To Middle East experts, government decision makers, scholars, and leaders of intelligence agencies, I write with the hope that a simple story will contribute to your understanding of the problems and potential solutions in one of the most troubled regions of the world.
I offer my story knowing that many people, including those I care about most, will not understand my motives or my thinking.
Some people will accuse me of doing what I have done for the sake of money. The irony is that I had no problem getting money in my previous life but am living practically hand to mouth now. While it is true that my family struggled financially, especially during the long stretches when my father was in prison, I eventually became a fairly rich young man. With my government-provided salary, I made ten times the average income in my country. I had a good life, with two houses and a new sports car. And I could have made even more.
When I told the Israelis that I was done working for them, they offered to set me up in my own communications business that would earn me millions of dollars if I would only stay. I said no to that offer and came to the United States, where I haven’t been able to find a full-time job and ended up practically homeless. I hope that someday money won’t be a problem for me anymore, but I’ve learned that money alone will never satisfy me. If money was my main goal, I could have stayed where I was and kept working for Israel. I could have accepted the donations that people have offered me since I moved to the States. But I haven’t done either because I don’t want to make money my priority—or give the impression that it is what drives me.
Some people may think I’m doing this for the attention, but I had plenty of that back in my own country too.
What was much harder to give up was the power and authority I had as the son of a top Hamas leader. Having tasted power, I know how addictive it can be—much more addictive than money. I liked the power I had in my former life, but when you’re addicted, even to power, you are controlled more than you control.
Freedom, a deep longing for freedom, is really at the heart of my story.
I am the son of a people who have been enslaved by corrupt systems for many centuries.
I was a prisoner of the Israelis when my eyes were opened to the fact that the Palestinian people were as oppressed by their own leaders as they were by Israel.
I was a devout follower of a religion that required strict adherence to rigid regulations in order to please the god of the Qur’an and get into heaven.
I had money, power, and position in my former life, but what I really wanted was freedom. And that meant, among other things, leaving behind hate, prejudice, and a desire for revenge.
The message of Jesus—love your enemies—is what finally set me free. It no longer mattered who my friends were or who my enemies were; I was supposed to love them all. And I could have a loving relationship with a God who would help me love others.
Having that kind of relationship with God is not only the source of my freedom but also the key to my new life.
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After reading this book, please do not think that I have become some kind of super follower of Jesus. I’m still struggling. The little I know and understand about my faith came from Bible studies and reading. In other words, I am a follower of Jesus Christ but am only beginning to become a disciple.
I was born and raised in a religious environment that insisted salvation was all about works. I have a lot to unlearn to make room for the truth:
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. —EPHESIANS 4:22-24
Like many other followers of Christ, I have repented of my sins, and I know that Jesus is the Son of God who became a man, died for our sins, rose from the dead, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. I have been baptized. Yet I feel that I am barely inside the gate of the Kingdom of God. I have been told that there is much, much more. And I want it all.
In the meantime, I still struggle with the world, the flesh, and the devil. I still have misconceptions and confusion. I wrestle with what sometimes seem like invincible issues. Yet I have hope that I, like the apostle Paul who described himself to Timothy as “the worst of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:16), will become whatever God wants me to be, as long as I don’t give up.
So if you meet me in the street, please don’t ask me for advice or what I think this or that Scripture verse means, because you’re probably already way ahead of me. Instead of looking at me as a spiritual trophy, pray for me, that I will grow in my faith and that I won’t step on too many toes as I learn to dance with the Bridegroom.
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As long as we continue to search for enemies anywhere but inside ourselves, there will always be a Middle East problem.
Religion is not the solution. Religion without Jesus is just self-righteousness. Freedom from oppression will not resolve things either. Delivered from the oppression of Europe, Israel became the oppressor. Delivered from persecution, Muslims became persecutors. Abused spouses and children often go on to abuse spouses and children. It is a cliché, but it’s still true: hurt people, unless they are healed, hurt people.
Manipulated by lies and driven by racism, hatred, and revenge, I was on my way to being one of those people. Then in 1999, I encountered the only true God. He is the Father whose love is beyond expression, yet shown in the sacrifice of his only Son on a cross to atone for the world’s sins. He is the God who, three days later, demonstrated his power and righteousness by raising Jesus from the dead. He is the God who not only commands me to love and forgive my enemies as he has loved and forgiven me but empowers me to do so.
Truth and forgiveness are the only solution for the Middle East. The challenge, especially between Israelis and Palestinians, is not to find the solution. The challenge is to be the first courageous enough to embrace it.
Sheikh Yousef Dawood — His paternal grandfather
Sheikh Hassan Yousef — His father; cofounder and leader of Hamas since 1986
Sabha Abu Salem — His mother
Ibrahim Abu Salem — His uncle (mother’s brother); a cofounder of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan
Dawood — His uncle (father’s brother)
Yousef Dawood — His cousin, son of Dawood, who helped him purchase inoperative weapons