Crazy in Gaza

Not many people in Gaza would think openly declaring one's love for Israel is a very good idea. But Khalil Mohammad Shaath has been shouting it through a megaphone and writing it on the walls for more than a decade. MENASSAT met with the "crazy man of Gaza."
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Khalil Mohammad Shaath and some of his writing on the walls of Gaza. R.R.

KHAN YOUNIS, GAZA, Feb. 29, 2008 (MENASSAT) – For a Palestinian in Hamas-controlled Gaza to publicly declare his love for Israel and a strong desire to marry U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may seem suicidal. But then Khalil Mohamad Shaath is better known as the "crazy man of Gaza."

His work is everywhere on the walls of Gaza, especially his preferred slogan, "Khalil Shaath is a Palestinian nuclear scientist." Indeed, it is so omnipresent that it has become imprinted in the memory of Gaza's inhabitants and has become almost a part of the city itself.

Needless to say, Khalil Mohamad Shaath is not a Palestinian nuclear scientist. He is a 54-year old Palestinian with a deep tan and green eyes, living in the town of Khan Younis, south of Gaza, where MENASSAT met with him last week.

'I love Israel'

He surprised us immediately by expressing his desire to marry U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, or failing that, the daughter of the former German PM, Monica Helmut Kohl, who he claims was his co-student at Bonn university, or even the Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, whom he admires both for her personality and her person.

Khalil likes to be called a "nuclear scientist" or an "expert," noting that he holds high degrees of education in this field. As he told us, he is constantly being contacted by high personalities because he owns an arsenal of nuclear warheads and facilities, in addition to having 1,000 other nuclear scientists working under his command.

He adds, "I love Israel for I was raised in the house of its former president, Moshe Katsav. The Israelis know what I'm worth, while the Arabs still ignore me, despite the fact that I own the biggest nuclear arsenal in the world."

Khalil's true story does not involve close relationships with the world's leaders but it is not less surprising.

He is not a street person who begs for money in between his rambles and rants.

Khalil Mohamad Shaath is in fact quite wealthy.

Shot by the Israelis

He was born and raised in Khan Yunis, where he went to school after which he went to work in construction. He became quite a big contractor and earned a lot of money, enabling him to live a peaceful life among his friends and family to this day.

According to his brother Issam, everything changed in 1989 when he was shot in the leg by the Israeli army during an incursion inside Khan Younis.

"Two weeks after being shot himself, he witnessed the killing of two Palestinian citizens, Mohamad Shirwan and Taha Abu Sameh. This caused him to have a nervous breakdown. It was after that episode that he started talking about nuclear weapons."

The family was dumbfounded.

"Out of nowhere, he started telling everyone that he was a nuclear scientist, owned nuclear heads and graduated from Bonn University in Germany. They were very strange things to say, especially since he is is not an educated man and in fact dropped out of high school."

Gradually, Khalil's rants became more and more extreme.

Lately, he has been thinking of assassinating U.S. president George W. Bush by firing two nuclear missiles into his Texas ranch – this despite his declared love for the Americans and Israelis.

His love for Israel seems to negatively affect his relation with his fellow Palestinians. Khalil describes former Palestinian PM and one of the leaders in Hamas, Ismail Haniya, as "crazy."

"Haniya invaded my properties and stole the settlements Israel evacuated on my demand," he says, adding that Haniya and Hamas will not enjoy their victory for long.

'Qadhafi, my friend and buddy'

Hamas, in any case, are an ungrateful bunch, says Khalil. They seem to have completely forgotten that Israel's withdrawal from Gaza came of his own initiative, which he presented to some of his Israeli friends who immediately accepted it.

"Gaza, from its north to its south, belongs to me and my family. I worked as a intermediary for the Hamas leaders who were deported to Marj al-Zahou in 1992, including Ismail Haniya, and now Haniya invades my properties and steals them."

Concerning his relation with Palestinian President, Abu Mazen, Khalil says, "I have nothing to do with him or Haniyah, for I'm wealthier than them, I own a nuclear facility, and I'm not proud to talk about them."

He talks about his relation with late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, saying he is the reason behind the Gaza-Jericho agreement which Arafat signed with the Israeli government, adding that it was he who allowed the Palestinian and Badr Forces into the Palestinian Territories through the al-Lambi crossing in the West Bank and the Rafah checkpoint in Gaza.

Describing his relation with other Arab leaders, Khalil says he enjoys strong ties with Egyptian President Husni Mubarrak. But this relation started deteriorating when Mubarrak refused to let him into Egypt through the Rafah checkpoint when he wanted to travel to Germany and the United States.

Of the Libyan President Moamar Qadhafi, he doesn't want to say anymore than that "he's my friend and buddy."

He expresses his utter condemnation of late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. "At the time, I talked to Saddam and I explained to him that his actions were wrong, that it is not acceptable for an Arab state to attack another. I also stressed that there are peaceful ways to end his hostility with Kuwait. But he was stupid and refused to take my advice. We all know what happened next."

Nervous breakdown

Over the years, his family has grown accustomed and resigned to Khalil's strange behavior.

"We took him to many doctors and we visited many hospitals including the Bethlehem hospital in the West Bank", his brother Issam said. "The doctors there said he was suffering from an acute nervous breakdown. When he didn't recover, we had to take him out to the hospital and we brought him back home."

There, they faced the surprise that Khalil didn't recognize his wife Bashira nor his five children. In fact, he is convinced that he is unmarried and has no childen.

His brother-in-law, requesting anonymity, said, "Khalil is a calm and peaceful man, who doesn't cause any problems for anyone. All he does is go around town with a megaphone and a can of spray-paint, screaming that he is a nuclear scientist, and writing on the walls of Gaza."

He adds that all the citizens in Gaza know of Khalil's condition and that he causes no trouble. The brother-in-law has worked for the Khan Younis municipality for eleven years, and Khalil's state of mind and his controversial political statements have not caused trouble for him or any of Shaath's family.

Khalil's daughter is married and is living with her husband in Egypt. Two of his sons are also married with children.

Khalil doesn't recognize any of them.