Palestinians and other Arabs in the Gulf region have raised millions of dollars in humanitarian aid to ensure that the ongoing uprising in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip and West Bank is not snuffed out. The fund-raising efforts - including donations by Gulf leaders, dinners, poetry readings, rallies, and neigh-borhood collection boxes - have given new momentum to Palestine Liberation Organization offices in the region. And they have helped revive hope of a Palestinian homeland among the hundreds of thousands of expatriate Pal-estinians living and working in the Gulf.
The PLO, which maintains diplomatic missions in each of the Gulf states, has responded to the public outrage over Israeli actions by establishing special funds to support the uprising. Officials stress that rather than bullets and bombs, all aid for the uprising is earmarked to help families cope with the continuing Israeli occupation.
``By medicine and food, not by arms,'' says Rafiq al-Natsha, director of the PLO office in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. ``We are looking for peace. We are seeking the minimum rights of our people,'' he adds. ``But until now we have only received an answer from the Israeli Army by their machine guns, tanks, gas bombs, and helicopters.
``This is not just a slaughter against Palestinian civilians,'' he says, ``but it is a big massacre against peace.''
Overall there are an estimated 576,000 Palestinians living in the Gulf region. Kuwait has the largest population of Palestinians with roughly 350,000. Saudi Arabia has 170,000, and there are about 35,000 Palestinians in the United Arab Emirates.
In addition to appeals for donations, PLO officials are asking Palestinians and other Arabs to ``adopt'' a family in the occupied territories to help create a basic support network for the most needy of the 1.5 million Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.
Many of those families already rely on remittances sent home by relatives working temporarily in the Gulf. But PLO and other Arab officials are concerned that Israel is making it increasingly difficult for such financial assistance to enter the troubled areas and reach the Palestinian families that need it.
And just how the money raised in the Gulf will enter the territories isn't clear.
``We think the Israelis are deliberately following a policy of forcing Palestinians out,'' says Lakhdar Ibrahimi, assistant secretary-general of the Tunis-based Arab League. ``It is really remarkable that all these numbers have stayed in their country.
``What is happening now in the territories is giving a new lease on life and a new fresh start for the struggle of the Palestinian people,'' he says.
Mr. Ibrahimi, on a tour of Gulf states to assess grassroots and other efforts to aid the Palestinians, says current donations have surged, triggered primarily by graphic television news coverage of Israeli acts of brutality against stone-throwing Palestinian youths.
In Kuwait, about $9 million has been raised from private sources during the past two months, according to Saleem Zanoun, deputy speaker of the Palestine National Council, who is accompanying Ibrahimi on the Gulf tour. He adds that $2 million each has been raised in both Qatar and Bahrain.
Other PLO officials in the region say that $3.7 million has been raised in Saudi Arabia, and more than $1 million has been collected from private sources in the United Arab Emirates.
While such grassroots contributions have been significant, PLO chairman Yasser Arafat has complained that contributions by Arab governments in support of the uprising have been less than expected. The complaints were aimed at states that have balked at making contributions above their regular payments to the PLO called for under the 1978 Baghdad summit agreement.
The issue is a sensitive one, as the 1978 agreement is set to expire this year. In addition, un-like previous fund-raising efforts by the PLO, the current call for aid comes at a time of depressed oil prices. Most Gulf states are considering borrowing to cover this year's expected budget deficits.
In the meantime, both Saudi Arabia's King Fahd and UAE President Shaikh Zayed are said to have made significant personal donations. And Kuwait and Iraq are reported to have made multimillion dollar contributions through the United Nations.