Sami Abbasi squinted through the railing of the first-story balcony in an abandoned building on Gaza City’s Salah al-Din Road. The IDF Jeep approached like a dog sniffing its environment, looking for trouble. They are dogs, and if they’re looking for trouble, I’ll give it to them, he mused. The thirteen-year-old Palestinian rolled a baseball-sized rock in his right hand, estimating the distance to the approaching Israelis. To bolster his resolve, he counted to three and then heaved the stone. The missile scored a direct hit, smashing the windshield. Sami rewarded himself with a fist pump, launched his body over the railing to the ground several feet below, and dashed toward the outdoor market a block away. I hate those dirty Jews! I can’t wait to kill one someday.
In January 1988, Sami was well on his way to a life of violence. Prison was virtually certain, and an early death likely, but either would be a small price to pay for doing his part to get back Palestinian land and keep Israelis out of the Gaza settlements for good. Sami dreamed of being a part of the solution that would win for his countrymen the ongoing war with Israel once and for all. They would show the world.
But then, he met Jesus.
“When I came to faith in Christ, I decided that I wanted to be a full disciple. I could not just pick and choose the commands of Christ that I wanted to obey. If I was to follow Jesus, I wanted to do all that He told His disciples to do. Loving your enemy was by far the biggest challenge for me.
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 the 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 and to change my heart in the process. He could do that, of course, but I thought I might merely tolerate Jews and that would be the end of that.
I was not prepared for the complete fulfillment of this prayer. Jesus not only took away 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 would be my death sentence.
Jesus has called Jews and Arabs in Christ to serve Him together. This is deep within the heart of God—and it is the real Jerusalem Peace Plan. I used to run from Jews. Now I run to them. God has called me, a humble Palestinian, to reach the lost sheep of Israel. What an honor!
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!”
Today, Sami lives near Jerusalem and is passionate about reaching Jews. He is learning Hebrew and has a heart to reach out to Orthodox Jewish men.
For Sami’s full story read Tom Doyle’s new book, Standing in the Fire: Courageous Christians Living in Frightening Times. The cover picture is of one of Sami’s partners in ministry who is also from Gaza. Jamal, a former Muslim, has the Shema, a Jewish prayer, tattooed on his left arm.