WHEREVER Stuart Shapiro may be, he gets my vote for father of the year.
His son, Adam, is a Jewish child of Brooklyn who in the last few years has been living in the Mideast and advocating for the rights of Palestinians. Last week, he spent a night in Yasser Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah while Israeli soldiers shelled the town. Arafat's bunker was filled with the dead and dying, and Adam Shapiro went there, he later explained, to try to persuade the Israelis to allow ambulances in to treat the wounded.
But after saying on television that he ate breakfast with Arafat and comparing the house-to- house raids on Palestinians in Ramallah to Nazi raids during World War II, Shapiro has become a villain. He's been branded a traitor, denounced as "the Jewish Taliban" and compared to John Walker Lindh, who's charged with having been a soldier in Osama bin Laden's army.
The death threats to Adam Shapiro's parents' home in Brooklyn were so numerous that they were forced to flee the state temporarily. But, amid all the excoriations of his son, Stuart Shapiro said the greatest thing any father could say.
"Of all the people in the world," he told a Newsday reporter, "I believe my son."
Some parents would be ringing their child up in Ramallah: "Have you lost your mind? What do you think you're doing? Do you know what people are saying, how this is going to hurt us with our friends? You pack up and come home right now!"
But Stuart Shapiro, convinced that in a place of endless hatred and endless revenge his son is one of the few who are trying to understand the other side, is standing by him.
"If my brother says these human rights atrocities are taking place against innocent Palestinian children, then we have to believe him," says Noah Shapiro, who's acting as spokesman for the family.
"But in no uncertain terms does that sympathy toward Palestinian children mean that we support suicide bombings."
The Middle East is a region whose troubles the world has grown sick of. The Palestinians are now terrorizing Israelis through random acts of violence, and the Israelis respond with tanks and guns, bombardments and house-to-house raids.
The two leaders in this war are loathsome in their intransigence. Arafat is incompetent, cowardly, ineffectual and more concerned about his own survival than about a workable peace for his people. He probably doesn't have the ability to stop the terrorist attacks, but he hasn't even tried.
Ariel Sharon is a malevolent former terrorist himself and the worst possible prime minister Israel could have now. He thinks he can bomb the Palestinians into submission and hates Arafat so badly that the only thing keeping Arafat alive is pressure from the United States and other Western countries.
Few in this war can argue anything but their own long-raging grievances, and almost no one in a leadership role is willing to reach out to the other side.
Into this melee came Adam Shapiro. Raised in a non-observant Jewish home, he became interested in the Middle East and went to Yemen to study Arabic - not Islam, as some have written. He was affected by what he saw there, and started working with a program that brought Jewish and Palestinian kids to a camp in the United States: the idea being that, if they actually got to know each other, they might like each other.
Upset to see Palestinians barred by Israeli security forces from going to work, and their homes and villages razed if a relative was suspected of being a terrorist, he was drawn to protest the Israeli government's actions. Most recently, he was trying to get ambulances to wounded Palestinians in areas ravaged by Israeli shelling.
Noah Shapiro says his brother believes in the teachings of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. and is at the opposite extreme from Hamas, Hezbollah and bin Laden. If Sharon had asked him to breakfast, Noah Shapiro said, he would have gone.
So who is Adam Shapiro a traitor to? Not to Israel. He's not an Israeli citizen. Not to his religion. He's not a practicing Jew. And not to the United States government, which claims to support equity in human affairs and the rights of innocent citizens. By condemning Arafat for not stopping the terrorists, but only mildly rebuking Sharon for waging all-out war on the Palestinians, we've betrayed our own values.
Adam Shapiro wanted to restore a little equity to this equation. And, in a season already long on heroes, this makes him another one in my book.
Copyright © 2002, Newsday, Inc.