War brings `flashback' in West Bank

Views: Three Arab teens who live in the West Bank and are U.S. citizens see parallels between Israeli occupation and the American invasion of Iraq.

War in Iraq

March 23, 2003|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

RAMALLAH, West Bank - Like many people around the world, Jumana Davis, Sarah Nubani and Danielle Marouf have been riveted to their television sets watching American bombardments of Baghdad and American troops racing across the Iraqi desert.

Like many Arabs, these high school seniors at the Friends School here see the war as an unjust battle waged by an American president bent on conquering the Middle East.

But their views are more complicated than the rhetoric of street protesters. They view the conflict through their experiences of a Palestinian uprising and an Israeli occupation. Two of them have seen their homes taken over by Israeli troops.

And all three are American citizens.

"When I look at my TV, it's all a flashback to what has happened here," said Davis, who remembers watching tanks racing up and down the street outside her family's house a few months ago. "It's all the same."

Nubani said, "Bush decided to go to war for all the wrong reasons. If it was about weapons, then he would have let the inspectors stay. It's all about globalization. Maybe the people will be happy that Saddam and his weapons are gone. But what if Saddam wanted to disarm but was never given the chance?"

Added Marouf: "I don't understand. You want to liberate the Iraqis by killing them?"

Davis was born in the West Bank but has frequently visited relatives in Pennsylvania; Marouf spent much of her childhood in Texas and moved to Ramallah 11 years ago; Nubani was born and raised in Chicago and moved here with her family four years ago.

The teen-agers plan to return to the United States to attend college, and they vow to return to the West Bank to live. None said she felt conflicted between her American citizenship and her opposition to the war.

Their feelings help explain why President Bush has had so much trouble gaining support in the Arab world. These students see the events in Iraq as a war on the Arab people and their right to self-determination. They may not like Hussein, but they say it's not up to the United States to force him from power.

These students view events through a different lens than do most other Americans, reflecting a distinctive setting and personal experience.

When Hussein talks about one Arab nation, these students say he simply is referring to Arab unity. When Bush talks about giving the Iraqi people democracy, they say he is talking about American imperialism. They argue that Bush is not serious about resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict raging on their doorstep, so they don't believe him when he says he is trying to help the Iraqi people.

"What they are doing in Iraq is wrong. What they are doing to Palestine is awful," Nubani said. "Bush doesn't know the Middle East. He doesn't understand that the more America gets involved in the Middle East by fighting, the more harm he brings to his own people. Sept. 11 happened because America interfered here, and now Bush just keeps going at it."

The Friends School in Ramallah is a private coeducational institution affiliated with the Quakers in the United States. It is regarded as one of the best in the West Bank, and unlike other schools here, its hallways are decorated with framed artworks, not posters of Palestinian fighters.

But the school has not been immune from the conflict. It has been forced closed for weeks at a time during the past two years because of Israeli military operations. The building is across the street from a now-destroyed police station where two Israeli soldiers were lynched by an angry mob in 2000.

Ramallah, the seat of Palestinian government and the most cosmopolitan of the West Bank cities, remains surrounded by Israeli troops, and because of the war its residents are indefinitely barred from leaving.

Davis, Nubani and Marouf met yesterday with a reporter in the principal's office. They wore casual, Western-style clothes and spoke fluent English. They all have relatives and friends in America and are in routine contact with them through e-mail.

But their status as American citizens does not help them around the restrictive rules that govern the lives of Palestinians.

Each has a West Bank identity card, which means that the Israeli government treats them not as foreigners, who can freely travel, or even as allies, but as Palestinian. They cannot visit neighboring Jerusalem or fly out of Israel's airport. Two said they lost college scholarships because mail never got through army checkpoints.

Now they see U.S. soldiers marching through Iraq and equate the scene with the Israeli army stationed outside their homes - Israelis and Americans as occupiers of Arab land.

Nubani remembers being in Chicago as a child watching television images of the first Palestinian uprising. "I thought, what idiots, they are throwing stones at tanks," she said. "Then my parents said to me, `That's your home.' Now that I live here I understand the symbolism. We talk and we talk and we talk, and nobody pays any attention to us. We throw a single stone, and the whole world listens."

The Iraqis, Nubani and her classmates said, are being oppressed just as the Palestinians.

"We should disarm America and Israel," Nubani said. "Why do only they get to have weapons of mass destruction? The Iraqis and the Palestinians have no more hope. We have a very scary future."

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