Changing Context, Shifting Identity
Ayad had no illusions about the reality of Saddam Hussein. He says, “While Arabs saw him
as their Bismarck, who was going to unite the Arabs against Israel, against America.
Saddam was a ruthless brutal dictator. Iraqis knew who Saddam was. Then of course he
invaded Kuwait.“ That is when the split deepened? Ayad agrees, “Then when he said I’d
trade Kuwait for the West Bank and Gaza – I was still in the swirl of Arab hysteria. It was
excitement (PAUSES). It’s what’s been happening in the Arab world. So I thought at least
something good might come out of it for the Palestinians. I was part of the Arab delusion.
I didn’t think it would come to blows between America and Iraq. The January 15 deadline
in 1991 was approaching, and we saw the writing on the wall. My parents and Teresa’s
parents were pressuring us to get out. We thought, okay, we’d go to Egypt for a few days,
while it blows over, and then we’d go back.
Israeli Arabs Have More Freedom Than In the Rest of the Arab World
Ayad notes, “A cousin [in Iraq] was getting engaged to be married, and mom was going,
and one of my sisters. My goal was Palestine. I was going to quit my work in Washington,
and go to Jordan and to Palestine. That was my Valhalla. I went to Iraq that summer, and
made another trip in December of ’89, after I started working in Jerusalem. I would tell
people in the office in Jerusalem, you have it great here compared to Iraq. So I started
seeing the reality for myself. Arabs in Israel have it better than Arabs anywhere in the Arab
I was surprised by that comment and asked him to explain, because when I visited the
West Bank soldiers were everywhere. Ayad says, “They’re within controlled limits – but
they’re free to work, to speak their mind. They have a lot of freedoms – even on the West
Bank, they have it better than anywhere else in the Arab world.” I ask if the rest of the Arab
world is that repressed? Ayad responds, “Absolutely. Basic human freedoms -- to be able
to talk, produce art, read, write, create, travel, move -- are limited. Iraq was the worst.
Then Syria and Libya. Jordan and Kuwait are better. What I saw, in contrast to Iraq, was
that Palestinians had it great. So I would tell them that. I remember coming back from the
’89 trip and coming back to the Palestinian newspaper and told them that.”
Truth is a Social Construction: It is Always Someone’s Version of the Truth
As an Iraqi and American, Ayad thought the Palestinians living in Israel were oblivious to the
brutality and tyranny of Saddam and misguided in their opinion of him as a great liberator of
Arabs. Ayad had no illusions about the reality of life under Saddam and thought his