My name is Afeef Halasah and I was born in 1959 in a tiny village in the ancient country of Moab, present day Jordan. My family clan has been a fixture in the land of Moab for thousands of years, and was there when Ruth of the Old Testament lived in Moab. I love the story of Ruth, not just because she and I are both Moabites but also because the story of Ruth is an ancient story of Jewish-Arab reconciliation. 1 consider her story of reconciliation to be my story as well.
One of my formative childhood memories is the Six Day War in 1967, a war between the Arab World and Israel. The radio speeches of Egypt's President Nasser and Jordan's King Hussein still echo in my ears. They were violent and bitter speeches. I remember King Hussein crying out "With your teeth, with your nails, cut them to pieces." "Destroy them!" I can also remember my family being transfixed by President Nasser's call to his fellow Arabs, "Drown the Israelis in the sea!" These otherwise progressive and human leaders' words exposed to the world the depth of the hatred that we Arabs harbor for the Jews.
An expedient decisive Arab victory in the Six Day War seemed a forgone conclusion to us. All radio broadcasts proclaimed our sure and quick success. Then, suddenly, we had lost. We were stunned. I felt the despair and sorrows of the Palestinians, especially the children, but I also couldn't help thinking that our enemies must be a special people to have won that war against the entire Arab world.
The Six Day War had a big emotional and spiritually effect on me. How could a just and fair God bless and support one nation against other nations? How could God be against our nation? This conflict left me disillusioned and I develop anger and distrust towards God. I drifted from my childhood nominal Christian roots, but I couldn?t dowse the nagging question that wouldn't go away, "Why did God create us?"
This crisis with God had only been pulling me apart more and more. I was very conscious of the growing sense of the personal guilt that I was living under. And the crisis was growing, reinforced by my frequent drinking, smoking, and illegal gang behaviors, which was not just confined to small Jordanian villages at that time. I was also beginning to bring others into that lifestyle. The whole thing brought more and more guilt and I didn't know what to do about it. Life was aimlessly empty. Finally, I tried unsuccessfully to commit suicide, cutting my wrist. My friends stop me, but it was clear that my life was bottoming out in every way.
I began searching for the truth. I became a Communist. My affiliation with the Communist Party for Youth gave me a philosophy, a focus, and a purpose to hold on to. The Communist leadership preached that all people should be equal and that if you help in the liberation of people, you feel fulfilled. 1 began preaching the Communist philosophy in the streets and shared one-on-one with anyone who would listen. Communist also fed my growing hatred for Israel. 1 wanted Israel to be destroyed and I saw her as the cause of all evil on earth. Outwardly I was engaged with a purpose and direction. Inwardly, my nagging God-problem only grew and grew and it would not leave me alone.
Finally, in February of 1976, something happened. We were walking the streets as usual, sharing Communism when we decided that we should go and break up some church meeting. My friend and I found a church, pushed open the door, and went in. We found the church hall packed with Christian's worshiping. We obviously came in to break up the meeting. The people were visibly afraid of us, especially when my friend yelled over to me, "Let's go, there is no one here to fight with!" and me yelling back at him while trying to listen to the speaker. That speaker continued on with his message and told the congregation about a new life available through Christ. Then, he told those in the pews to repeat his prayer. He said that a change would take place in the person if they were to pray that prayer. 1 said to myself, "I want the change in my life." I also thought, "It can't be true that all you have to do say a few words to Jesus and your life is fixed." A voice said to me, "What are you going to lose?" 1 thought to myself, if it were true I?d get a new life. So, I said out loud "Jesus if you are Lord, take me. I am a sinner". Immediately, I felt like a different person. I felt as light as feather. When I got outside of the church hall, I literally jumped up and down praising God that I finally found the solution for my hatred towards God through personal repentance, personal salvation, and personal reconciliation with my maker.
I dove into studying the Bible. During the next few months I read through the entire Bible and was shocked that there was so much about the Jews. As an Arab 1 struggle theologically with the place of the Jews in today's world. As my theological education continued, which included formal training in English, I reconciled my theological problem of "Replacement Theology," which completely replaces God's chosen people, the Jews, with Christians. This theology was convenient for me because I was able to continue to hate the Jews and still have theological integrity.
Some years later I was invited to Cyprus to a conference and discovered Messianic Jewish and Arab pastors who met and prayed together. 1 really didn't want anything to do with them; it was hard to shake hands with them because they were my enemies. But when worship started something within me began to melt. These Jews were true followers of Christ! Can they be true brothers and sisters in Jesus? There was such conflict within me! The next morning we all ate breakfast together and I was realizing that they were just people like me, not the evil beasts I had been raised to believe that they were. I began to talk with them and get to know them. I blocked out of my mind that they were Jews and imagined that they were just ordinary Christians like me.
