KUWAIT CITY — AS Kuwaiti resistance fighters and regular Army soldiers sweep Kuwait City in search of collaborators with the recent Iraqi occupation, Palestinian residents here live in fear. Palestinians, widely blamed for working alongside the Iraqi authorities during the past seven months, are especially afraid of the bands of leaderless Kuwaiti youths roaming streets, armed with hand guns and assault rifles.
Resentment is running high, in part because of hit-and-run attacks on Kuwaiti forces here during the last three days. Resistance fighters attribute the attacks to pro-Saddam Hussein Palestinians, further feeding resentment.
``We don't know what is going to happen in the next few weeks. We are scared, really,'' says Muhammad, a Palestinian who says he just emerged for the first time in seven months from a hospital where he had run the pharmacy.
``We are just waiting for something bad to happen,'' adds his friend Iman. But even if Palestinians are spared revenge attacks in coming days, their future in Kuwait is clouded by allegations that many aided Iraq's occupation one way or another.
Palestinians who worked with the resistance, meanwhile, are fearful of being lumped in with their compatriots. Many wear a piece of pink cloth on their arms to distinguish themselves.
``We know some of the Palestinians are good and helped us,'' says Nasser, a burly Kuwaiti resistance fighter wielding a captured AK-47 as he patrols the night streets. ``But we can't tell them apart.''
Tens of thousands of Palestinians fled Kuwait after Iraq's invasion. But an equal number stayed in the country that had become their home. How many cooperated with the occupiers, and to what degree, is unclear. Judgments vary from Kuwaiti to Kuwaiti. Yet there is little doubt many did as the Iraqis told them.
``The Iraqis were dying to show that Kuwait was running normally,'' says Walid, a Kuwaiti electronics teacher who asked that his full name not be used. ``The Kuwaitis resisted that. The Palestinians didn't.''
Thus, Palestinian teachers opened schools, if only for an hour a day, staffed banks that could not have functioned otherwise, manned gas stations, and performed other services.
``The Palestinians envy the Kuwaitis their wealth,'' Walid explains. ``They thought that after all those years of suffering as second-class citizens, now was their chance to get their own back.''
Some Palestinians collaborated with the Iraqis in a more sinister manner, according to Kuwaitis and foreigners who say they saw them operating alongside occupation forces. They reportedly manned roadblocks, acted as guides, helped Iraqis distinguish forged identity papers, alerted them to important Kuwaiti figures, and informed on the whereabouts of Kuwait's military officers.
``The Iraqis would have been lost without their Palestinian assistants,'' an Indian resident says.
Some Palestinians say such collaboration was common only among Baath Party members, who were brought from Baghdad with invading troops and share President Saddam Hussein's political leanings.
But Kuwaitis reject this explanation, saying it was precisely the Palestinians' local knowledge that was their greatest asset to Iraqis. While some may have been members of the pro-Baghdad Arab Liberation Front (ALF), most, they believe, were aligned with Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization. It is hard today to find any Palestinian here who will openly express support for Fatah.
``Arafat said the other day on the radio he had 140,000 people in Kuwait and they should not be harmed,'' says Muhammad, the Palestinian pharmacist. ``We do not want anything from Arafat.''
But Kuwaitis have other than just harsh words for Palestinians, many of whom have long kept this country functioning. Many have ensured that essential services such as water, electricity, and telephones worked until the last moment of the occupation, when Iraqi troops destroyed installations before withdrawing.
For such services, Kuwaitis say they are grateful. Resistance fighters also say they enjoyed help from Palestinians in a number of ways. Most notably, some Palestinians exploited freedom of movement the Iraqis allowed them in order to travel to Jordan and smuggle back Iraqi money the exiled Kuwaiti government sent the resistance.
``Some of them [Palestinians] are good and worked with us, but most of them we do not want to stay with us in Kuwait,'' Abu Muhammad, a Kuwaiti Army colonel and resistance leader who would not give his real name.
The exiled Kuwaiti government has already indicated it has considered deporting from Kuwait all nationals of countries that showed sympathy for Iraq. That would clearly include Jordan, and thus affect the majority of Palestinians here, who hold Jordanian citizenship.
The fate of active collaborators may be more severe. While Abu Muhammad says, ``We leave it to our government to handle,'' some of his subordinates are not so restrained.
``We know who they are and we will kill them,'' says resistance fighter Nasser bluntly. ``Not now maybe, but later.''
The question is whether all Palestinians will suffer from Kuwaiti wrath. Meanwhile in the Palestinian community, people are keeping a low profile.
``After all this people do not trust each other,'' worries Iman, a Palestinian hospital technician. ``I am afraid of a social breakdown.''