Palestinian educators return to Kuwait after long absence
Kuwaiti officials have lifted the ban of more than 25 years on Palestinian nationals working in Kuwait’s educational sector.
New chapter. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (R) meets with the Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah in Kuwait City, last April. (AFP)
2017/08/27 Issue: 121 Page: 20
London - Kuwaiti officials have lifted the ban of more than 25 years on Palestinian nationals working in Kuwait’s educational sector.
The reconciliation process began in June 2016 when Palestinian Ambassador to Kuwait Rami Tahboub said he received an official request from the Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry to recruit teachers. That resulted in the hiring of 105 Palestinian teachers.
“The government of Kuwait agreed to rehire Palestinian teachers, many of whom left the country during Iraq’s 1990-91 invasion and occupation of Kuwait, thus paving the way for the Ministry of Education to contact the Palestinian embassy to recruit the teachers,” a statement on the official Kuwaiti news agency said.
Contracts for the 2017-18 school year were signed in April for maths and science teachers and the first group of teachers arrived August 21, local media reports said.
Kuwaiti MP Mohammad al-Huwailah said the Palestinian teachers would boost Kuwait’s educational standards.
“We in the educational parliamentary committee are keen on recruiting excellent teachers from abroad, in addition to emphasising on the special role of the Kuwaiti teachers,” Huwailah said.
Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement: “Kuwait fondly recollects Palestinian contributions to pedagogy and the passion with which Palestinian instructors have imparted their knowledge to the people of Kuwait.”
He said the success of the educators in Kuwait will allow for the “triumphant” return of Palestinian educators in the rest of the Gulf region.
Palestinian educators started teaching in Kuwait in 1936, when four teachers arrived in the country. By 1975, Palestinian teachers accounted for 49% of Kuwait’s teachers, government statistics indicate.
The lifting of the ban puts an end to a turbulent chapter in Kuwaiti- Palestinian relations, dating to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. After the invasion, Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat aligned with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Making matters worse were reports that Palestinians in Kuwait were working with Iraqi military forces during the occupation. Televised images of Palestinians demonstrating in Jordan in support of Saddam added to the divide.
Palestinian nationals’ exodus from Kuwait happened in two waves. The first was during the occupation, during which approximately 200,000 Palestinians fled the country, citing economic considerations and harassment from Iraqi military personnel. The second wave came after the liberation of Kuwait in March 1991, when the returning government kicked out most of the remaining Palestinian population in retaliation for Arafat’s endorsement of Saddam. It is estimated that another 200,000 Palestinians were expelled from the country.
Relations between the PA and the Kuwaiti government were virtually non-existent for years, with numerous overtures by the Palestinians rejected by the Kuwaiti side. Kuwait also insisted on an apology over the PA’s support for Saddam.
Despite PLO officials over the years categorically stating that the organisation would not apologise, with some stating they are owed an apology from the Kuwaitis, they eventually conceded. A month after the death of Arafat, in December 2004, during the first visit of a high-ranking Palestinian official to Kuwait since the invasion, Abbas said: “We apologise to Kuwait and the Kuwaiti people for what we did.”
Since then relations have significantly improved, with Kuwait again investing in multimillion-dollar development projects in the occupied territories.
Speaking to teachers in Ramallah on August 12, Abbas stressed the significant role that Palestinian educators have played in the intellectual evolution of the region.
“We trust you to carry on the legacy of the Palestinian teacher,” he said.