Page 2, 9th November 1990

9th November 1990
Page 2
Page 2, 9th November 1990 — A future bleak beyond all measure

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Organisations: alMaqassad hospital
Locations: Nablus, Gaza


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A future bleak beyond all measure

AHMED Assad was a barber in Kuwait. He had lived there, with his wife and 10 children, for the last 40 years. Now he was sitting in his father's front room in Tulkarm, in the Israeli Occupied Territory of the West Bank, wondering how he was going to make ends meet.

He and his sons had spent the last five days since their return looking for work, any work, but there was nothing to be found.

Ahmed hadn't wanted to leave Kuwait. While he had been free to leave, he really had no choice. Without work and without the money to buy food the family were going hungry. Like thousands of others Ahmed followed the exodus out through Jordan. He had lost his home, his job, his pension, and he had no prospect of getting anything back in compensation.

In every street and every village in .the Occupied Territories there are Palestinians with similar stories to tell. Many are waiting, hoping beyond hope to be able to return to liquidate assets. But for the poorest families, like Ahmed's, there is really no prospect of returning, even if they had the assets or the means to do so.

In Kuwait the family had had enough to get by on. One son had been in training to be a motor mechanic. One daughter worked in a store.

But within two months of the invasion, jobs and incomes had run out and they were on the breadline. Now in the West Bank they were dependent on Ahmed's elderly father who could offer them shelter, but little more.

The Assads' futures, like so many others in the Occupied Territories, look bleak beyond measure. There were some 350,000 Palestinians living in Kuwait but more and more are returning.

Apart from the thousands of breadwinners earning incomes for their wives and children back home, remittances also helped wider family circles of elderly relatives, nephews and nieces. People in the West Bank and Gaza were heavily dependent on families working in the Gulf.

In one village near Tulkarm, more people had left for Kuwait than the 5,000 villagers who remained. But now breadwinners were returning, having lost jobs and pensions. As one villager told me: "There used to be hundreds of people queuing each month at the bank for their remittances from Kuwait. Now there is no-one."

The repercussions of the Gulf crisis are endless and overwhelming. In the West Bank town of Nablus 1,000 new pupils have just enrolled for the next school term, all returnees from the Gulf.

But the stories are not just to do with returnees and their families — they concern also the economic survival of the Occupied Territories as a whole.

The season for agricultural exports, including olive oil, citrus fruits and winter vegetables has just started but without the certainty of markets in Jordan and beyond, most farmers fear their produce will simply rot or, at best, as with olive oil, remain unsold.

The infrastructure of the Territories is equally hard hit. Grants and loans from Gulf countries enabled major Palestinian institutions like alMaqassad hospital and Bir Zeit university to survive and to give some sense of hope to beleaguered communities.

But as administrators begin to calculate the cost of the crisis, they plan the future in months, not years. One told me: "The Gulf crisis comes on top of 20 years of neglect. We should not be a Third World country but we are not allowed to develop. Standards, services, life are progressively worsening, and excessive taxation is hurting people."

Yet even for the worst affected Palestinians, it is the gathering clouds of war that hang over every conversation and add a new dimension of fear to life in Israel and the Occupied Territories. One prominent Palestinian told me: "A Gulf war has to be averted. If there is a war no amount of aid will help. Even the problems of the West Bank and Gaza become minute in relation to what might happen if the Gulf explodes.

"Being powerful is not a solution to the world's problems. This needs to be understood by both sides. There are too many people in the region whose lives have been wasted by war. What is happening now is causing major problems. A war will be catastrophic."

Kate Phillips is head of communications at Christian Aid

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