Approximately 400,000 Palestinians lived in Kuwait before the Gulf War of 1990-1991. Did they have an opportunity to assimilate into Kuwait society and culture?

That's simply a "yes" or "no" question, although your answer will of course depend both upon your source of information, and your concept of assimilation.

There are some potentially interesting follow-up questions:

(if your answer is that they didn't have an opportunity to assimilate)

  1. Were they prevented from assimilating for their own good, to help them preserve their culture?
  2. Were they prevented from assimilating primarily to help the government of Kuwait achieve some policy objective that was not aimed at helping Palestinians in Kuwait?

If there was some assimilation, then it seems that there is a defining condition for a distinct group of refugees: Palestinians whose normal place of residence was Kuwait during some period of time to be agreed upon (analogous to the official UNRWA definition for Palestinians: "persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948." https://www.unrwa.org/palestine-refugees)

If your answer is that they did assimilate into Kuwait society and Kuwait culture to some extent, then their identity became in part a Kuwaiti identity.

It is possible to completely ignore the question of personal identity and focus very narrowly on questions of legal status.

However, if we focus on legal status, then for various well-known examples of persecution (such as Falun Gong in China or Bahai in Iran), we will find a combination of official denial that there have been any actions that can be fairly described as persecution, along with the claim that unpleasant experiences of the persecuted are technically legal, under the laws of the given country.

The majority of news media coverage of issues involving Palestinians doesn't seem to be designed for an audience of lawyers. However, if the crux of the matter is technical matters in law, then perhaps it should be designed for an audience of lawyers.

Now, it occurs to me that it is theoretically possible to say that 400,000 Palestinians in Kuwait had an opportunity to assimilate, but that none of them chose to make use of their opportunity. However, some explanation would be required, because that doesn't sound plausible.

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    Thanks, this seems more coherent. Though perhaps it's more of a history question? Note that there is a history SE site and mods can migrate it there.
    – JJJ
    Oct 23, 2019 at 20:21
  • I think that it's a political question because the historical background is required but isn't the main point. As an example for contrast, if the Quran says that pagan Arabs were given a choice of converting to Islam or being killed, and some were killed, then -- even if we assume that it is historically accurate -- it's not a current event of religiously motivated killing. The question of Palestinians who were living in Kuwait is quite different because we're talking about living people. Oct 23, 2019 at 21:27
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    In my experience, there is no such thing as a "simple yes or no question" in politics.
    – Philipp
    Oct 24, 2019 at 8:48
  • @Philipp I agree that the significance of the question may get us into complications, and that an answer that even crudely approximates reality will tend to be complicated, but I was trying to organize this thread around one fairly simple question. I used the description "simple" to draw a distinction between this (revised) thread and the original (unsuccessful) attempt. Oct 24, 2019 at 8:56

2 Answers 2


The Palestinians in Kuwait were very much assimilated into Kuwaiti society pre-1990 becoming a settled part of Kuwait society rather than a migrant workforce. Their situation in Kuwait was seen as more settled than elsewhere in the Middle East and they occupied many high-status professions, government jobs etc. As is typical in the region, settling there and assimilating is not necessarily a route to citizenship.

There were nearly as many Palestinians as there were Kuwaiti citizens (c. 500,000 Kuwaiti, 400,000 Palestinians, of total, 2m population I think). Many apparently had Jordanian citizenship.

Roughly 50% of the Palestinians in Kuwait fled during the Iraqi invasion and occupation. Because the PLO had backed Saddam over the invasion, the Kuwaitis did not let them return after liberation and indeed drove out most of the rest even though there is little sign that Kuwaiti-resident Palestinians followed the PLO in backing the Iraqi invasion.

Not quite sure about the framework you are asking your questions from but:

(1) By most definitions/comparisons the Palestinians were highly assimilated, but remained a clearly identifiable community

(2) Kuwait, like many of the Gulf states does not easily grant citizenship - this is not an issue specific to Palestinians. While Kuwait did and does support the "the right of return" to Israel, that policy position didn't prevent Kuwaitis from accepting the long-term settlement and assimilation of Palestinians in Kuwait before the Iraqi military invaded Kuwait.

Is your point that perhaps the Palestinians expelled from Kuwait should have a 'right of return' comparable to that claimed by the descendants of Palestinians expelled from Israel? Whatever one thinks of them, and whatever wrongs were done, the Kuwaitis will have always been very clear that all non-citizens are there at the government's discretion. It is extraordinary though how comparatively little attention the international community has given their expulsion.

Sources: personal conversations in Kuwait checked against several articles from credible sources:

Middle East Forum

Badil (Palestinian right organisations

Al Jazeera

The above sources are consistent, but provide less information about Palestinians fleeing during occupation than I had expected. While sources are tricky on Arab-Israeli issues, hopefully on Arab-Arab issues they are less tricky.

