'Your loss is my loss,' King Hussein tells Israelis Jordanian consoles families of slain girls

March 17, 1997|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

ZELAFON, Israel -- Two fathers, an Arab king and an Israeli factory worker met yesterday in a house of grief to mourn the death of a 13-year-old daughter.

King Hussein of Jordan knelt at the feet of Yisrael Fatihi, who sat on floor cushions in the custom of Jewish mourning, and told him, "Your loss is my loss, my personal loss."

The king's visit to the tidy stucco house of the Fatihi family was his first stop on an extraordinary series of condolence calls to the families of seven Israeli schoolgirls fatally shot last week by a Jordanian soldier at a tourist spot on the Israel-Jordan border.

Fatihi told the king that his daughter, Sivan, a bubbly teen-ager with a sunny smile, wanted to visit the pastoral overlook known as the Island of Peace. "The peace with Jordan should be the best one," the father said. "I'm sure your majesty will fight those fanatic extremists. Otherwise, they will negatively affect the peace between us."

Hussein, accompanied by two of his children, arrived in Israel at a time of strained Middle East relations over the building of a controversial Jewish housing development in predominantly Arab East Jerusalem. In meetings with Netanyahu, he repeated his opposition to the project on the pine-covered hill that Arabs call Jabal Abu Ghneim.

"I cannot say we solved all the problems," the king said at an evening news conference. "We talked frankly and openly, and we will continue to work together for peace in this region."

But Netanyahu reiterated his stand on the development Israelis know as Har Homa: Work will begin this week.

"There is no change in our decisions. Friends may sometimes agree and sometimes not. We understand the concerns on the Palestinian side. But we took our decisions," the prime minister said.

The two men called Yasser Arafat, president of the Palestinian authority, during their private meeting. But neither disclosed the contents of the conversation. Netanyahu said Israeli and Palestinian committees met last night. And he suggested that some progress would be made on other outstanding issues, including the Palestinian airport in Gaza.

The peace between Israel and the Palestinians may be troubled, but it is responsible for events that would have been impossible five years ago, such as the visit by the king of Jordan, which lost the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem to Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.

Since Israel signed a peace treaty with Jordan in 1994, a year after the historic peace with the Palestinians, Hussein has traveled to Israel to eulogize slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He came earlier this year to help broker a stalemate over the Israeli troop withdrawal from the Palestinian city of Hebron.

And again, yesterday, to mourn the deaths of seven schoolgirls.

The king arrived around midday at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, where Netanyahu met him. Their motorcade wound its way through the rolling countryside until it reached Zelafon, a small community of 150 families.

This is a place where folks buy groceries on credit at the local store, where many share the surname of neighbors down the road, and a majority support Netanyahu's hard-line policies.

'An historic moment'

About a dozen residents stood behind a police barricade, watching as the limousines drove up to a two-story stucco house that had been blocked off. The tragic death of a neighbor's child had brought this special guest to their hamlet.

"It's an historic moment to see him," said Hadas Hadad, 15, standing under a big umbrella. "It's the first time a king is coming."

And despite the king's recent letter chastising Israel's settlement policies, they did not hold him responsible for Thursday's shooting. Other Israelis have been less forgiving; they blamed him for creating an atmosphere that incites violence.

"It's really nice of him to come," said Zvia Azami, who braved a steady rain to catch a glimpse of the king. "If I could talk to him I would say, 'What a pity that we have to meet under such circumstances.' "

The first condolence call was to Yisrael and Nurit Fatihi, among the early Yemenite immigrants who settled here in 1950.

The king entered the house accompanied by Netanyahu, Jordanian officials and Israeli Cabinet ministers. The living room, jammed with relatives, grew even more crowded.

Sharing their grief

Hussein approached Yisrael Fatihi, knelt and extended his hand.

The king wore a suit and the red-checkered headdress of his Bedouin heritage. Fatihi, an animal nutritionist who works at a nearby chicken feed factory, wore the skullcap of a religious Jew and a prayer shawl around his shoulders.

Hussein said he was "sorry" for the death of his daughter. He spoke in Arabic initially and the prime minister translated. But Fatihi had something he wanted to say as well -- he had written his thoughts in English on a sheet of paper. He addressed both the king and the prime minister.

He told the king about an agricultural convention he attended in Jordan last year. "We visited Amman at night, 11 o'clock, without any fear," the father said, as if to explain that he felt comfortable among the king's countrymen.

Fatihi asked the two men to continue to work for peace.

"Thank you so much for the kind and warm words of your family. I hope you will consider me a member of the family," Hussein responded. "Your loss is my loss, my personal loss. I hope God will give us this time to accept his will. We will do everything we can. We are determined to see a future for all these young children, Jews and Arabs, different than what we have been through."

Nurit Fatihi looked at the dignitaries in her home and told the king how pleased her daughter would be. "If my Sivan was alive, she would see this scene and love it," the mother said.

Pub Date: 3/17/97

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