May 23rd, 2017 – Awatef Abu Aquil – Tampa (FL)


I am a Palestinian with a Jordanian passport, born and raised in Kuwait. After studying chemistry for three years in Jordan, I went back to Kuwait to work for a scientific research institute. As a result of Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait my husband, my two little kids and I moved to the United States. It has been almost 27 years since we left and I still have never been to Palestine. My daughter plans to have a traditional wedding in Palestine next year and I am really excited about this. This will be the first time for me to visit Palestine.

“I didn’t stay long enough in Jordan to feel at home. Kuwait Didn’t feel like home either. I carry Palestine in my heart and I wonder if it could feel like home. For me, home is the United States.”


Awatef Abu Aquil

My father left for Kuwait at the end of the Fifties. At the time, my parents were living under bad economic conditions in a small village, called Silat ad-Dhahr in the Jenin Governate. As so many other Palestinians, my father went to the Gulf region to find a job. Life in Kuwait did not resemble his life as a farmer in Jenin though. He exchanged the pleasant weather of Palestine and his green surrounding of plants and trees for a life in the desert. 


It was also hard for my mother because they didn’t had family in Kuwait. Her feeling of loss in her new home was filled by the Palestinians who shared the same experience. The Palestinian guest workers started to bond, living right next door to each other, many of them coming from the same villages and families.

“IN KUWAIT, We were Always labelled as the Palestinians who didn’t put up a fight, as if we chose to be refugees; to take their money. But we worked hard for our salaries. My Father combined three different jobs. We were seen as second-class citizens”


I married in Kuwait and as my husband studied in the United States before, we started thinking about moving there. After experiencing what life could be in the States, he couldn’t bare it any longer to live in Kuwait and we started planning accordingly. We organised for our second child to be born in the US, during one of our trips. That made him a American citizen which proved vital later, during the Iraqi War. One month and a half month after the Iraqi invasion, we moved to the United States.

The consequence of the PLO’s decision to stand with Saddam Hussein, was truly felt in Kuwait. Most Palestinians had to flee the country or would end up in prison as the PLO was considered to represent the Palestinian people. But that doesn’t mean that all the Palestinians in Kuwait stood behind the PLO’s decision. At the time most of them did not agree on what was happening but unfortunately they were the ones who had to pay the price.

“After the Invasion We received a call from the American embassy that every American citizen Would be evacuated out of Kuwait.”


When I told the Embassy that only my son was an American citizenship, they informed us that the evacuation program applied for the whole family. Once we settled in the US, I stayed at home to take care of my two little kids. I didn’t have much family here and the whole environment was new to me. Eventually, I started volunteering at the Islamic school which my children attended. Next to the school was the mosque of the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay (ISTABA).

“In the mosque, I met American Muslims from all over the world. WE ARE a more diverse and multicultural community than I ever experienced. I learned so much. For me, It was a blessing.”


Awatef Abu Aquil

Considering the Palestinian struggle, I see it as my job to educate people outside Palestine about the Palestinian cause, as it is beyond my power to make a change in Palestine itself. The Palestinians inside and outside Palestine struggle in a different way. I grew up hearing all kind of stories of Palestinians who lived or visited Palestine. As a child watching the news on Palestine closely with my family, I could feel the sadness that my parents carried in their hearts. That sadness is a big part of my Memories of Palestine. ”

“I don’t have any personal memories of Palestine yet, but I am connected with it through my family, the stories and all we went through.”



Credits: Frank Ostyn and Marlies Van Coillie.

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