Death threats have prompted a Brooklyn couple to leave their home amid anger over reports that one of their sons, a humanitarian worker in the Middle East, shared breakfast with Yasir Arafat after being trapped in the Palestinian leader's besieged compound over the weekend, the couple's family said.
Noah Shapiro, a Manhattan lawyer, said that his parents, Stuart and Doreen Shapiro, who are both public school teachers, fled their home in Sheepshead Bay on Sunday to stay with friends out of state. He added that he did not feel safe in New York anymore, even as the police presence around his apartment has increased.
Doreen and Stuart Shapiro, shown yesterday after they left Brooklyn, received death threats because of their son's actions in Ramallah.
(Joyce Dopkeen/NY Times)
"I don't even think we can measure the emotional toll," he said. "People in New York have interpreted my brother's actions to say that he is a terrorist, a traitor, an aide to Arafat. And none of this is based on fact."
In news interviews over the weekend, Adam Shapiro, the humanitarian worker, said he became trapped for a night in Mr. Arafat's compound after persuading Israeli military authorities to let ambulances in to treat the injured. He said Mr. Arafat offered him breakfast as a sign of thanks.
The death threats against Mr. Shapiro's parents began after he left the compound on Saturday. The threats to the Shapiros came via e-mail and telephone messages. Fliers went up around Brooklyn urging people to dial a number where a message denounced Adam Shapiro as a traitor to America and the Jews, compared him to John Walker Lindh and urged his parents to condemn him. The recording even left a purported home address.
A Web site also listed personal information about the Shapiro family and urged action against them, Noah Shapiro said.
According to Noah Shapiro, most of the messages wish "a fiery death" to the entire family. "Some of the messages say, `We hope,' and others say, `This will happen to you and we will make it happen to you.' " He said the family was turning over all messages to the police, who are monitoring the family's phone lines.
A spokeswoman for the Police Department refused to comment, citing security issues for the family, but Abraham H. Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, confirmed calling law enforcement officials on the family's behalf.
"This is sinister and serious," Mr. Foxman said. "We find it reprehensible to target anybody based on what they believe and what they stand for, whether or not we believe in their actions."
In a telephone interview from his home in Ramallah, Adam Shapiro expressed a sense of disbelief about what is happening to his family.
"It's not that I don't understand people's anger," he said. "But I do think it's based on hatred and not on a balanced and fair understanding of the situation."
Adam Shapiro, 30, dismissed comparisons between him and Mr. Lindh, the American accused of conspiring with the Taliban. Mr. Shapiro said he condemned all violence and reiterated that his efforts were for civilians' well-being.
"My work is with the way Palestinians are living," he said. "That is getting lost because I got trapped in the presidential compound."
The Shapiro family is Jewish, but Adam Shapiro said he did not follow any particular religion. He became interested in Middle Eastern politics toward the end of his undergraduate years at Washington University in St. Louis, where he studied political science and history. Around 1997, he spent some time in Yemen teaching English and leading tours for American tourists, Noah Shapiro said, noting that his brother also worked for Seeds of Peace, a program for Arab and Jewish youth that emphasizes tolerance.
Because he has so often been without electricity, Adam Shapiro said yesterday that he had not seen much of the news coverage about him. "I'm hearing about all of this from my friends who are writing me e-mails," he said. "It's definitely surreal."
Adam Shapiro has plans to return to the United States to be married in May. Yesterday, he said he told his brother to add "getting a security detail" to a checklist of things to do before the wedding. "I said I was more worried about coming home than being here," he said.
Copyright 2002 New York Times