Gunman's relatives can't understand his act Kamal lost the money he had saved to start 'a better life,' they say

February 25, 1997|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

GAZA -- A mourning tent draped the well-appointed home of Ali Abu Kamal last night. There his family sat trying to reconcile their image of a beloved father with the deadly act he committed at the Empire State Building.

They knew little about their father's first trip to America, except that he hoped to invest his life savings into a new business.

"I want to make a better life. I'm not satisfied about my life. I'm not satisfied about your life," he told his daughter Linda Abu Kamal before leaving in December.

But the 69-year-old English teacher lost his money, more than $300,000, the family said.

"You don't believe your father who is near 70 would do something like this," said Marwan Abu Samra, Kamal's son-in-law, who welcomed mourners to the family home in Ramal, a well-to-do seaside neighborhood of mostly squalid Gaza. The family speaks of the shooting as "the accident." They say Kamal was a peaceful man who had nothing to do with politics. By all accounts, Ali Abu Kamal lived a comfortable life teaching English in a high school and tutoring private pupils.

His son-in-law said Kamal earned $3,000 a month. That's a fortune in this area where the average family income is about $1,500 a year.

Two months ago, Kamal surprised his wife, six children and others with the news that he was going to America in search of a better life. He said he wanted to go into business.

A photograph of Ali Abu Kamal in the living room of his home shows a mustachioed man in a dark, pin-striped suit, his red-striped tie askew, but a handkerchief tucked smartly in his breast pocket. He stands before a fake backdrop of blooming tulips. But his expression is sad.

Born in Ramle, outside of Jerusalem, Kamal grew up in Yaffo, a town on the Mediterranean Sea south of Tel Aviv. But in 1948, after Israeli statehood and the first Arab-Israeli war, the family joined the Palestinian exodus to refugee camps. They landed in Gaza.

As a young man, Kamal developed a keen interest in things British and loved the English language. Kamal traveled every summer at the end of school exams. He spent time in Cyprus, Syria and Germany, but he preferred Egypt. Kamal never explained to his family the exact nature of the business he hoped to start. When he left for the United States, Kamal told his family that if he succeeded, he would find a place to live and then send for them. If his plans didn't work out, he would return home. In telephone calls from the United States, Kamal said he had visited friends in New York and Florida.

The first inkling of trouble surfaced in a telephone call a week ago to his 55-year-old wife, Fathiya. Kamal asked his wife to send money to their son, a civil engineering student in Russia. His wife replied that she had no money at home. She asked him about the money he brought to America.

"I have nothing," he told his wife. "I have lost all my money."

But he never explained how.

On the morning of the shooting, Ali Abu Kamal called his wife. Then he called his daughter Linda. "Take care of yourself, your mother, brothers and sisters," Abu Kamal told his daughter. "If something happens," he told her to call his friend in New York -- a man named Taysir Badaro.

"Come back," the daughter told her father. "We want you" at home.

Pub Date: 2/25/97

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