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    I would upvote, but I would like to see a citation of at least one source. Also, it's important if you are aware of any inaccuracies in your source on other questions (i.e. not the question you are answering) to make some reference to them, so that a source that is in some respects unreliable won't be relied upon in those respects. Oct 23, 2019 at 21:42
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    "Kuwaitis will have always been very clear that all non-citizens are there at the government's discretion" - if only Western countries followed the same rules... Oct 23, 2019 at 22:39
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    Ren Eh Daycart - my primary "source" is conversations with Kuwaitis when I was running a project there some years back I cross-checked my recollections with a look at articles in Middle East Forum, Badil, and Al Jazeera: meforum.org/3391/kuwait-expels-palestinians badil.org/en/component/k2/item/1514-art07.html aljazeera.com/news/2015/08/… These seem fairly consistent. They make only limited reference to Palestinains fleeing during the occupation rather than being expelled. Oct 24, 2019 at 11:06

I think the answer is no.

In my opinion an assimilated person is in some sense "equal" to a native person. This view implies that a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for assimilation is that the assimilated is granted citizenship. If the law doesn't consider someone an equal, his or her peers won't consider him or her one either.

By and large, the Palestinians in Kuwait did not hold, nor sought or were able to attain Kuwaiti citizenship. Ann M. Lesch in Palestinians in Kuwait writes:

Palestinians tended to live in distinct residential neighborhoods, but they did not seek special political status for their community institutions. Rather, their political efforts focused on assist- ing the Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories and in Lebanon, and they maintained a pragmatic and low-profile relationship with the Kuwaiti authorities and public. The community recognized that even those Palestinians who were born in Kuwait and resident all their lives remained legal aliens, whose presence was technically temporary. They did not challenge their guest-worker status, even if they chafed at the disabilities that they had to tolerate.

Thus, they were legal aliens. Moreover, Kuwaiti law restricted non-citizens from owning banks and financial institutions and limited the number of students enrolled in state-run universities. Kuwaitis also had preferential access to government jobs.

Now to your follow-up questions:

"Were they prevented from assimilating for their own good, to help them preserve their culture?"

All Arab states, except for Jordan, have refused to grant the Palestinian refugees citizenship. This includes the descendants of the refugees, themselves being refugees. The justification for doing so is that they would forfeit their refugee status if treated like normal citizens, adversely affecting their chances of returning to their homes now in Israel. This policy is enshrined in the "Casablanca Protocol" adopted by the League of Arab States in 1956:

(1) Whilst retaining their Palestinian nationality, Palestinians currently residing in the land of ___________ have the right of employment on part with its citizens.

(2) Palestinians residing at the moment in ____________ in accordance with the dictates of their interests, have the right to leave and return to this state.

(3) Palestinians residing in other Arab states have the right to enter the land of ____________ and to depart from it, in accordance with their interests. Their right of entry only gives them the right to stay for the permitted period and for the purpose their entered for, so long as the authorities do not agree to the contrary.

(4) Palestinians who are at the moment in __________, as well as those who were residing and left to the Diaspora, are given, upon request, valid travel documents. The concerned authorities must, wherever they be, issue these documents or renew them without delay.

(5) Bearers of these travel documents residing in LAS states receive the same treatment as all other LAS state citizens, regarding visa, and residency applications.

Only the first part of the first article, about Palestinians retaining their nationality and the state consequently refusing to grant them a new one, has been consistently implemented by all Arab states.

"Were they prevented from assimilating primarily to help the government of Kuwait achieve some policy objective that was not aimed at helping Palestinians in Kuwait?"

I don't know of any reasons specific to Kuwait, but policy objectives in other Arab states made it inopportune to resettle the Palestinian refugees. The major one for Kuwait, save for the belief that the Palestinian refugees had a right of return, would've been stability. Coups are common in the Arab world and any wildly unpopular decree would have been enough to trigger one. The Palestinians constituted a large portion of Kuwait's population, and there are few countries where resettling such a large number of refugees would be popular.

Perhaps you meant something else with "assimilation" and if so can you clarify? Because as far as I know, assimilation means sharing a very strong sense of identity with the majority/native population. Exactly how strong is up for debate, but the assimilated should have a feeling of "belongingness" with the nation he or she has assimilated to.

  • I checked that you copied and pasted what was (and, as I write this, is) at the source, but I don't understand the sentence: "(1) Whilst retaining their Palestinian nationality, Palestinians currently residing in the land of ___________ have the right of employment on part with its citizens." What is the function of the word "part" in that sentence? Are there any other examples of the exact phrase "on part with" in a sentence, where it is completely clear what the sentence means? Oct 25, 2019 at 8:03
  • I found a similar phrase: "on par with" that is well-documented: "Definition of on (a) par with. : at the same level or standard as (someone or something else) The new version of the software is on a par with the old one." It's possible that the original could include a typo, but it seems unlikely that nobody would bother to proofread the English translation of such an important document, and that nobody would ask any questions about what was meant, and that nobody would bring the question to the attention of people who can correct the error (if it is an error.) Oct 25, 2019 at 8:06
  • Nice find. The Casablanca Protocol was written in Arabic and the English text I found on UNISPAL is an unofficial translation. Most likely it is a typo. Oct 25, 2019 at 13:43
  • Michael Harvey provided a link to another translation that doesn't contain that puzzle. See the comment by Michael Harvey at the following link: .english.stackexchange.com/questions/516431/… . Maybe you could edit to replace your original link with the one that Michael Harvey provided, and then I can delete my comments here. Oct 25, 2019 at 13:53

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