A Roadmap for Peace

Recently I finished reading the book “Once An Arafat Man” by Tass Saada. I found his true-life story to be immensely helpful, hopeful and inspiring. I would like to share a brief review and his concluding points about how to find peace between two factions. Tass Saada was once a Fata fighter. He was a Muslim extremist fighting for what he believed was right. His story is astounding and breathtaking. Here are a few quotes from reviews to set the stage for his “Roadmap to Peace”.

“Tass Saada is a former Muslim and the founder of Hope for Ishmael, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to reconcile Arabs and Jews. Born in 1951 in the Gaza Strip, Saada grew up in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. He worked under Yasser Arafat as a Fatah fighter and sniper. Years after immigrating to America, he became a Christian.”

“A story of redemption. Once an Arafat Man’s sub-title couldn’t be a better synopsis of the book in general, “The true story of how a PLO sniper found a new life.” The opening sequence of the book reads like some of the best action oriented fiction out there, but you have to keep in mind that not only are the related events actual parts of our world history, but they are also a first-hand account of the man writing the book.”


Tass has devoted his life to perhaps the biggest, ugliest and deadliest conflict of our time: the Arab-Jew conflict. Tass writes: “I believe that if there were a political answer for this awful deadlock, some bright statesman or scholar would have thought of it by now.” (chapter 18)

Here is the “peace plan like no other” that Tass proposes. I find it based solidly on the gospel of Jesus Christ and deeply moving. I see his Arab-Jew struggle for peace as a model for anyone dealing with division between two groups.

A Peace Plan Like No Other

1. We must understand that the house of Ishmael has a divine purpose too.

In this section, Tass uses sound Bible text reading to present the plain truth taught by the Bible: God wants Isaac and Ismael to stop killing each other and live in peace. Genesis 17:20, Genesis 21:13, Genesis 47:27 (chapters 17, 21 and 47)  make it clear that God wants to bless both Isaac and Ishmael. The prophet Isaiah testifies to this also (Isaiah 42:11, Isaiah 60:7).

The lesson for us? Peace can begin when both sides accept that there is one Lord who has a divine purpose for both sides. God has a divine purpose and blessing for UBF and ex-UBF.

2. We must understand that the real bone of contention is not land; it is rejection.

In this section, Tass contrasts the approaches most politicians and leaders use to the middle east: real estate. Most try to figure out how to divide up the land, using some clever ideas. But none of them work. The conflict continues. Tass stresses that rejection is the key factor that has not been dealt with, and must be dealt with openly, if peace is to be found. Not even 100 million acres of land would bring peace, he claims, if the issue of rejection is not addressed.

The rejection of Arabs, Tass rightly points out, started with Abraham’s rejection of Hagar and Ishmael (Genesis 21:14). But God did not reject her. To the Arabs, Abraham was a cheapskate! Ishmael, as the older son, should have received a double-portion. Instead he was outcast, and left to die with his mother Hagar. To this day, the Jewish message to Arabs has been rejection. Tass describes the Jewish mindset toward Arabs like this: “You don’t belong. I don’t want you around. Just get out of here, will you? I don’t take you seriously. If you starve to death or die of thirst, I don’t really care. Get lost.”

Tass also points out that even Christians join in this rejection. Burning Korans and hatred toward Muslims and Arabs in general is rampant among Christians, especially in America. Tass stresses that we cannot leave out God’s intent to bless Ishmael and his Arab descendants. And the violence in the middle east is a cry by Arab’s: “What about us? Don’t we count?”. Again Tass points out the Bible’s answer: “Yes you matter.” by pointing us to Genesis:

17 God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there.  18 Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”  19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.  20 God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer.  21 While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.  –Genesis 21:17-21

The lesson for us? Ex-UBF people are like the Arabs. We just want to be taken seriously. Our main issue is that we have been rejected, cast out as if we don’t belong to God.

3. We need to stop pigeonholing Yasooa (Yeshua, Jesus) as merely the “Christian” voice in the debate. He is the Living Word for all sides.

