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January 04, 2007 - Image 27

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2007-01-04

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Mixed Reaction

Palestinians mourn their champion,
but Israel mixed on Saddam's hanging.

Dan Baron
Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Jerusalem

I

f there was any doubt as to
Saddam Hussein's diehard hatred
of Israel, it was dispelled by his
declaration on the gallows: "Long live
Iraq! Palestine is Arab!"
Yet while the deposed Iraqi dicta-
tor's execution over the weekend was
deplored by Palestinians who long
saw him as their champion, reactions
in Israel were more
mixed.
Prime Minister
Ehud Olmert, per-
haps wary of stoking
Saddam
regional suspicions
Hussein
that the U.S.-led
war in Iraq was part of a strategy
to secure the Jewish state, had little
comment on the death of a man who
for decades had sown terror among
Israelis — whether through his Scud
missile salvoes in the 1991 Gulf War
or by bankrolling Palestinian suicide
bombers.
"Iraqis have made their choice, and
we hope for the Iraqi people that they
establish a stable country for Iraq
and the Middle East:' Olmert spokes-
woman Miri Eisin said.
The images of Saddam submitting
quietly to his execution were played
repeatedly over Israeli television.
Nahum Barnea, the veteran Yediot
Achronot pundit, wrote in a front-
page article that the execution was
"good riddance for a man whose
nuclear reactor was bombed by Israeli
jets in 1981 and who was the target of
an aborted Israeli assassination plan
in 1992.
But Barnea also assayed a note of
admiration: "No matter what they say
about him, he went to his death in
dignity, with head held high, without
asking for pity, without clinging to
his hangman's feet. That last moment
of satisfaction, of seeing him break
down, was something he refused to
give to his enemies:'
Some Israeli commentators noted
that international civil liberties groups
had protested the execution Saddam,
saying this was unbecoming of an

A

emerging democracy like Iraq and
frustrated efforts at investigating
other crimes by the ex-despot.
Unlike the United States, Israel has
resorted to the death penalty only
once — in the case of convicted Nazi
war criminal Adolf Eichmann. That
hanging was seen as both bringing
closure to Holocaust survivors and
enshrining Israel's status as a national
haven for Jews.
In Iraq, by contrast, no one expects
security and calm to follow Saddam's
death.
Ehud Yaari, Arab affairs analyst
for Israel's Channel 2 television, said
that by executing Saddam, the United
States and its allies may have unwit-
tingly ushered in a new era of extreme
Middle Eastern violence.
"Saddam was the last of the great
pan-Arab nationalists, those who
ruled through open military might
and defiance Yaari said. "Now we are
faced with the prospect of ascendant
sub-national terror — for Sunni
Muslims, by Al-Qaida; and for Shi'ites,
through Iranian-sponsored groups
like Hezbollah."
Saddam's execution was inop-
portune for Palestinian Authority
President Mahmoud Abbas, who has
been trying to revive peace talks with
Israel by curbing the Hamas Islamists
with whom he shares power.
One of the great diplomatic blun-
ders of Abbas' late predecessor, Yasser
Arafat, was to side with Saddam dur-
ing the 1991 Gulf War. But given the
Iraqi dictator's heroic status among
many Arabs, total silence by Abbas
was a risk — especially as the execu-
tion coincided with a statement issued
by al-Qaida deputy chief Ayman al-
Zawahiri denouncing Abbas as a "trai-
tor" for having "sold Palestine!'
Abbas' Fatah faction made do with
issuing a statement denouncing the
hanging as "absolutely illegitimate"
and noting Saddam's help for the
Palestinian people.
Hamas was far more explicit. "This
crime of execution, which wa-s carried
out on the first day of Eid al-Adha, is a
token of disrespect for all Islamic and
Arab values," read a statement by the
group, referring to the Muslim feast
of the sacrifice, which began over the
weekend.

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27

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