Self-proclaimed former terrorist from the Palestine Liberation Organization Walid Shoebat will speak on campus tonight about the current situation in the Middle East and his violent experiences involving the conflict.
The controversial speaker, who is now the founder of a pro-Israel organization, will lecture on his experiences as a member of the PLO, the education he received in the network’s training camps and the acts of violence he committed as a terrorist, according to Event Director Alan Levine. The free lecture, titled “Inside Terror Confessions of a PLO Terrorist” will be held in Corwin Pavilion at 7 p.m.
Two UCPD officers and six CSOs will monitor the event for security purposes, said Levine, a second-year political science major.
Levine said Shoebat’s presence on campus has stirred some controversy and negative responses from faculty, students and religious leaders in the community.
“I spoke to a concerned faculty member from the Center for Middle Eastern Studies and Rabbi Allison Conyer from Hillel, who considered writing an editorial against the event in the paper,” he said. “Shoebat is controversial, what he has to say is disturbing, and while some people see this topic as hateful, the truth is he is denouncing [the] hate and hateful education that causes terror. That is his message.”
Second-year art history major Lindsey Wolf, a member of Santa Barbara Hillel, said she is doubtful of Shoebat’s transformation and skeptical about his reform.
“I would almost think cynically about his story,” Wolf said. “How do you just forget the views you were raised with? You once hated Jews and now he claims to embrace them? How can you just erase and forget your past beliefs?”
Despite objections from some students and campus groups, however, Levine said the content of Shoebat’s lecture offers a realistic look at the situation in the Middle East. Levine said open discussions of terrorism are rare in university settings and the topic is often neglected in public discourse because of its frequently graphic or violent nature.
“I think that often people gloss over what is really happening because it is disturbing, but he will break down what is really happening on the ground,” Levine said.
Daniel Melnick, another organizer for the event, said the regular occurrence of discussions at UCSB about the Israel-Palestine conflict make having a speaker who has first-hand experiences with the issue important for the university’s students.
“The issue of Israel and Palestine is often debated in the classroom and I feel bringing someone who actually experienced this conflict is a perspective rarely seen today,” Melnick, a first-year dramatic arts major, said.
Shoebat was born in Bethlehem, Israel, and became an official member of the PLO after witnessing the Six Day War in 1967, according his website.
After committing acts of violence directed at Israel during his youth, Shoebat was incarcerated in Jerusalem’s central prison for incitement and violence against Israel. Upon his release, Shoebat continued to commit terrorist acts against Israelis in the area surrounding Bethlehem.
According to his website, Shoebat eventually moved to the United States and became a counselor for the Arab Student Organization at Loop College in Chicago. He maintained his strong anti-Western views until 1993, when he began to study Jewish holy texts and came to the conclusion that much of the anti-Semitic education he received in the PLO terrorist camps was propaganda. It was at this point, the website said, that Shoebat realized he was wrong about Israel and decided to change his beliefs and actions.
Levine said Shoebat’s talk will combine a dialogue about current political events with the speaker’s discussion of his personal experiences with the topic.
“His talk will probably touch on the U.S. foreign policy toward Iraq and what the West can do to help, in addition to sharing his experiences in terror and his regret that caused his eventual journey to the other side.” Levine said.
Funds for the event are being provided by a committee of campus organizations – including College Republicans, Campus Democrats, AEPi Fraternity and American Students for Israel – in addition to a $2000 contribution from Associated Students and $1300 in donations by private individuals for the lecture.
Shoebat, who is now an American citizen, has previously appeared on CNN and FOX News, spoken in countries throughout the world and written several books including Israel, the World’s Mock Trial.