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.

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