GAZA – The friendship between Saddam Hussein and Yasser Arafat dates back to the Gulf War.
Arafat stood by Hussein through that time, and Palestinians cheered when Iraqi Scuds landed on Tel Aviv.
Now Hussein is returning the favor, sending $25,000 checks to the families of suicide bombers and $10,000 to those killed attacking Israel.
At a ceremony on Monday in Gaza, three Palestinian families received checks. Their sons belonged to Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
One recipient of the money was Fayez Shehade, the brother of the top Hamas commander assassinated by Israeli F-16 jets Monday night. His son was killed carrying out an attack in March on Israeli soldiers patrolling near a Jewish settlement. His mother said her son was defending her honor after Israel's soldiers ransacked their home looking for the Hamas leader.
Asked whether Hussein was simply using the Palestinian people by buying their friendship, Amina Shehade said no.
"To the contrary, he is in the same situation as us," Shehade said. "He is under siege and we are under siege. We are under attack and he is under attack."
From the Palestinian perspective, Iraq is the only Arab nation that hasn’t forgotten them in the last two years.
Other Arab states pledge millions each year to help the Palestinians, but the money never shows up. When Saddam Hussein promises them money, he delivers.
In two years, the Iraqi leader has signed more than 500 checks for a total of $20 million distributed at ceremonies attended by top officials from Arafat's Palestinian Authority.
Speakers at these gatherings deliver blistering attacks against President Bush and America for supporting Israel.
Shehade said the Palestinian people will rally around Hussein if the U.S. ever attacks him.
"Our support will be for Saddam," Shehade said. "He is for us a symbol, a father, and a leader because he is the one who feels our pain."
Saddam hopes that pain expressed for Palestinians throughout the Arab streets will turn into support for him if America strikes Iraq. That’s what he’s banking on.