Last month, Saed Awwad, a member of the Christian "he-man" group Team Xtreme, became a focus of attention at two reconciliation events in Tel Aviv.
When Team Xtreme was invited to participate in the Elav worship conference, organizer Rick Ridings of the 24-hour prayer ministry Succat Hallel was reportedly unaware of Awwad's Palestinian background. Once Ridings found out, Awwad was asked to share his testimony with the hundreds of Israeli and Palestinian young adults who had gathered there.
Awwad also shared his testimony at the Tiferet Yeshua Messianic congregation in Tel Aviv. Tiferet Yeshua pastor Ari Sorko-Ram, who also heads Maoz Israel Ministries and istandwithisrael.com, had teamed up with Ridings in funding room and board for the young Jewish and Arab participants at Elav.
At Tiferet Yeshua, as he had at Elav earlier, Awwad recounted how despite growing up in an Arab Christian home, he hated the Jews of Israel every bit as much as his Muslim neighbors. He actively took part in the First Intifada, hurling stones and anything else he could get his hands on at Israeli soldiers on a daily basis.
But he received as good as he gave, to flip a common phrase, and was the victim of regular mistreatment by anxious and angry Israeli soldiers. The pressure of the situation began to get to Awwad, and he decided to use the American passport he had thanks to his mother's American citizenship and spend some time in the US.
While living in the US, Awwad was invited to attend an Arab church, where he was astonished to hear the pastor preach that though the Jews may be their enemies, the Arabs must practice forgiveness and love toward them, as Jesus had taught.
Awwad was even more determined to stay away from Evangelical Christianity, convinced that it was nothing but a Zionist ploy. But God had other plans, and touched Awwad's heart, forcing him to make a decision between the things he had grown up believing were right, and the truth he could find only in Jesus.
"I gave my life to Jesus then and there," said Awwad. "For three days I could not eat or drink. I just read the Bible, and in everything I saw Jesus Christ."
But he still didn't like Israel very much, so when six months following his transformation the Lord asked Awwad to forgive the Jews, he considered turning his back on God. "If you’ll ask me this even one more time I will never speak to you again!" Awwad said, recalling his reaction to the Lord. "From my perspective [the Jews] had come from many nations and taken the land that I believed belonged to the Arabs. I was angry."
Eventually his heart was softened, and Awwad knew he had to surrender to God's nature of unconditional love and forgiveness.
To demonstrate the fullness of his transformation, Awwad invited every active and reserve soldier in the Tiferet Yeshua congregation to join him on stage, where he embraced and professed his love for them, the very people he had fought hardest to defeat.
"I am a Palestinian - you are Jewish. The world calls us enemies - but we are brothers! Brothers and sisters in Yeshua. Nothing can separate us. The world will not separate us, politics will not separate us, walls will not separate us. We have a place in Heaven. You and I will bow our knees and worship the Messiah Yeshua, our King together! He is the Real Thing!"
Awwad concluded by asking the Israeli soldiers to also forgive him, and was greeted by a great outpouring of love.