Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip experienced a tinderbox
of emotions as the series of hijackings and attacks struck America.
Initially, some Palestinians cheered at the strike. Those images
were caught on television and broadcast around the world.
But most Palestinians watched the unfolding events in horrified
silence. Streets were empty as the sun set in Jerusalem. Some tried
desperately to call their families in the United States, afraid
of the mass anti-Arab hysteria they felt was overcoming the nation--or
afraid that their relatives might no longer be alive.
"Palestinians are like any other people under the sun," said Mahdi
Abdul Hadi, 45, lighting a candle with other Palestinians in front
of the American consulate. "Despite the current environment between
Washington, Tel Aviv and Gaza, people are really seriously shocked
to see such a catastrophe. Faceless, nameless people are hurt and
no one can explain that kind of anger and frustration."
Others said they prayed that the perpetrators would not turn out
to be Arab. Minutes into the attack, international news agencies
were reporting that a leftist Palestinian faction, the Democratic
Front for the Liberation of Palestine, had claimed responsibility.
A Palestinian reporter moaned when he saw the newscast, saying,
"Oh, God. Leave us alone. Don't we have enough problems?"
Local DFLP officials were brought in front of the cameras to deny
the accusation, and analysts expressed doubt that the small group
had the capacity, money or will to create such devastation. "That
is impossible," Palestinian cabinet secretary Ahmad Abdel Rahman
said unequivocally when asked if Palestinians might be involved.
"No Palestinian could think this way. It is not the Palestinian
way to do anything this way. It is too crazy, too stupid, too blind."
Indeed, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was among the first world
leaders to publicly condemn the many deaths and express his condolences
for the loss of life. Denials of responsibility followed quickly
from both Hamas and Islamic Jihad, organizations that have used
suicide attacks against Israelis in their strategy of fighting the
So why then, were Palestinians pictured celebrating in Jerusalem,
in Nablus and in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon? "After
the 1967 aggression against the Arabs, the American people in 17
major cities took to the streets, celebrating Israel's victory,"
remembers Faisel Abu Kishlik, a man in his fifties.
That war was when Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip,
defeating the Arabs and taking the land that Palestinians now seek
as their state. It was the second time that Palestinians had been
made refugees by Israel and it was the second, but not the last,
time that the United States sided with Israel over the Palestinian
"It is time for the American people to see that we are under occupation
here in Palestine and what we need is to live in peace and to have
our own state," says Kishlik, a graduate of City College in New
York. "We want to remind the American people that what they suffered
yesterday, we suffer daily. American warplanes and American missiles
are used on [Palestinian] police stations and schools and civilians.
We appeal to the American people to do something about it." And
while the vast majority of Palestinians resent U.S. support of Israel,
none are celebrating the damage caused by not-yet-proven allegations
that this attack was crafted by Arab hands. Local Palestinian media
reported a slew of death threats and angry letters sent from abroad
The Palestinian Authority spent much of Wednesday doing damage
control, repeatedly condemning the attacks and offering help in
finding the perpetrators. In a press release sent out that day,
the Palestinian leadership said it was alarmed at the "almost overt
jubilation of some Israeli politicians and official figures at what
they consider a vindication of their stand," i.e., that Israeli
efforts to squelch the Palestinian uprising are part of the fight
against terrorism. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak could
be heard on several television channels asking Americans to work
with Israel in the fight against terror.
Under cover of the media focus on New York and Washington, Israeli
forces entered the West Bank town of Jenin on Tuesday evening. Battles
between Palestinian fighters and Israeli tanks, F-16 warplanes and
paratroopers had left some 12 Palestinians dead, including a 9-year-old
girl. Israeli officials said the invasion was necessary to clear
out the "nest of terrorists" in the town after a Palestinian man
with Israeli citizenship allegedly trained in Jenin blew up himself
and three Israelis in the Israeli town of Nahariyya.
Perhaps the most strident Palestinian emotion was that of fear
and uncertainty. "The world is totally different than yesterday,"
Abdel Hadi says. "We don't trust anyone anymore. We don't believe
in anyone anymore. And one is even doubtful of