the war our government continues every day to kill Palestinians. People are looking for something positive to do with their hard feelings and the role of the School for Peace is to give them a chance to speak out. In the group dialogue, although they are initially more inhibited, they quickly begin to open up and speak of these things.

Yael Sharon: Maybe we should have been more vocal about the war, though perhaps since it isn't involving our own country we have to be more sensitive. I think we should protest the intervention and against the harm to the population. Perhaps the satisfaction that everyone here was against the war gave some sense of compensation, but we should have protested more outside.

Daoud Boulos: We haven't received much attention from the Israeli media lately - only from the foreign media. Teams have visited from Britain, Japan and Greece. With regard to our being more vocal about the war, this isn't our main issue here – we have our hands full in dealing with the local conflict. There too there are many things that we should comment upon and don't.

Ilan Frisch: We have to focus mainly on our own conflict since that is what is relevant to us. Before the war we realized we would have to be vigilant since there was a real danger that while the world was focussed on the war in Iraq, Sharon would take advantage of this to do things here. Fortunately nothing drastic has occurred apart from the daily tragedies.

Rayek Rizek: Our position should be to try to propose a different way of solving conflicts, so automatically we should be against the use of force. We also have to take into account that we didn't reach the end of the process with Iraq yet. It isn't over. We don't know how things will develop. There will be closing of historical accounts and enmities.

Do you think the war will result in a breakthrough in the Palestinian – Israeli conflict? What does the village think of the "Road Map" proposed by the US and others? How do people view Tony Blair – as a restraining influence on Bush or as his lackey?

Boaz Kitain: Many people in the village are very ambivalent towards any proposal from America due to their anger at America, which has only grown. Specifically some people do not support the road map since it is based on the two state solution. Personally I see this as the only practical solution for the present – if there is one at all. It is still doubtful that either side will be willing to pay the price for it to work, and it seems that America lacks the resolve to exert the necessary pressure.

As for Blair, perhaps he has a higher motivation towards peace in the area, but he lacks any ability to bring it. The pressure has to come from all round and there has to be commitment on the part of the Israeli and Palestinian leadership too. In my experience in order to arrive at peace, it isn't sure that you will reach it even if you really want it, but without high commitment it is certain that you won't achieve it. You have to want it, as Jews say, "be col meodha, be col nafsheha, be col levaveha" (with your whole heart and soul).

Jana Daoud: I don't really know much about the roadmap.

Eti Edlund: I haven't looked at the Road Map seriously because there will no doubt be lots of developments along the way. The important thing is that there will be some agreement - any agreement. Personally I will accept anything that doesn't throw either side into the sea. I see both Bush and Blair in the same light, as having equally abandoned the Iraqi people. If Blair wanted to influence Bush, he should have done this beforehand. Now it is too late.

Nava Sonnenschein: I still don't know what's in the Road Map - nobody does really. I expect there will be great pressure on Israel now, and have heard that Blair is interested to push this now. The world will need to pressure Israel as it did South Africa. Here the Left is very weak, and without great pressure our government won't do anything for peace – it will do just the opposite. Most people see Blair as the lackey of Bush and don't understand why he was supporting the war while the rest of Europe opposed it.

Raida Hatib: I know nothing about the Road Map. I am curious and afraid. Kadoura in the Palestinian Parliament said the only thing that matters is that we go back to negotiations and then take it point by point. If an agreement doesn't work, the people would react as they do now in the Intifada.

Blair? He doesn't have any impact. He looks mature, but as in traditional families he does whatever his “father” wants. I don't trust him. I don't believe the British will choose him again as their leader. He isn't strong enough to face the US.

Daoud Boulos: The Road map was never published and we only hear bits and pieces in the media. From what we hear, the Israelis have Proposed 100 amendments.   Until it is published, we can't really respond.

Ilan Frisch: The media places a fog on the Road Map and perhaps this helps. We know only that it speaks of departure form the Occupied Territories and a Palestinian State, etc. That's good. I hope really that this will be a right step towards solving the conflict or bringing it to a level we can live with. If it will not be something that really leads to peace it won't be good.

Blair? It was surprising that he went so far with Bush on Iraq, despite the opposition from a wide part of Britain's population. I do believe in Blair's ability to press Bush towards a more radical solution here.

Rayek Rizek: Azmi Beshara says "You need a road map to understand the Road Map." Since it was concocted by the Americans and the Israelis. I don't trust it. Nobody knows the content. Even Arafat doesn't know what is there. Originally they talked about an independent Palestinian state, and now they have left out the word “independent,” and replaced it with “viable” . Anyway, if the Road Map is talking of something to start with, maybe it's good. The side that should be pressured is Israel, but I don't think there will be any real pressure. According to American policies, whatever serves Israel's interests is supposed to be good. This is why some Arab intellectuals think America's invasion of Iraq connects to a much grander vision, and what we see is the beginning of an attempt to introduce the biggest change in the region since the end of the Ottoman Empire.