In December 1998, former American President Bill Clinton was visiting the Gaza Strip with his then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Together with late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Eriekat they listened to the story of a Palestinian girl called Nihad Zakout, whose father had been incarcerated in an Israeli jail for nine years.How poignant!
The meeting ended with a tearful Clinton handing his handkerchief to the crying girl, patting her on the shoulder, and promising to do his best to release her father within a month at most — a scene that irked the Israelis a great deal.
The girl returned to her home at the Jabalia Refugee Camp and prepared to welcome her father back in the Eid ul-Fitr feast, since the meeting with Clinton had taken place at the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan.
However, that Eid ul-Fitr came and her father never showed up. Several other Eid ul-Fitr passed and Zakout only saw her father behind bars at the Nafha Prison in the Middle of the Negev Desert, 100 kilometers away from Gaza.
However, last week Zakout, now 24 years old and mother of two girls, learned she would finally see her father Mohamed, now 48 years old, being released from prison.
At the time [of her father's arrest], Nihad Zakout was two years old. When she heard that President Clinton was visiting Gaza, she wrote a letter to the Association of Palestinian Detainees expressing her desire to meet the American president.
“They told me he is the president of the world’s biggest country and that he can put pressure on Benjamin Netanyahu to release my father,” she wrote in her letter.
Three years after the meeting with the president, Palestinian director Saud Mehanna made a 10-minute film on Nihad Zakout and called it “A message to Clinton.” The film, whose cost reached $10,000, depicted the disappointment of a young girl waiting for a promise to be fulfilled.
Mehanna, 53, then translated the movie into English and sent a copy to the White House in the hope that Clinton might remember the promise he made before his term was over.
The movie, which took five months to make, was shot in Zakout’s house in the Gabalia Refugee Camp and featured the girl and her mother Maysara.
Al Arabiya, however, gives a brief description of what the poor girl's father did to land in prison to begin with:
Mohamed Zakout was a construction worker in Tel Aviv in the 1980s and was wracked with conflict about earning a living and taking part in the building of the country that killed and dispossessed his people.Al Arabiya doesn't give all the details in this piece however. A 1998 article fills in some gaps:
That conflict saw him leave his work place on March 21, 1989 with a knife and stab in the neck the first Israeli his eyes fell on. The victim turned out to be the head of the Environment Association in Tel Aviv.
He then stabbed another Israeli, who also died, before stabbing a third in the back of his head and his spinal cord. He was arrested by the police.
What the 11-year-old didn't tell the president -- and what Clinton apparently didn't know -- was that her father, Mohammed, murdered an elderly Israeli scientist on his way home from delivering goods to the poor in the custom of the Jewish holiday of Purim.Multiple-murderer Mohammed Zakout is not one of the prisoners who will be deported to Turkey or Qatar. This despicable terrorist will return to Gaza where his daughter will welcome him home.
In a speech before about 900 Palestinian leaders in Gaza, Clinton compared the pain of children like Zakout with that of children of victims of terror. The president said he had spoken to children from both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that their stories touched him deeply.
Israelis were furious. Clinton's comparison was denounced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon, the Israeli press and many others.
"I can say one thing," said Rami Schallinger, the son of the slain scientist. "President Clinton can in no way bring back my father to me."
Schallinger, a 41-year-old insurance broker, said he learned from a reporter that the girl with whom Clinton spoke was the daughter of his father's murderer. Mohammed Zakout is serving a sentence of life plus 25 years for the 1988 slaying of Dr. Kurt Schallinger, a professor of agricultural science.
"I was telling him [Clinton] that these people were defending their homeland. The Israelis keep saying we are terrorists," [11 year old Nihal] said in an interview last night from her home in the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza. "If we kill one of them, they are killing thousands of us. These people are heroes. They have defended their homeland. I want my father."
During the trial of his father's murderer, Schallinger learned that Zakout said he wanted to kill because he didn't want to see Jews happy at Purim, a festive holiday in which children dress in costumes and recall the deliverance of Persian Jews from death.
"I can just tell you this: My father was an old man and he was religious. The murderer didn't come in front of him and fight him," said Schallinger. "He came from behind with two knives. [My father] couldn't even see him. I can hardly call [the killer] a political prisoner. This is just a brutal murder. And to compare the pain of the victim with the pain of the son, I don't have enough words."