Fearful Palestinians In Kuwait Criticize Arafat

Posted: March 02, 1991

KUWAIT CITY — Harsh criticism of PLO leader Yasir Arafat is emerging from Kuwait's huge Palestinian community as it faces rumors of roundups, deportations and worse in retaliation for the Palestine Liberation Organization's support for the Iraqi invasion and occupation of Kuwait.

"Arafat made a mistake," a Palestinian who identified himself only as Jabber, a 32-year-old salesman, told a crowd of PLO officials a half-block

from the PLO Embassy here. "The people in the West Bank and Gaza, I don't think Arafat was representing them when he supported Iraq."

These are dark days for Kuwait's Palestinians, once the third-largest community outside the lands occupied by Israel since 1967. At one time, there were more than 400,000 of them here, but now the number is only 180,000.

And they are worried about their future in a country invaded and brutalized by their leader's friend, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

In Kuwait, the virtual birthplace of the PLO and Arafat's home for many years before he joined the movement, Palestinians are voicing public criticism of Arafat.

Jabber's criticism was mild, perhaps tempered by the presence of PLO officials.

Many others were far more vocal.

"What Arafat was saying is all lies," said Hanni Ayoub, 27, an electrical engineer born in Kuwait. "In a few months Arafat is finished, . . . all leaders change in the PLO," said Salem Saleh Al Khass, a Jerusalem-born restaurant owner.

"Why not Palestinians offer hand to Israel and say, 'Salam,' " said Al Khass, using the Arabic word for peace. "I want to return to Jerusalem. But if Saddam goes to Jerusalem, I not go there. I want my country and peace, not war."

Hard-line PLO supporters said Arafat had no choice but to support Hussein after Hussein linked the resolutions of the Kuwaiti occupation and the Palestinian-Israeli dispute.

But moderates say PLO support for Hussein will only bring revenge from the Kuwaitis who endured seven months of brutal Iraqi occupation.

"I don't think we will be here in six months. They (Kuwaitis) don't trust us any more. It makes me feel like hell," said Ayoub. "For what the Iraqis did, I don't mind if they slap me in the face. . . . I feel so sad. I am so sad about what (Arafat) has done."

Retribution for the PLO's support for Iraq - and for the actions of Palestinians who collaborated with Iraqi forces - is on the minds of both Kuwaitis and Palestinians, the former clearly wanting it, the latter clearly fearing it.

Police checkpoints ring predominantly Palestinian neighborhoods such as Hawalli and Nugra in the heart of the capital, and many Kuwaitis say they refuse to drive inside those areas. Several Palestinians interviewed first identified themselves as Jordanians because they carry passports from that country.

Palestinians say that some of them collaborated with Iraq while others fought alongside the Kuwaiti resistance.

"There's a saying in Arabic that all five fingers of one hand are not the same," said Ghazi Al Attari, 29, a sales manager born in the West Bank town of Jenin.

Palestinians contend that 6,000 Palestinians joined the Kuwaiti resistance and that several hundred are among the thousands of Kuwait City residents arrested and taken to prisons in Iraq.

"They said that, but we don't know that," replied police Maj. Abdel Rahman, who pointedly noted that a Palestinian friend had singled him out to Iraqi security forces who tried to arrest him. He escaped, the major said.

"We know who is good and who is not good," said a top Kuwaiti police official who declined to give his name or rank but appeared to be in charge of a security unit tracking down Palestinian collaborators. "We have their names."

The official said several hundred Palestinians had served during the occupation in an Iraqi-armed and financed militia called the Arab Liberation Organization assigned to guard important buildings and highways.

About 25,000 Palestinians living in Baghdad were also brought to Kuwait City as homesteaders during the occupation, but virtually all returned to the Iraqi capital after the allies launched the air-bombardment campaign, he added.

Asked whether the Palestinians would be kicked out of liberated Kuwait, the officer thought for a minute and said: "It's a big question."

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