WASHINGTON – Walid Shoebat, born in Bethlehem, began attacking Israelis when he was 8 years old, throwing stones and Molotov cocktails.
He was, Shoebat says now, an Islamic terrorist in the making – a product of his environment, including schools, media and mosques that preached hatred of Jews.
“I never actually met any Jews,” he said. “But in school we were taught from the Quran that they were pigs and monkeys.”
By 15, he had already served time in a Jerusalem prison for participating in an anti-Israel riot. While there, he was recruited into the Palestine Liberation Organization.
At 16, he was chosen to take a loaf of bread, packed with explosives, to blow up the Bethlehem Bank Leumi. His instructions were to place it in a garbage can near the door of the building. But seeing Arab children playing nearby, he decided to throw the bread on the roof where it did little damage.
He once blinded a man during a fight and was “so happy” to learn he was a Jew.
He was also involved in the near-lynching of an Israeli soldier. Though Shoebat and his friends took the soldier’s gun and beat him, he managed to escape.
“I wanted to die as a martyr,” said. “We were indoctrinated to look forward to heaven.”
Shoebat’s parents, however, had something else in mind for their son. Fearing he would wind up dead or in prison, they sent him to the United States for college at the age of 18.
But that didn’t stop Shoebat’s anti-Israeli activism. He continued his recruitment for the PLO on campus. He was the representative for thousands of Palestinian students in Chicago, raising funds, purchasing military uniforms and sending students to fight in Lebanon.
His deep-seated revulsion of Jews and Israelis continued until he married a Christian woman in 1993. Though he was determined to convert her to Islam, Maria converted him instead.
“She challenged me to find any mistakes in the Bible,” he recalls. “So I set out on a six-month journey to do that – to find the errors and convert her.”
Instead, he says, after reading the Bible from cover to cover, he determined it was the truth. The computer programmer and his wife were baptized together.
It was an unlikely twist for the grandson of the mukhtar of Beit Sahour and a close friend of the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, an associate of Adolph Hitler.
But that was hardly the end of the journey for Walid Shoebat, now 43.
To test his new faith he took a trip to Israel.
“I had still never talked to a Jewish Israeli,” he said. “On the plane there, I sat next to a Jewish woman and talked to her. She began crying. I asked her why. She said that she loved her daughters and was worried about them serving in the military. I asked her how they felt killing Palestinians. She replied that they hated killing. I saw a sincerity there that touched me.”
Now Shoebat has turned his activism in a completely different direction. He calls himself a Christian Zionist, giving speeches around the country and in Canada, where he made an appearance this week. His ultimate dream, he says, is to go to Israeli prisons to teach Palestinian youngsters Jewish history – a dream he understands is fraught with danger from the people who think as he once did.
Even his own father calls him a traitor.
“He still calls me at 2 o’clock in the morning and tells me I should be killed,” he said. “He hates me.”
Now Shoebat speaks at churches and synagogues and to radio talk-show hosts fascinated by his story. He is working on a book and maintains a website.
“That’s my mission now – to go to Americans and churches and anywhere I can go and explain God’s plan for the state of Israel, and how God intended Israel to be a light unto the nations, and how all of our hatred toward Israel is really evil,” he says.
Shoebat grew up in the West Bank when it was under the control of Jordan. He recalls the 1967 Six-Day War vividly.
“The Jordanian and Egyptian radios were ordering all Arabs to leave because they were going to kill all the Jews,” he says. “But we locked ourselves in our bathroom for the six days of the war. My father refused to leave because he thought that my mother’s American passport would protect us.”
During the war, Shoebat’s family listened to the Arab radio station announcing victory over the Israelis. They were amazed to find Israeli soldiers in place of Jordanian soldiers when they emerged from hiding.
What was life like on the “occupied West Bank” under Israeli control?
“Beautiful,” he says. “Prices fell. We had no problems.”