Many years ago I read the following (I will have to paraphrase, since I no longer have the book): A man is in a sinking boat with his wife, mother, and young child. He can save himself and only one other person on the boat. Whom should he save? The vast majority of people with Western values would say “Save the child.” After all, the child has his/her entire life yet to live. What would the standard answer be in the Arab world? Surprisingly to most of us, it would be “Save the mother.” Why? The reasoning is that “A man can always have another wife and another child; however, he will always have only one mother.”

This contrast between value judgments by those brought up in a Judeo-Christian culture and those brought up in the Arab world struck me when I read about Palestinian reaction to the capture of Saddam Hussein. In the West the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. Even the leaders of European countries that had not supported the efforts of the U.S. to topple Saddam expressed approval. However, the reaction of many Palestinians to Saddam’s capture was quite different. In an December 14 Reuters article headlined “Palestinians Mark ‘Black Day’ of Saddam Capture,” Mohammed Assadi wrote of the mood in Palestinian areas:

“Disbelief and gloom seized many Palestinians Sunday at news of Saddam Hussein’s capture as Israel fired off a telegram of congratulations to Washington. The former Iraqi ruler was a hero to many Palestinians for his stand against Israel and its U.S. ally, as well as for helping families of Palestinians dead in an uprising. For Israel, he was a menace over the horizon who long bankrolled the enemy. “It’s a black day in history,” said Sadiq Husam, 33, a taxi driver in Ramallah, West Bank seat of the Palestinian Authority. “I am saying so not because Saddam is an Arab, but because he is the only man who said no to American injustice in the Middle East,” he said.

“Saddam paid over $35 million to the kin of Palestinian suicide bombers, militants and bystanders who died in an uprising that began in 2000. Though far from all Palestinians supported him, militants marched to back Saddam ahead of the U.S.-led invasion in March.

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Dr. Yitzchok Levine served as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey before retiring in 2008. He then taught as an adjunct at Stevens until 2014. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.