This point really needs to be understood after reading the book. But Tass’ point here is that Jesus cannot be put in a box. Jesus is the hope for Jews and Muslims, both of whom share a common history with Christians. Tass calls for civil discussions based on John 7:46 and Mark 1:22, instead of the all-too-common “my God is better than your God” mentality among all 3 groups.

Tass claims, rightly in my mind, that reconciliation is possible in the Arab-Jew conflict. The solution is Jesus Himself. The present day conflict is not so different from the same conflict when Jesus walked the earth. If reconciliation was possible then, Tass claims, reconciliation is possible today, because Jesus is still alive (Ephesians 2:14-20).

Tass speaks of reconciliation simply:

“Jesus is not so interested in building a religion as he is in building relationships that honor his plan for the world. These relationships are both vertical, with him, and horizontal, with our fellow human beings. When my heart is clean and I have a relationship with Jesus, it is easier to have a peaceful relationship with my neighbor.”

Tass admits that the middle east may never be a “melting pot”, but still he believes the peoples can live in peace. (Some say America is a “melting pot” but it is often more like a “tossed salad” but at least we also live in relative peace with each other.)

The lesson for us? I would contend that we need to stop trying to fit Jesus into our UBF or ex-UBF box.

4. Finally, we need to begin feeling each other’s pain.

Based on Matthew 5:4-9, Tass claims we should be peacemakers and “see the Jewish Jesus stopping to care for a Gentile centurion with a critically ill servant.” (Matthew 8:7).

The lesson for us? Both UBF and ex-UBF need to feel each other’s pain and see each other as human beings for whom Jesus died and people who Jesus loves.

He makes a heart-wrenching appeal to close his book. And he points us to Genesis 25:7-9 to see the beautiful picture of Isaac and Ishmael working together to bury their father, Abraham.


Do you think this could work in the Arab-Jew conflict? Does the peace plan Tass suggests have any merit or bearing on conflicts you are facing?




  1. Thanks, Brian! My favorite quote: “When my heart is clean and I have a relationship with Jesus, it is easier to have a peaceful relationship with my neighbor.”

    Reconciliation always involves incarnation (Jn 1:14), which involves truly being with those on the “other side.”

    Personally, I want to be with those who left UBF, for they ARE my brothers and sisters in Christ, with whom I will spend eternity with.

    I also want to be with those who are in UBF for the exact same reasons.

    We should not pit “us” (UBF) versus “them” (ex-UBF). This never worked and never will. Why? It is unbiblical. We are all sinners with blind spots, biases and prejudices. We are all blind and hungry beggars on a journey looking for a piece of bread (Jn 6:35).

    Jesus’ example is best (Jn 1:14; Phil 2:5-8).

    Paul’s example is 2nd best (1 Cor 9:19-23, 27).

    To promote reconciliation, Jesus had to die. To promote reconciliation, Paul had to “beat his body and make it his slave” (1 Cor 9:27). If we don’t “beat our own body” we will inevitably “beat others up,” either physically, verbally, in cyberspace, or by our body language.

    • Good thoughts Ben. I have never liked the “us vs them” mentality. I have come to accept however that there are indeed two groups who will probably always be two groups. Just as Jews and Arabs will likely always be two groups, UBF and ex-UBF will also. For example, I will never participate in UBF activities in a regular way or any way for a long time, if ever. In the same way, UBF people will typically never stop doing UBF activities. I think both groups should accept this fact. And such a reality should not prevent the peace of Christ to exist.

      My focus has been in understanding and communicating the gospel of Jesus. So I don’t advise people to leave UBF (but this is getting more and more difficult to do…) Nor do I advise them to stay in UBF.

      I seek to open taboo dialogues and help people think for themselves and make their own decisions. And specifically if someone has decided to leave UBF, I will help them keep that decision because it has been such a traumatic decision for many thousands for the past 50 years.

      I think Tass’ point 2 and 4 are most relevant to me and this conflict. I think UBF needs to understand that the “bone of contention” is not about Korean culture or about obedience or spiritual discipline, but about authoritarianism and elitism. And I think ex-UBF needs to understand that the pain goes both ways. I need to remember that my words have caused pain and need to avoid being self-righteous.

