Learning to love a Jew

Once again, the Middle East is a mess. The situation looks bleaker than ever but this hostility is nothing new. We can take some comfort in knowing that there are those working to bring peace and reconciliation in Israel between Arab and Jew, as well as reconciliation between man and God. The story of Tass Saada as recorded in Once an Arafat Man: The True Story of How a PLO Sniper Found a New Life is testimony to the fact that such peace on both counts is possible but only through the one true God of Israel.

If you like a book with a happy ending you will love Once an Arafat Man. Actually that’s not entirely accurate as Tass’s story hasn’t quite come to an end yet but the contrast between the bloodthirsty, Jew-hating young Palestinian at the beginning of the book and the man whose life is committed to seeking reconciliation between Jew and Arab through the gospel by the end, is overwhelming to say the least. The whole account is an incredible tale of contrasts; from hatred to love, from desperation to hope, from killing Jews to embracing them, and from Islam to Christianity.


Born in a Gaza refugee camp to Palestinian parents in 1951, Once an Arafat Man tells the story of how Tass rose through the ranks of Fatah and the PLO, motivated by his resentment of what he saw as the injustice of the ‘Israeli occupation’ of his homeland. At a young age Tass and his family relocated to Jordan, a move which brought further resentment.


Before long he made his way to the Fatah headquarters in Damascus with two schoolmates, having forged their fathers’ signatures, to offer their services in the fight against Israel. Trained as a sniper by the age of 17 he eventually became a right hand man and driver to Yasser Arafat himself. Known as ‘Jazzar’ (translated ‘Butcher’) his account of life as one of Arafat’s foot soldiers gives a fascinating insight into the machinations of a terrorist organisation while at the same time offering insight into the struggles, frustrations and challenges of life faced by Arabs living in the modern state of Israel over the past few decades.  Responsible for the assassinations of numerous Israeli targets over the years that followed and involved with many battles against the Israeli military, it was not until many years later that Tass, having relocated to the United States and come to faith in Jesus, felt any remorse for those whose lives he mercilessly wiped out or for those they have left behind.


Without wanting to spoil the incredible story of Tass’s coming to faith in the Messiah of Israel, it was when a friend told him that to have what he had – a ‘connection’ with the Creator of the universe – Tass must ‘love a Jew’ that a remarkable chain of events was set in motion.


Through an encounter with the Lord Jesus, Tass came to ‘love a Jew’ or, more specifically, the King of the Jews. Once saved, his fruitful ministry of reconciliation and peace with the Jewish people – once his sworn enemies – began; a ministry which continues to today. The book chronicles how Tass’s Muslim family back in the Middle East deal with his coming to faith, the subsequent conversion of his wife and children, and how he went on to found Hope for Ishmael, a non-profit organisation whose mission is to reconcile Arabs and Jews. 


Once an Arafat Man is the unique story of God’s transforming grace and shows how he can take the most unlikely of sinners and use them as a force for our good and his glory in our ever turbulent world. By recounting his story of faith, Tass demonstrates how true peace between Jew and Arab in Israel can be achieved only through the ministry of the Prince of Peace himself. Considering the increasing unrest in the land, this is good news that desperately needs to be shared today.

This article first appeared in the Autumn Herald 2014

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