In mid-May this year a war broke out with Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip. While rocket barrages were raining down on Israeli cities, a wave of mob violence between Arabs and Jews tore through several of Israel’s cities where Jews and Arabs live side-by-side. For many Israelis, dealing with air-raid sirens and bombs slamming into their communities is something they are prepared for. On the other hand, the hatred and violence that erupted in previously peaceful communities was deeply shocking and traumatic for Israelis. Arab mobs lynched Jews and torched businesses, homes and synagogues. Jewish mobs attacked Arabs. It was a terrifying reminder that a deep hatred and animosity is simmering just beneath the surface and which can erupt with murderous violence.
As believers, we know that our war is not with flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12), and during the period around the riots, we could feel the demonic charge in the atmosphere. At the same time, we realized that our most powerful weapon for pulling down strongholds is the same weapon Yeshua used two-thousand years ago: love. In the aftermath of the war, Jewish believers in communities where there had been violence and rioting felt the Lord leading them to take a stand in love and unity with Arab believers in their communities.
Changing the Spiritual Atmosphere over our Cities
On July 20th, Pastors Gil and Moti joined a group of Arab and Christian leaders in Tel Aviv\Yafo, an area where there had been much violence and bloodshed during the war with Gaza. The Jewish and Arab leaders began with a time of fellowship and taking the Lord’s supper together and afterward, they went to the areas of the city that had suffered racial violence to pray and take a stand in forgiveness, love and unity. Jewish and Arab believers came together in the same way in other cities that had suffered racial violence during the war with Gaza in May. Those leaders shared with us that after they felt a shift in the spiritual atmosphere over their cities after they took a bold stand of forgiveness and love with their Arab brothers.
Tearing down the Wall of Enmity
“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”
That same week, we invited Maroon, an Arab pastor, to come share his testimony in our main service. Maroon grew up in the Old City of Jerusalem during the eighties when there was a violent Arab uprising against Israel. By his own admission, Maroon was filled with hatred for the Jews. In his teenage years, he started using drugs and eventually found himself on the streets.
At one point, one of Maroon’s friends disappeared for a while only to show up again months later, drug free. He told Maroon what had happened: he had been at a drug rehabilitation program where he said, “Jesus set me free.” Eventually, Maroon’s friend convinced him to go to the same rehab program at House of Victory in Haifa, the first bible-based drug rehabilitation program in Israel. What Maroon did not know about this program was that it was run by Jews for both Jewish and Arab drug addicts.
God put Maroon on a path of confrontation with one of the most defining elements of his character: hatred of the Jews. At rehab, it took Maroon a few days to realize that there were Jews on the staff ministering to them as well, and he almost left. However, God met with Maroon in a powerful way when a Jewish man laid hands on him and prayed for him. He said it was like waves of love washing over him. God’s love completely transformed Maroon’s heart and set him free from a deep hatred that had held him hostage for years. Today Maroon ministers as a pastor in several Arab congregations, including one here in Jaffa not far from Tiferet Yeshua.
Maroon gets a Surprise from the Past at Tiferet Yeshua
Pastor Moti who leads our Feed Tel Aviv outreach to the poor in south Tel Aviv had invited Samira (not her real name), an Arab woman he knows, to come hear the testimony of Pastor Maroon. Samira is a believer who works at an outreach ministry for prostitutes located next to the soup kitchen facility where Moti serves each week. When Moti invited Samira, he had no idea that she knew the Arab pastor who would be sharing. Samira had no idea either.
When Samira arrived, she felt shy and nervous about coming into the building of a Jewish congregation and hesitated a few minutes outside the entrance. Then one of our congregation members saw her there on their way in, asked her if she was looking for Tiferet Yeshua and warmly invited her in. Some of us had met Samira before while volunteering at the ministry where she works, and we all happened to be standing next to the entrance the moment she came though the door where she was showered her with hugs and warm greetings.
After Maroon’s message, Samira came up to Maroon and asked, “Do you remember me?” It took a moment – thirty years had passed since the last time they had seen each other. Samira turned to Moti and said, “The last time I saw him, we were doing drugs together on the street.” Samira said that Maroon had been so full of anger and hatred that nobody wanted to be around him, even his fellow Arab drug addicts. “The transformation in this man is amazing,” she said. “Only God can do that.”