JERUSALEM, NOV. 21 -- It was the usual Saturday morning service at the Kol Haneshama synagogue here, but the speaker, the prayer and the circumstances were anything but usual -- a Palestinian activist reciting a prayer for peace in Arabic from the Koran to a Jewish congregation.
The speaker was Mubarak Awad, an advocate of civil disobedience whom the Israeli authorities have decided to expel from the land of his birth. He was supposed to leave by yesterday, but has defiantly refused.
Instead, he has been making the rounds of institutions of Islam, Christianity and Judaism, seeking symbolic sanctuary from arrest, drumming up support for his right to stay and embarrassing the government.
He attended morning prayers yesterday at the Al Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem's largest, and was given a pledge of sanctuary and support by Moslem leaders. Sunday morning he will go to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City, reputed site of Jesus' crucifixion and burial, to attend a Greek Orthodox prayer service.
But today was another matter. This is a Jewish state and the officials who have ordered Awad's deportation did so in the name of a Jewish government. Both Awad's attendance here and the willingness of this small congregation to have him were acts that crossed over a well-defined barrier erected and maintained by both sides in the long-running conflict of Arab and Jew.
"I really can't recall another time when a Palestinian considered an enemy of the state has been invited to attend a Jewish prayer service here," said Eddy Kaufman, a well-known Hebrew University scholar who accompanied his friend Awad here this morning.
Awad, 44, is a psychologist who was born in Arab East Jerusalem and lived there until 1969, when he moved to the United States. He returned to Jerusalem in January 1985 and founded the Palestinian Center for the Study of Nonviolence. He has advocated a Gandhian approach to Palestinian resistance on the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, arguing that violence has gained Palestinians nothing.
Few Palestinians have endorsed his tactics, but he has been popular with the Israeli left and a small thorn to the government. He has been involved in numerous incidents of civil disobedience, such as tearing down government fences and planting olive trees, symbols of Palestinian ownership, on property the state claims for itself in the occupied territories.
He has been living in East Jerusalem on various three-month tourist visas and on the strength of a residency permit issued in 1967, when Israel first occupied the Arab sector of the city. He went to have it renewed in May and was informed three months later that he would have to leave when his latest tourist visa expired.
He has appealed the decision and has gotten unusually open support from the U.S. State Department, which contends he is the kind of moderate Palestinian the Israelis should be talking to rather than deporting.
The U.S. stand has rankled the government, which contends that Awad, as an American citizen, has no right to stay here and break the law. A senior official, who declined to be identified, said Israel's Foreign Ministry had been prepared to allow Awad to remain here, but that the public U.S. campaign on his behalf may force a showdown.
Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman of Kol Haneshama, which belongs to the liberal Reform movement, said he read in the newspapers about Awad's determination to stay and seek religious sanctuary.
"I called him up to invite him," said Weiman-Kelman. "As Jews we have to be especially sensitive to the whole issue of deportation. In this part of the world, religious ideologies are used to divide people, and so it's very important that believers of all faiths gather together and learn how to listen and respond to each other."
Today nearly 100 people turned out to hear Awad's prayer and Weiman-Kelman's sermon. Awad, who is Greek Orthodox, told the congregation he had been uncomfortable when he first arrived, but that he had slowly felt at ease. "God lives everywhere and inside all of us," he said.