When Arab and Jew Embrace: A Powerful Connection
A former Israeli soldier and ex-militant Palestinian reveal the true hope for peace in the Middle East.
by Mark Ellis
|Peace Plan: Abu Saada(left) and Moran Rosenblit
Taysir Abu Saada ("Tass") was a Palestinian fighter who was trained to kill Jews. His hatred was so strong he dreamed of poisoning Jews who frequented the restaurant where he worked. Moran Rosenblit was a soldier for Israel who became embittered after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed seven of his friends. Improbably, these former enemies now talk to each other almost every day, sharing a profound friendship and love only possible because of Jesus Christ.
"Do you want a picture of the solution for the Middle East?" asks Moran. "If God changed my heart and Tass's heart, he can change anyone's heart," he says. "God delivered me from this hatefulness toward Arabs and he's been teaching me to love my enemies."
Both men left the cauldron of the Middle East in search of a better life in America, which Moran once imagined lightheartedly as a "dreamland, where you pick money off the trees." While they each found a measure of success after emigrating, their views of reality were unalterably changed when they each had powerful encounters with God.
'You must love a Jew'
Tass was born in the Gaza Strip and grew up in Saudi Arabia under Muslim teachings. Trained as a sniper by the Fatah movement, he often instructed children about their duty to fight and kill Israelis. After he arrived in the U.S., he worked in the hotel and restaurant industries in Kansas City, Missouri, where he met an American named Charlie Sharpe.
One day Sharpe spoke to Tass about a "spiritual connection" he enjoyed, which brought miraculous blessings and peace. Weeks went by as Tass pondered what this connection might be. He begged Sharpe to give him the secret.
Sharpe told him, "Tass, to have the peace that I have you must love a Jew."
Tass was taken aback by this remark. "I hate these people-you know how I feel about them," he said.
"What do you know about Jesus Christ?" Sharpe asked.
"I know Jesus-he's a prophet," Tass replied.
"Well, he's more than that. He's the Son of God-he is God," Sharpe said.
Sharpe got a Bible and placed it between the two men. "Let me tell you what the Word of God says about Jesus Christ," Sharpe said, as he began to read from the first chapter of the Gospel of John.
"When he started reading," Tass says, "I started shaking and I lost consciousness and the next I know I'm on my knees on the floor with my hands lifted up, inviting Christ to be my Lord and Savior. A joy and peace came into my heart I never experienced before."
Tears were flowing from Charlie's eyes as he hugged Tass. "Do you know what happened?" he said. "You've become a Christian."
The next morning, Tass couldn't wait to tell his 18-year old son, Benali, who was shaving at the time.
"Yesterday, I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior."
"Oh, Dad!" Benali exclaimed, hugging his father, as shaving cream slopped over their faces.
"Why are you happy for me?" Tass asked, knowing his son was a Muslim.
"Dad, I accepted Christ three months ago, too, and I didn't tell anybody," he said. Benali then explained how he asked his pastor what he should do, knowing that his father would "kill me when he finds out."
The pastor told him, "Go back to your father's house and love him more." Then the pastor called a special meeting at the church and asked that a prayer chain be established 24-hours a day for Benali's family.
"That was three months before I got saved," Tass says. "They prayed for me until they made my life so miserable that I had to look up for answers."
Turning on the light
During the same time period, God was working in the heart of an ex-Israeli soldier named Moran Rosenblit. His outlook about life changed dramatically after a suicide bomber demolished his unit near Netanya, Israel.
"That night would be a night I would never forget," Moran says. "About 22 soldiers died on that day, and seven were friends of mine. They were brothers-we ate from the same plate and drank from the same cup."
More bad news followed. "Two weeks later another friend died in Lebanon, and I didn't go to the funeral because I'd had enough of feeling pain," Moran says.
Months later, two helicopters collided killing 86 Israeli soldiers. None were friends of Moran, but the mounting death toll left him feeling depressed, "like something was missing."
Moran's depression mounted, and he tried to drown his sorrows with alcohol at local nightclubs. A Swedish girlfriend inspired him to leave Israel. Leaving loved ones behind, he found himself in Southern California, rooming with a Christian family. As he watched them exercise their faith, his own questions about God began to stir.
"Driving in the car, the mother turned on a worship tape," Moran says. "I saw her teaching her kids about God and I wondered, 'Is there a God?'"
When a friend invited Moran to church, the pastor was teaching from the Book of Hebrews about the blindness of the Jewish people. "I was angry," Moran says, and his friend suggested he talk to the pastor. The pastor told Moran he was not speaking against the Jewish people and encouraged him to read the Bible.
Later, as he read from the Bible and a Christian book that belonged to his roommate, something unusual happened. "The Holy Spirit fell down on me, just filled me up," Moran says. "The light switch went on and from darkness I saw the light, and I accepted Jesus into my life." He was baptized two months later.
The way to peace
As Moran grew in his faith, a friend invited him to a conference for Arab and Jewish believers.
"I had friends who were Arabs, but I always watched my back to make sure they wouldn't stab me in the back," he says. "Israelis cannot trust Arabs and Arabs cannot trust Israelis-that's a reality."
Moran says he "smiled" outwardly at the conference, "but there was nothing behind the smile." One year later, he was invited to a similar conference, but this time the organizers asked him to give his testimony.
"It was hard for me to share in front of Arab people," he says, "because some of those people might have been people who killed my friends."
As Moran finished his testimony, a Palestinian man approached him.
"I was a Fatah fighter," said Taysir Abu Saada, the 51-year-old ex-PLO man also known as "Tass."
"I was in shock," Moran recalls, as he took a half-step backward and stared into Tass's eyes, trying to read his heart.
Then Tass did something even more radical. "He asked me to forgive him in the name of his people for my friends who died from suicide bombers," Moran says. "It was God's grace that allowed me to forgive him. It was not by my strength that I was able to forgive him."
Then Moran also sought forgiveness. "I asked him to forgive me for not being able to love him and trust him and for my anger," he says. "And he did."
Soon small groups were forming of Arab and Jewish believers praying together. "Here I was praying with an ex-enemy in the name of Jesus-the one and only true God," Moran says.
Since that conference in March 2001, Moran and Tass speak to one another almost daily. "Jesus touched my heart," Tass says. "It goes to show the world there is hope in Jesus."
With the Middle East caught in a repetitive cycle of violent revenge, many are losing hope. But Tass and Moran's remarkable friendship proves that reconciliation is possible.
"I don't think there is a political solution," Moran admits. "I believe there needs to be a change of heart to love. People can only live in peace together through Jesus Christ-that's the only way to bring peace."
- First appeared in Christian Reader.