  2. Yes, Brian. Some are also hurt, offended and disturbed by my articles and comments, but perhaps they have less to say to me (relatively speaking), because I am and have always been a “fully committed UBF member for over 30 years, whom no one can drive away.” Some people might even think that I am or at least was “fruitful” and “absolute.”

    So, some may do to me what they may have done to you: use the “argumentum ad hominem” approach and caricature me as unthankful, ungrateful, immature, childish, disrespectful, unsupportive, divisive, “breaking spiritual order,” etc.

    • Yes, Ben, I’ve seen examples of this! I am glad for you and Joe S. who are such “exemplary global leaders” :) I know for a fact that there are quite a few people who simply hit the delete button or skip over my comments or articles just because my name is there. But that’s ok with me. I used to do the same thing whenever I saw Chris Z. in the email :) So I know things can change, eventually.

  3. Thanks for the article Brian. I enjoyed it. Have you ever read, “Blood Brothers,” by Elias Chacour? It’s one of my favorites.

    It’s interesting how Jews and Arabs had been living together peacefully for years, until politics got mixed into it. It’s also interesting how obvious it is that no man-made plan for peace will solve the animosity of the Middle East, yet we continue trying to solve it through political means. But only Jesus can break the barrier between the Jew and Arab. Like you said the bone of contention is rejection, not land. The feud runs deeper than land and border lines. Thus the solution is not going to be as simple as a couple thousand square miles of land.

    What I love about God is that he has no favorites. Ishmael and Isaac were brothers from the same father. And God did not simply let Ishmael and Hagar die. God is above our petty squabbles. Abraham was wrong many times and others had to suffer because of his mistakes. No one is perfect but God pays the price of our sins. God has to clean up after Abraham’s compromise. Abraham and Sarah wanted to simply get rid of Hagar and Ishmael, but God wouldn’t allow it. God doesn’t take sides. We have to do our best to be on his side.

    I am very interested in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Both sides have suffered immensely and some are still suffering now, imprisoned in their own country. Neither side is faultless. But whatever cruelty happened in the past no matter how cruel, it can never justify a person to continue to act cruelly to others. Otherwise the vicious cycle just keeps going and going…

    • Hi MJ, I haven’t read “Blood Brothers”, but it sounds like something I should add to me reading list. My current book is “What we believe and Why”. I want to spend time thinking and blogging about what I learn in this book so that I won’t be so focused on bashing UBF.

      You make several important points above, including “God is above our petty squabbles” and “God has no favorites” and “Otherwise the vicious cycle just keeps going and going”. I hope we call all figure out how to end the vicious UBF/ex-UBF cycle, ending the pattern of long time leaders leaving and being pushed out of the ministry.

      I am especially intrigued by your comment above: “Abraham was wrong many times and others had to suffer because of his mistakes.” This deserves some serious thought. I have never, ever heard such a thing. But it is true. I always was taught that Abraham was perfect, and the holy father of faith could not be criticized. However, after reading Tass Saada’s book, I realized how selfish and cruel Abraham could be.

      So I think Christians have two difficult mandates from God: be willing to give up Isaac and show love to Ishmael. I believe Christianity was supposed to be the realization of the hope of reconciliation that Abraham and all the prophets looked forward to.

  4. Darren Gruett

    I have not read this book, but I heard this guy speak at Moody a couple of years ago for a Middle East Crises Conference. His story is amazing.

    • Darren, Tass mentions in this book something he observed about speaking at churches/seminaries in America. He was amazed that the churches were very interested in learning about reconciliation in the middle east, but weren’t able to reconcile with the church down the street! Tass goes on to mention that Muslims are perplexed by the fact that Christians find so much to disagree about *within* their own faith. A Muslim understands external conflict, but such internal division is incomprehensible. Tass also mentions that a lot of Muslims see such division as a weakness that can be exploited.

  5. I am planning to get back to Tass’ peace plan in my 3rd book. Is there anyone out there interested in this topic? My point of my 3rd book is that reconciliation is not optional for we who claim to follow Christ. Any thoughts? What does reconciliation look like?