Palestinian turns from radical Muslim to true Zionist

A Palestinian Zionist?

It may sound like an oxymoron, but it's an apt description of Walid Shoebat, a would-be terrorist who now lives in the Bay Area.

In a recent appearance before Berkeley's Bridges to Israel group, Shoebat donned a kippah and proudly proclaimed Ani Tzioni — I am a Zionist — in Hebrew.

Shoebat's talk to a group of about 40 people, took place in the offices of Berkeley's Congregation Netivot Shalom. Bridges to Israel, founded locally by Seymour and Hilda Kessler, is not affiliated with the synagogue, but some of its members are.

Shoebat, 42, hails from Beit Sahour, outside of Bethlehem. He is the son of a Palestinian Muslim father and an American Christian mother. His great-grandfather on his mother's side was the mayor of Eureka in Humboldt County, while his grandfather on his father's side was friendly with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseni, who allied himself with Adolf Hitler.

Shoebat's parents met in the United States, married and moved back to the West Bank. Once there, his father took away his mother's passport. Though she tried escaping several times, she was unable to.

As a young man, Shoebat participated in some political activities — including putting a Palestinian flag on top of a mosque and throwing rocks on Jews praying at the Western Wall. These actions landed him in jail, where he encountered some militants who chose the 16-year-old for a special mission: to deliver a loaf of bread with some explosives inside to the Bank Leumi branch in Bethlehem.

"At the last minute I got terrified to death," he said. "I knew that I didn't want to, and threw it on top of the roof. Fortunately no one got hurt."

In another incident, he "almost lynched an Israeli soldier." The soldier was trying to catch a child who threw a rock at him, and Shoebat and others descended upon the man, inflicting injuries before the victim was able to escape.

When he was 18, he came to the United States and became an activist in Chicago, fund-raising for the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

But Shoebat is a completely different person now. If he could, he would like to meet that soldier, he said. "I would like to seek his forgiveness for this. It's something on my mind for a long time that I want to clear up, and I don't know how to go about it."

The transition began after Shoebat married a Christian woman, and in trying to prove to her that Islam was the true path, he began reading the Bible to prove to her how wrong she was.

"In 1993 I started looking into my enemy's book, the Tanach," he told the Bridges to Israel gathering, "and I came to the conclusion that the Jewish people are the most peaceful people on earth."

Now he is a Christian, whose love for Israel and the Jewish people is genuine.

"I come to you out of love for your people and your Bible, to say my people are wrong. The Arabs and Muslims are wrong.

"The Jew has the right to return to his land. Does this make me a fanatic? Fine!"

His beliefs have strained his relationship with his family. "My own father wants to kill me," he said. At a family reunion several years ago, he was told he must have been brainwashed by the Jews. Fundamentalist Muslims have said he must die because he abandoned Islam, he added. But this doesn't sway him.

While he works as a computer programmer, his real purpose now, he said, is to spread what he sees as the truth.

"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." His thoughts can also be found on his Web site —

When asked later why he didn't have more sympathy for his people's struggle for a homeland, Shoebat said if more Palestinians understood the Jewish claim to the land, as is told in the Bible, they too would be swayed.

"When I examined what I've experienced and documented the facts, I came to the emphatic conclusion that I was throwing rocks without ever listening to the Jewish cause," he said. "I made my conclusions about Israel as an occupier without ever learning Israel's history.

"Why would I carry a rock or a club and hit a soldier on the head? Because I was indoctrinated in the mosque and the school.

"I never learned about the Jewish connection to the land," he concluded. "But the reality is, this is simply a people and their desire to come home."

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."