Former terrorist on tour for redemption
January 20, 2004
TORONTO - Walid Shoebat is a rare commodity in the world of political violence, a former terrorist who feels bad about the things he did and the beliefs he once held and wants to make amends.
The Palestinian, who as a teenager was recruited by an extremist group to plant a bomb at an Israeli bank, is now renouncing his past at public appearances. His first Canadian talk is tonight in Toronto.
"It's something I owe the Jewish people for what I have done when I was young," Mr. Shoebat, a former member of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said yesterday in an interview.
Mr. Shoebat is speaking at the University of Toronto, where he will be interviewed in front of a student audience for a live taping of a radio show hosted by Los Angeles-based Rabbi Tovia Singer. "Most people don't know him," Mr. Singer said. "They will by the time the interview is over."
Mr. Shoebat said he is coming to Canada to challenge what he sees as anti-Israeli sentiment on university campuses, where the Arab-Israeli conflict has played out, sometimes violently, among Palestinian and Jewish students.
Born in Bethlehem to a Palestinian Muslim father and an American Christian mother who had met in the United States, Mr. Shoebat said that as early as kindergarten he was taught that Jews were "pigs and monkeys," killers and thieves. Teachers taught their students that one day the Jews would be slaughtered and driven from the Holy Land.
"So here we were, kids, little sponges, soaking up all that poison," he said. "We were brainwashed, literally, with the mosque training, the school training." As a school boy, "my dream was to kill my first Jew."
As he got older, he began attending demonstrations against Israeli occupation in the West Bank. That soon progressed to throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers and Jews worshipping at the Western Wall. He was an instigator of riots, wrote speeches and slogans, and sprayed graffiti on walls.
By the time he was 16, he had given his life to jihad and believed fervently that killing Jews was God's work and that the world would one day submit to Islamic rule. He once blinded a man during a flight and was "so happy" to learn he was a Jew.
Noticed for his zeal, Mr. Shoebat was recruited to plant a time bomb hidden in a loaf of bread. He carried the explosive to the entrance of an Israeli bank in Bethlehem but hesitated when he saw Arab children nearby. Instead, he tossed it on to a rooftop. He was eventually arrested and imprisoned at Jerusalem's central prison.
Even after he moved to Chicago to attend college, he remained active in the PLO, raising money for the organization. "We used to say we hated Hitler because he never got the job done," he said.
But he later began to question his political and religious views, and eventually made an about-face, converting to Christianity and coming to the conclusion that Israel should be supported and terrorism denounced.
Since he began speaking out in the United States against Palestinian terrorism, he has been labelled an Israeli collaborator and praised by Jewish groups. He is not sure how he will be received in Canada. "I have no idea, but I will find out."
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