Two years later, another change happened to me. I was invited to attend a convocation at the Mt. Zion Hotel in Jerusalem. They talked about the role of Israel and it was so irritating to me that 1 finally stood up and yelled out at the speaker to "shut up!" It was a big scene. I stomped out of the lecture hall with about twenty Arab delegates following me out of the hotel trying to clarify issues with me. As I look back, I see that it was spiritual warfare trying to separate us as brothers and sisters in Christ. The enemy knows that where Jews and Arabs stand together, he has much to lose.
It took patience and perseverance as they explained the issues, prayed for me, and worked with me, yet I still didn't accept them into my heart. But the Holy Spirit continued to work on me. It began penetrating my hard heart and convicting me. I began to see promises in the Old Testament and the New Testament in a new way. The enemy began to be exposed and I realized that it was he who was working so hard to keep us apart, so that we would continue to fight each other and our nations would remain under his grip.
Three years ago, a breakthrough happened. At a Messianic believers conference I had to do something that was very difficult for me. I stood before my brothers and sisters and confessed my hatred for Israel, repented of my replacement theology, and then asked the Messianic Jewish believers to forgive me. The minute they did so I was set free.
Once during the All Middle East Convocation, I decided to invite my Jewish brother to come and share in my Church. 1 grappled with the thought of how to introduce him. Should I introduce him as an American or as a Jew who believe in Jesus? If I choose the latter one, it may mean losing the whole congregation and closing down the Church that 1 so diligently built. I learnt later that my brother too grappled with the same issue. But when the moment came, The Holy Spirit took control of the situation. Without hesitation, I introduced him as a Jew who believed in Jesus. He shared the word of God with great anointing and until today, my congregation wishes he would come back. Similarly, another fiery Jewish Messianic sister came and preached an extremely charismatic sermon, which in normal circumstances is not acceptable. But again, the Holy Spirit took control and people just had an amazing experience of Baptism in the Spirit, there was so much repentance and reconciliation like never before.
75 to 80% of my congregation are Palestinians. We pray for the Nation of Israel that God's purposes for this nation will be fulfilled. We also pray for the Palestinians that God's purposes for them will be fulfilled. Ours is one the fastest growing churches in Jordan, Praise God! When 1 started my mission Arabs for the Arabs, the first donation towards that project came from Messianic Jews. I will never forget the face of an Iraqi Pastor for whom our Messianic believers in Jerusalem sent the support through me. He just could not believe it. It was during the time Iraq was sending missiles to Israel and here he is receiving aid from Israelis!
Once there were a number of us Jewish and Arab pastors on Mt. Nebo, the point where Moses viewed the Promised Land. We were worshiping and sharing communion with each other when a group of rabbis from New York who were visiting King Hussein passed by. They saw us, Jews and Arabs, singing in Hebrew and Arabic and reading the Old Testament. They just stopped and marveled at us. "What on earth can bring Jews and Arabs together in this manner?" they probably wondered! Only Jesus can do this. Nobody else. We have lived under deception for too long. We fell under the spell of darkness. Jesus came and delivered us.
I was taught replacement theology when 1 became a Christian and later taught it myself. In this theology all the prophecies for Israel as a nation belong to the Church. Making us the true Israel. We professed that the only true Israel was the born-again Church and spiritualized all the promises of the land because we wanted to safeguard ourselves embarrassment. We want to save ourselves from the problem of talking to the Arabs about something they don't like. We Christians are minorities. We wanted to fit in into the majority, so we were driven by the currents.
As I reflect on my journey I see that my reconciliation with my Jewish brothers has been a highway that I have been traveling upon and a direction that I have been going. It has been a bumpy highway full of personal conflict that I have not wanted to travel and, yet, I have been on it my whole life. My conflicts were deep within my heart and they gripped me. They are ancient conflicts that go back through most of recorded times. Praise God, today He has helped me with those difficult issues. I know because it was He who miraculously gripped the hearts of two Moabites, separated by three thousand years, and placed them both in His own royal family. It is He who is the author of Jewish-Arab reconciliation. And it is HE WHO WILL BUILD A HIGHWAY FROM EGYPT TO ASSYRIA ON WHICH THE ASSYRIANS WILL TRAVEL TO EGYPT AND THE EGYPTIANS WILL TRAVEL TO ASSYRIA, AND THEY WILL WORSHIP TOGETHER AND ISRAEL WILL BE THE THIRD, AND THEY WILL ALL BE A BLESSING TO OUR LORD (see Isaiah 19:23). Praise be to God.
Taken from: Tom Hess (ed.), Sons of Abraham, Progressive Vision International, Jerusalem, 2003.