x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Kuwait consensus on Gaza's plight

Islamists, humanitarian activists and politicians from across the spectrum come together to support Palestinians despite past differences.

A demonstration organised by the Salafi Party in solidarity with the Palestinians.
A demonstration organised by the Salafi Party in solidarity with the Palestinians.

KUWAIT CITY // In their black balaclavas and green Hamas headbands, the youths protesting against Israel's air strikes on the Gaza Strip could have been in the heart of the Palestinian Territories. Except they were in the heart of Kuwait. "Move, Hamas. Go forward. We are with you," Abu Malik, a red-haired Palestinian, shouted to a thousands-strong crowd on Sunday. While relations between Kuwait and the Palestinians have been strained since the late Yasser Arafat aligned himself with Saddam Hussein during Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, Sunday's rally was the second showing solidarity for the besieged Gaza Strip. Several months ago, about 750 people showed up, but Sunday's rally drew at least 2,000, probably the biggest the country has seen, said Mohammad al Obaid, an independent MP in the Kuwaiti parliament. "I think if it was announced a few days earlier it would be bigger than what we see today," he said. Although rallies are not unusual in this politically vibrant country, politicians from the warring National Assembly are rarely on the same platform. At Sunday's protest, many stood together. "When things happen in Palestine, the effect is strong in Kuwait," said an activist for the Islamist party Hadas, who withheld his name because he said it was not important. "This is special. All parties are gathering together - the liberals, the Shiia, Hizbollah in Kuwait and even the National Union of Kuwaiti Students. They are all very angry and would like to open a channel to support Gaza." The protesters burnt Israeli flags and waved banners reading "No to hunger, no to submission", according to the Kuwait Times. One MP, Waleed al Taetabae, even brandished his shoe in the air as he addressed the crowd, as an attempt to insult the Israelis, the paper said. Mr al Obaid said Gaza's Arab neighbours should take some of the blame for allowing the situation in the territory to get so dire. The situation is "horrible", he said, "and this has not happened in Gaza without support ? from some of the Arab countries' leaders". Among the speakers at the protest was Sheikh Ahmad al Qattan, a prominent Islamist figure, who condemned the situation in the Strip and urged the demonstrators to place their faith in God and to help the Palestinians in any way possible. Mr al Obaid announced the launch of a fundraiser for the people of Gaza while charities at the protest collected donations. The fundamentalist Salafi party was a key organiser of the protest. The Islamists directed journalists towards the podium, wearing black and white Palestinian keffiyahs with their dark-coloured dishdashas. Their party's logo was as prominent as pictures of Ahmed Yassin, the co-founder of Hamas who was assassinated by Israel in 2004. The president of Kuwait University's student union, Isa al Shaheen, said despite the parties' political differences, humanitarian and Islamic issues united them. "We as Kuwaitis, and foreigners living here, are not far from Gaza. The geographical distance is large, but we are all human beings and Muslim and Arab, and that keeps us in touch." Kuwait was once home to about 350,000 Palestinians, many of whom had relocated after the creation of Israel to take up jobs in the administration. It was the largest foreign community in Kuwait and the largest Palestinian community outside the Levant. But relations soured during the first Gulf War when the Palestinian leadership supported Iraq. Those who left during the invasion were not allowed to return and others were punished for suspected collaboration with the invaders. Diplomatic relations remained frozen until Mahmoud Abbas, the chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, returned 14 years later to apologise for Palestinian behaviour. jcalderwood@thenational.ae