Walid Shoebat is arguably the most unlikely diehard supporter of Israel.
A former militant of the Palestine Liberation Organization who used to hate Israel, did time in Israeli jails and nearly beat an Israeli soldier to death, Shoebat is now singing Israel’s praises to North American audiences.
“I am against a Palestinian state and I prefer the Greater Israel as a place where Jews and Arabs can live in peace,” Shoebat, a Bay Area computer engineer who converted to Christianity in 1993, told the Forward in an interview in New York last week.
The self-styled Christian Zionist is the latest incarnation of the dalliance between the Christian right and Israeli supporters, and has been embraced by hawkish groups. He has been interviewed by New York radio personality Rabbi Tovia Singer and will be featured at a “redemption” event held next week by Amcha-The Coalition for Jewish Actions in Riverdale, N.Y.
Born in 1960 in Bethlehem to an American mother and a Palestinian father, Shoebat said he was brought up to hate Jews. Like many teenagers, he joined the ranks of the PLO while in prison in the mid-1970s. He recalls being tasked with bombing a branch of Bank Leumi in Bethlehem and changing his mind at the last minute when he saw Arab children in the vicinity of the bank.
To steer him away from trouble, his parents decided to send him to America. While studying at Loop College in Chicago (now Harold Washington College) he was involved in pro-Palestinian activities, raising money for the PLO and recruiting volunteers to fight in Lebanon.
After moving to California to work, however, he started reassessing his worldview. On his trips back to Bethlehem to visit his family, he became annoyed by the rampant Islamicization of Palestinian society.
But the real transformation occurred when he tried to convert his Catholic wife to Islam in 1993 and she asked him instead to read the Bible.
“I fell in love with the Bible, it was plain and logical,” he said. “And I saw Israel throughout.” From then on, he became a fervent supporter of Israel. As a result, his family members declared him a traitor, and he said his father and brother have since threatened to kill him.
“I lost my family,” he said. “But I have a wife and two kids who don’t hate Jews. This is my biggest victory.”
He wants to travel to Israel and work to eliminate the culture of hatred in which Palestinians are immersed. And he still hopes to identify the soldier he and his friends nearly beat to death during a riot in his hometown in the mid-1970s.
“I want to apologize to him because I love the Jewish people and I want to pay my dues,” he said.