July 13, 2000 -- The man who gained fame as pop star Cat Stevens was denied entry into Israel and deported hours after arriving because he supports Hamas, a militant Islamist group, officials said today.
The former British music star, who has gone by the name Yusuf Islam for more than 20 years, landed in Israel on a flight from Germany early on Wednesday. He was held at the airport for several hours and sent back to Germany, government spokesman Moshe Fogel said.
Islam, who now sings only for his mosque, had “transferred funds” to Hamas in the past, Fogel told Reuters.
“There was a problem with allowing him into the country because he is a Hamas supporter,” he said. “He didn’t seem like he was coming here for summer tourism. Any country has the right to prevent terror within its own borders.”
Fogel said Islam’s trip was intended to show support for the Palestinian cause while Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat were trying to hammer out a final peace deal at the U.S. presidential retreat at Camp David.
“He knew before he got on the plane that he didn’t have permission to come into the country,” Fogel said.
Israel has sought to cut financial support for Hamas, which opposes the Palestinian-Israeli peace process and has been held responsible for numerous guerrilla attacks in which scores of Israelis have been killed or wounded.
Had Been Barred Before
Al-Islam, who recorded hits including “Peace Train” and “Wild World” before converting to Islam in 1977, last visited Israel in 1988. The government claims that during that trip he delivered tens of thousand of dollars to Hamas.
Two years later, in 1990, he tried to enter again along with his 8-year-old son but was barred.
This time, the former singer arrived at 2:30 a.m. Wednesday and was detained by airport authorities when his name appeared on a list of people banned from Israel, the Israeli daily Maariv reported.
It quoted him as telling an Israeli entertainment show, “They locked me in a two-meter by two-meter cell without water or a bathroom, and then deported me. I don’t see any reason for this to happen in a time of peace.”
But airport authorities denied that the former singer was mistreated. They said he was kept in the departure lounge until the plane he arrived on returned to Germany.
The former singer, who was born Stephen Georgiou and took the stage name Cat Stevens, abandoned his music career in 1977 and changed his name again after orthodox Muslim teachers persuaded him that his lifestyle was forbidden by Islamic law.
He later began teaching and actively spreading the word of his religion, founding a Muslim school in 1983. He made headlines when he supported the death sentence issued by Iran against author Salman Rushdie.
News of Islam’s deportation from Israel circulated quickly on Cat Stevens chat groups and fan Web sites today.
“Oh, baby, it’s a Sad World,” one fan wrote. “Their [Israel’s] loss.” Reuters, The Associated Press, and ABCNEWS.com’s Margaret Litvin contributed to this report.