From enemy to peace maker

Former PLO sniper is now planting ‘seeds of hope.’

(photo credit: TAYLOR INNES)
Taysir Abu Saada was once a PLO sniper known as “The Butcher,” and a personal chauffer for the late Yasser Arafat. But then his life was transformed by a new-found faith in Jesus. Recently, “Tass” recounted for The Christian Edition the dramatic change he has undergone from being a Muslim bent on Israel’s destruction to a Christian with a love for Israel and the Jewish people.
In the aftermath of the Six Day War in 1967, Saada was livid over the disgrace suffered by Arab armies at the hands of Jewish forces. He joined Arafat’s Fatah militia at 17 and began furiously fighting against Israel, including in the famous battle of al-Karameh in 1968.
Family gathering
Meeting over coffee
“The most exciting part of my training was the day I got my first AK-47 assault rifle. It was love at first sight,” he recounts in his recently published book “Once an Arafat Man” (Tyndale House, 2008).
In the book, Saada recalls being embittered not only at Jews, but at fellow Muslims in Saudi Arabia and Qatar who looked down on his Palestinian heritage when he lived there in exile as a child. He transferred this bitterness to the Jordanians when he joined the PLO, which was based in the Hashemite kingdom at the time. Saada even fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a convoy carrying the Crown Prince of Jordan in a failed assassination attempt.
Saada also terrorized Christian Arabs by throwing grenades at their homes and shooting out tires on their cars. But one day many years later, it all changed when his friend Charlie led him to Christ while he was living in America in 1993.
“To me a good Jew was a dead Jew,” Saada recalled recently. “I hated Jews so passionately. And then suddenly, after I gave my heart to Jesus, the next day I find myself on my face praying and worshipping the God of Israel, and then praying for God to return the chosen ones to the Promised Land! When I heard myself praying this and understood what I was praying, I put my hand on my mouth to shut myself up. I asked myself why am I praying for my enemy before my own people? That’s when I realized that my heart had been cleansed from all that hatred.
“Studying the Bible, I came to realize that the land we call ‘Palestine’ is really promised to the Jews. This was not an easy thing for me to accept. It took a lot of time and battles with God, fistfights almost. How could this be? This is unjust, this is unfair! But our God is a very just God and He is a very fair God. God has made a way for all of us to live in this land,” reasoned Saada.
Saada and his wife Karen founded the “Seeds of Hope” humanitarian society in 2006 to bring relief and hope to both the Palestinian and Israeli peoples. The goal is to build a bridge between Arabs and Jews and to promote peace, tolerance and love.
The Seeds of Hope school
The Seeds of Hope school
The only way to bring back the hope and peace lost in the uprisings of the past 15 years was by moving from America back to the Land and working on both sides of the Green Line, said Saada.
Seeds of Hope has opened an Englishlanguage kindergarten with 32 Arab students in Jericho for youngsters three to four years old, and Saada plans to add 30 more students next year. The school is funded by the Free Church Federations of Finland and The Friends of the Martyred Church on behalf of the Finnish government. Admission is highly prized by parents in Jericho. The teaching and other tasks are done by volunteers, and there is already a full waiting list after only one year of operation.
Above the school in the same building there is a small clinic with several beds so medical teams can volunteer their services providing desperately needed health care to Jericho’s most vulnerable residents. Other services are also provided at the center, and much more is being planned.
On the other side of the Green Line (the pre-1967 armistice lines), Seeds of Hope plans to open a soup kitchen in Haifa for needy Jews, and another kindergarten in Ramle for Arab and Jewish children.
Eventually a cultural center will be built to teach English to the Hebrew speakers and to help at-risk Israeli youth, especially those who have been given a low profile by the IDF, making them unsuitable for prestigious combat units. Seeds of Hope will partner with the IDF in teaching them office skills instead of combat. That way they can feel they are still contributing to the country, said Saada.
When asked if he feels the Palestinians are being treated unjustly, Saada replied that when Jewish settlers destroy olive trees owned by Palestinians, they do not really know their God. Palestinian farmers also have a right to the land, according to Ezekiel 47:22-23 (“It shall be that you will divide it by lot as an inheritance for yourselves, and for the strangers who dwell among you and who bear children among you. They shall be to you as native-born among the children of Israel; they shall have an inheritance with you among the tribes of Israel. And it shall be that in whatever tribe the stranger dwells, there you shall give him his inheritance,” says the Lord GOD,”) he insists.
But Saada adds that Palestinians are also not fair to the Israelis, because Islam as a religion aims to wipe out Israel and subjugate both Jews and Christians.
“I don’t believe in the two-state solution,” Saada explained. “It’s not going to work; this is simply my biblical belief. The Bible does not speak about ‘Palestine,’ the Bible talks about Israel. I believe God made a way for all people, including Palestinians, to live in the land with the Jews as the state of Israel. On the other hand, Israel itself as a nation, as a government, needs to be more evenhanded in order to give the Palestinians more freedom to live and prosper.”
“I believe the Church was called to be the center that will bring peace between these two peoples. I believe when Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God,’ he meant for us to be the peacemakers. He meant for us to take the center line and not to favor one side against the other but to work fairly. You cannot be a peacemaker if you take one side or the other. I cannot take my people’s side. I cannot take Israel’s side. I am a follower of Jesus and have to act as Jesus told me. Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, Jesus said.
And therefore that is how I live because I am a follower of Jesus.”
When asked if he fears for his life, Saada assures me he is not scared. “I have no fear. If the Lord says ‘go,’ I go. If the Lord says ‘do,’ I do!” Saada says the verses of Proverbs 3:5-6 stand out for him: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will set your path straight.”
“So when I do work and feel nervous at some point, these verses come to mind and I have peace. I think, ‘Okay, the Lord is with me’ and I go on. We are going to serve God, we gave up everything. But really we gave up nothing compared to what Jesus gave up for us.”