“Jesus has called Jews and Arabs in Christ to serve Him together. This is deep within the heart of God. I used to hate Jews and run from them. Now I run to them. God has called me, a humble Palestinian, to reach the lost sheep of Israel. I have trouble fathoming this at times!” declared Sami (name changed), a Palestinian whose heart was transformed by the gospel of Messiah.
Sami, now a missionary to Jewish Israelis in Jerusalem and Palestinian Muslims in the West Bank, grew up in the Gaza Strip and was taught from a young age to hate Israel and the Jewish people. “Israel was my nemesis, and the evil enemy of my people. I lived in Gaza, and the most dangerous label to be attached to a person living there is ‘Zionist’ or ‘Jew lover.’” He recounted how he grew up in Gaza as a nominal Christian heavily influenced by Islam. When he gave his life to Christ, however, he became convicted of his hatred for the Jewish people:
Jesus never gave us the luxury of hating our enemies. But the clashes between the I[srael] D[efense] F[orces] and my people were vivid images in my mind and hard to forget or let go of. As a young boy, I threw a rock at an Israeli jeep patrolling in downtown Gaza. It was my best throw ever! It hit the windshield and cracked it. The soldier jumped out and chased me. But I knew the back roads and he didn’t. I remember bragging to my friends at school about my feat. I expected that in a few years I would use something that could do more damage than a rock.
After Jesus entered my life, I hadn’t been a believer long when I was reading through the Sermon on the Mount, and the Spirit of God convicted me. I had heaviness in my heart, and it was because of my loathing of the State of Israel and Jewish people. In my mind, Israel was the reason for everything that was negative in my life. . . . They certainly qualified as my enemy. I expected Jesus to forgive me for my hatred for Israel and the Jews, but He replaced it with a love for them. This was unexpected. How could I love Jewish people while living in the Gaza Strip? If anyone found out about my change of heart and told some of the radicals that lived around me, well this was my death sentence.
Losing Everything to Follow Jesus
Sami recounted how his friend and fellow Gazan, Rami Ayyad, was the first known Palestinian to lose his life for Christ. On October 7, 2007, Rami closed the doors of the Bible Society in downtown Gaza and prepared to go home to his pregnant wife and two children. Outside, waiting for him, were two men in the Islamic terrorist group, “The Righteous Swords of Islam.” Ayyad saw two men sitting in a car outside the building, yet he walked toward them to his death without trying to escape out the back doors.
At his funeral, Sami recounted, the coroner mentioned he tested Ayyad’s adrenaline levels, which were never raised. “Rami died in perfect peace, and when they found him, he had a smile on his face. Rami was already safe in his Savior’s arms. Rami was with Jesus,” the coroner said.
Unity in the Body of Messiah
After Rami’s death, Messianic Jewish congregations in Israel and Palestinian Christian churches joined forces to raise funds for Rami’s wife and children. “In a touching display of unity, Palestinian churches, along with Messianic congregations in Israel, collected funds and helped establish a trust for Pauline and the children. Rami’s martyrdom drew all the believers together,” commented Tom Doyle, author and missionary to the Middle East.
Rami’s death caused more Palestinian Christians in Gaza to flee to other regions, including Sami, who now resides in Bethlehem. “Bethlehem had considerably more freedom than the Gaza Strip, and we could even apply for permission to go to Jerusalem. I could’ve never imagined that my feet would ever stand inside the Old City Gates of Jerusalem. . . . I’m glad that Jesus cleansed my heart from all my Jewish hatred when I was a new believer,” said Sami.
In addition to reaching Muslims, Sami feels called to reach the Jewish people with the good news of their Messiah, especially Orthodox Jewish men. He is even learning Hebrew. Here is a moving story of one of his encounters with an Orthodox Jewish man in Israel:
Recently, I shared with an Orthodox Jewish man on a bus. I told him that I was from Gaza, and I used to hate him and all Jews. But then Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, came into my life, and He gave me a deep love and respect for Jewish people. I think he was in absolute shock. He finally asked me if I would come to his house that night and share my story with his family. I did come, and I was overwhelmed with the opportunity to share Jesus with an Orthodox family at their sabbath meal. Me, a Palestinian from Gaza in an observant Jewish home in Israel and being invited to tell them about Jesus? Only God could have orchestrated this one.
We praise God for stories like Sami’s. Only the love of Messiah Jesus can break down the walls of hatred and bring true, lasting peace between Jewish Israelis and Palestinian Arabs! As written in our “Statement on Israel, the Nations, and the Gospel,” “We deny that spiritual unity and fellowship between Jewish and Arab believers is impossible due to the political challenges and theological differences of the Middle East. To the contrary, our unity is rooted and grounded in our shared allegiance to the Messiah (John 13:34–35, John 17:20–23, Luke 1:37, Romans 12:18, Philippians 4:1–7, Philippians 4:13).” Let us continue to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
by Jennifer Miles
 Tom Doyle, “The 21st-Century Palestinian Church within Israel,” in Israel, the Church, and the Middle East: A Biblical Response to the Current Conflict, ed. Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2018), 161.
 Ibid., 158.
 Ibid., 159–160.
 Ibid., 160.
 Ibid., 160–161.
 Ibid, 161.
 “Our Hope for Peace: A Statement on Israel, the Nations, and the Gospel,” Alliance for the Peace of Jerusalem, accessed February 21, 2022, https://allianceforthepeaceofjerusalem.com/statement/.