Palestinians Cope With Another Upheaval

OM MUSBAH sits cross-legged on a piece of plastic matting, surrounded by her children and grandchildren, and bewails her fate.Twenty years ago, Om Musbah left this Palestinian refugee camp with her children, drawn to Kuwait by its oil wealth. "It was a beautiful life we led in Kuwait," she sighs. "We had everything we needed." But that dream is over, shattered first by Iraq's invasion, and then ground into dust by the restored government's policy of vengeance against Palestinians. Om Musbah was visiting her family here in August 1990 and, like all Palestinians, is unable to return to Kuwait. Now she is back in the refugee camp. This is the fourth upheaval of her life. In 1948, when Israel was created, she fled from her home near Tel Aviv to Ramallah, then in Jordan, now in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Ten years later she moved to Amman, only to move on after the Jordanian Army turned its guns on Palestinians in "Black September" 1970. She went to Kuwait and now she has been thrown out of there. Does she expect to have to move again? "Only God knows," Om Musbah shrugs. One of Om Musbah's sons, Abu Omar, has a problem shared by thousands of other returnees. During the 20 years he worked as a teacher, he had salted away $36,000 in a Kuwaiti bank. Now he cannot get it out. Although returnees may legally withdraw their savings, the banks are demanding proof that they have paid their utility bills first. For most people who left the country in frantic haste and are forbidden to return, such proof is impossible to furnish. Even the few who have found jobs are tightening their belts. Om Musbah's son-in-law is delighted to have a job as a technician in a cement factory, and jokes mordantly that "there is zero difference between my salary in Kuwait and my salary here." The difference, he explains, is indeed a "zero." In Kuwait he earned $2,700 a month. In Jordan he earns $270 - and is glad to get it. Om Musbah thanks God that at least she has a roof over her head, and reflects on her life as a Palestinian. "It's like the bird that builds a nest, straw by straw, and then the wind blows and it's over," she says. "That's happened again and again and every time we end up empty handed."

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