The more the war in the Middle East intensifies, the more eager the Rev. Alex Awad is to return to his congregation in East Jerusalem. At the same time, he concedes, the escalating violence makes it less likely that the Israeli government will issue the visa he has been trying to obtain for the last two years.

Awad, 44, was rebuffed in his attempts to return to Israel at Christmas but remains hopeful based on information about his visa request passed on from friends in Israel.

Awad said Wednesday that one of his friends, Edi Kaufman, of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, told him before the allied forces' attack on Iraq that his visa apparently would be issued as long as he promised to refrain from taking part in political activities.

Awad said he told Kaufman that his desire to return was based on spiritual and humanitarian concerns and thought that his visa could be "coming right around the corner."

But with the attack on Iraq and the subsequent Iraqi attacks on Israel, Awad's hopes are beginning to fade, although he thinks it is precisely the time his congregation needs him most.

An ordained Southern Baptist minister, Awad said he has had no recent news of his visa from Kaufman, "which indicates again that my problem is on the shelf."

In addition, Awad said, U.S. Rep. Tony P. Hall (D-Ohio), who has taken up his cause, has contacted Israeli officials and confirmed recently to Awad's wife, Brenda, that there was no action on the visa request.

"It is very, very unlikely that the government would even consider" the application, said Awad, who is a missionary with the United Methodist Board of Church and Society working as a peace-with-justice educator in Syracuse, N.Y.

As the war intensifies and the attacks on Israel begin to mount, Awad said he worries that the Palestinian Christian community will become more and more isolated.

"Many of the people who were missionaries or human rights activists or United Nations personnel have left the country," Awad said. "I would return because I feel that instead of leaving the Christian community at this time we should go there and stand with them."

Awad said he is concerned that Israel might begin making mass deportations of Christian and Moslem Arabs.

If he were permitted to return, Awad would take up duties as a lecturer at Bethlehem Bible College, which is operated by one of his brothers, the Rev. Bishara Awad, and return as pastor at the East Jerusalem Baptist Church, which has a congregation of 30 to 50 people.

His work would be supported by the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries.

Awad was "asked to leave" in March 1989 with the expiration of his West Bank visa, a visa he was required to have because he is a Palestinian.

Awad said he left the country willingly -- for one or two months, he thought -- because Israeli officials told him a request for a new visa would be viewed favorably when he wished to return. "Once I left the country, they totally forgot that promise," Awad said. "I was really cheated out of the country."

Awad said that by promising Israel he would be engaged in spiritual and humanitarian pursuits, rather than political activity, he meant he would not take overt actions such as joining the Palestine Liberation Organization or taking part in demonstrations.

But he noted that he had no intention of divorcing himself from his peace-with-justice ministry because, "You can't be totally passive to politics if you are in the West Bank."

Awad said he believes his situation may be complicated by the fact that another of his brothers, Mubarak Awad, is a well-known peace activist who was deported by Israel. But he noted that he was asked to leave the country long before Mubarak Awad was deported.

Alex Awad is particularly critical of Israel's Law of Return, which allows Jews from around the world to move to Israel and receive citizenship. Awad sees it as an irony that he, a native of Palestine, cannot return to his homeland when so many "foreigners" are allowed to stay.