Rula meets me at the coffee shop of the International Hotel-formerly the Hilton-in Kuwait City. It is September 1992. Rula, an attractive woman in her early thirties, is an electrical engineer, but is currently working as a computer specialist for a Kuwaiti trading company. We are having tea and cakes, 'Schwarzwalder' for Rula and cheesecake for me. Rula has assisted me during the past six weeks while I was in the country on a special United Nations mission and our meeting today is the last one before I go back to Vienna and then to the Gaza Strip.
After finishing our business conversation, Rula tells me that today one of her best friends, a woman she has known since she was a small child, has left the country for good, together with her family. The friend-like Rula a Palestinian born in Kuwait-has not been able to renew her residence permit and the same applies to the other members of her family. After sunrise they left, their huge station wagon packed with as many of their belongings as would fit. By now they will have crossed the border with Iraq and soon they will join the many other Palestinians who have recently made the trip to Baghdad.
Visibly upset about the departure of yet another friend, Rula then tells me the story of her own family. It is the first time during these six hectic weeks that we talk about something other than work. She talks and talks until we realize that more than two hours have passed. We both have to rush to other commitments, Rula back to her job at the trading company and I have to bid farewell to some of the officials of international organizations who have so generously facilitated and supported our mission. We say goodbye, not knowing whether we will meet again. Rula insists on paying for the tea and the cakes. I protest to no avail.
Rula's father, Khalil, was born in 1936 in Al Majdal, next to the site of the second millennium BC Philistine port of Ashkelon, or Ascalon, on the____________________