Written for the International Center of Bethlehem
March 3, 2003
The US-led war on Iraq is coming very soon, with or without
a UN resolution, and in spite of all international efforts to seek a peaceful resolution. Thousands of soldiers—with all possible military arsenal and advanced weapons—have already been deployed in the Gulf area and are ready for the green
light. For months now, plans have been made to study the strategy of the war, its consequences, and the way to handle post-war Iraqi regime.
Similarly, people in the region are also preparing for the war to
protect themselves from possible chemical and biological attacks they believe that Iraq might launch on neighboring countries in the wake of the first raids it would sustain. Yet, the precautions taken also include the fear of possible attacks by conventional
Iraqi warheads similar to the Scud missiles launched during the first Gulf war back in 1991.
The one Iraqi enemy country that will most likely be directly affected by such claimed conventional, and non-conventional
attacks, is Israel. The Palestinians in the West Bank occupied territories will also be affected especially in the absence of “clever” Iraqi missiles that would differentiate foes from non-foes.
has already prepared its citizens for the war, both on the ground and on the psychological levels, convincing them that Iraq does have biological and chemical weapons, which it will almost certainly use against Israel.
On the ground, there have been calls in all Israeli media outlets for all the Israeli citizens to exchange their first Gulf war masks with new ones.
The Israeli Ministry of Health has also urged the
citizens to get immunity shots against Anthrax and Small Pox—two possible main infections that could be caused if truly a biological warfare erupts.
In addition, the Israeli Ministry of Civil Defense has called
on all citizens to transform one room—preferably with access to a toilet—in each apartment into a shelter. These shelters need to be hermetically sealed—with nylon—and stocked with bottled water, food, medicine, emergency light,
radios, and batteries—enough to serve for a few hours of continuous lockup.
In other cases, where such a possibility is unfeasible, citizens went out to buy specially designed plastic tents with an area
measuring 9 square meters and a height of 2 meters and that can accommodate 3 people for a continuous period of six hours. The tent is also equipped with a special battery operated air filter. It has been estimated that an average family of 5 people
could spend up to 25,000 Shekels (US$5,000) in preparing for the war.
Israeli fire brigades and paramedics, as well as the army, have also been trained to deal with cases of a presumed biological and chemical contamination;
and all hospitals are equipped with the necessary equipment and medicine to treat cases of such contamination. Israeli Patriot missiles have been tested and proven effective in their counter attacks against any possible attack, and the early warning
systems are functional and ready.
Furthermore, the Israeli Education Ministry has conducted comprehensive training for the evacuation of students in schools in the event of a possible Iraqi attack. Similar
training has been conducted by the Israeli Civil Defense in other large community public and private buildings.
On the psychological level, the Israeli government has been trying to calm its citizens through declaring
the war to be “short and intense” to the extent that Iraqi arsenal will be destroyed before it [Iraq] could even think of launching a counter attack offensive, even against Israel. Yet, precautions against alleged Iraqi chemical and biological
attacks are necessary.
Alas, and with all these preparations and precautionary measures, there has been news that many Israelis have already made hotel bookings abroad especially in Cyprus and Greece. Airline
ticket reservations have also increased in Israel with destinations to Europe and the USA. Also, and because Israelis feel that Iraq would not attack Arab populated areas in the West Bank, many of them have made plans to move to settlements in the West
Bank or to Israeli cities adjacent to the dividing line between Israel and the West Bank.
In contrast, Palestinians fear nothing from the coming war—a la guerre comme a la guerre—although
preparations for the war have been under way in most Palestinian cities and even though they do not believe that Iraq possesses either chemical or biological weapons.
Though there has been a call by the International
Red Cross for Israel to distribute gas masks to Palestinians, no one so far has confirmed the consent of Israel to do so. Nor has any international humanitarian agency taken the initiative to bring in gas masks to be distributed to Palestinians.
Israel has publicly but unofficially declared that it has made plans to distribute some 7000 masks only to Palestinians living in zone “C” (Israeli-controlled) in the West Bank.
Even with or without
gas masks, the deteriorating economy in the occupied West Bank prevents most Palestinian families from stocking up food, bottled water, or even medicine, in hermetically sealed rooms. Palestinians can hardly manage their day-to-day staple food and other
When made possible, the sealed rooms in Palestinian homes would not accommodate most Palestinian families because of the small size of the rooms in comparison to the size of the average Palestinian
family. The Israeli army however will definitely hermetically seal the West Bank and impose prolonged periods of house arrests and curfews on over three million Palestinian in the occupied Palestinian cities—something that they have been doing
for over a year now even in the absence of war.
To add insult to injury, none of the Palestinian institutions (schools, office buildings, public buildings, etc.) is equipped with the proper infrastructure to absorb
a panicky crowd. Let alone the absence of any trained staff, be it medical or otherwise, to handle any alleged biological or chemical attack and contamination.
Most of the Palestinians who could afford to
prepare for the war have either learned the methods to deal with the issue from their experience during the first Gulf war in 1991, or else they follow first hand the Israeli news and instructions Israel is addressing to its people.
Whatever the Palestinians would do, or not do, to prepare for the war in Iraq would not be much more different from the way they are currently leading their lives in the continuous presence of Israeli tanks roaming their streets and Israeli American-made
Apaches flying over their heads.