Sunday, October 30, 2016

In Honor of the Martyrs

October 29, 1987 was a day I still remember as if it was yesterday. That day changed my life, opened my eyes, and strengthened my devotion to my country.

It was in the early afternoon when a demonstration started at Bethlehem University.  I was a freshman there at the time. The later morning classes were suspended by the student council and several of my fellow students went out to demonstrate against the Israeli occupation.  I still remember wondering, in my 16-year old mind, why they were doing this. I could not understand then, but I would definitely come understand by the end of that day.  I remember looking at the classmates I had known for the past few months and thinking "I had no idea they were political activists organizing demonstrations." I didn't know that I would very soon join these young men and women in their quest for freedom and justice. 

The gates of the university were closed and since my university was surrounded by tall walls and fences, no one was able to get out or go in.The Israeli soldiers who came to stop the demonstration did not enter the university, but did everything they could to stop the young men and women, inside the walls, from throwing rocks. They did this by firing tear gas bombs over and over. Bullets were fired as well when the students would attempt to climb the wall.
While waiting inside with other fellow students, we just smelled the tear gas and waited in fear...

I remember them bringing in injured students. I remember the site of blood as it covered our science department floors. Then he was brought in...Isaac Abu Sroor who had been shot in the head. The students told us Isaac had climbed on the roof of the university in order to hang a Palestinian flag.  He was shot attempting to raise this flag high. At the time, Israeli soldiers prevented us, the Palestinians, from raising our flag. It was a crime to raise it high. In Isaac's case, it was a crime worthy of death...

I still can't erase Isaac's image from my memory. As he lay there with a bullet hole in his head. For two hours, he just lay there...the reason, the soldiers outside the walls would not allow us to take him to a hospital. I don't know if Isaac was alive or dead when they finally wheeled him away as we watched.

As the students sang "It is ok if we die as long as we root death from among us..." something stirred my heart. Mixed emotions flooded my soul. Those were feelings of anger and hate towards the Israeli soldiers and feelings of unity and determination to do something.

My university, Bethlehem University, was closed after that incident by an Israeli military order.  I could not go to classes anymore so I participated in every demonstration in my town after that event.
During these demonstrations I saw many of my people get shot, arrested or beaten by the Israeli soldiers.

As I watched the video below I remembered the days of the uprising and remembered Anton (mentioned in the video) who was attending Bethlehem University at the same time I was. He was a classmate of my cousin Jane who was also majoring in business at the time. I remembered my cousin Jalal and his attempts to establish a way to be independent from Israel by helping the Palestinians produce their own milk. You would think that having cows should be a legal right of any human beings. But, not the Palestinians. Even such simple basic things were forbidden at the time.

Click here to watch the movie about the Beit Sahour Cows 

As I watched this video tears filled my eyes because I could again feel those emotions and could again remember every martyr.  I remembered the day Anton was killed.  I had three exams the day that followed and I remember praying and asking Heavenly Father that somehow we will have no classes the next day so I will have time to study.  That day, Anton was killed and classes at Bethlehem University were cancelled for the next 3 days. I could not help but feel guilty for his death.

Right after Anton was shot, curfew was imposed on us by the Israeli soldiers, yet we went out to the streets and demonstrated and asked for justice. The soldiers came and used tear gas on us. After being on so many demonstrations, my body developed immunity to the gas and it did not affect me as much as it affected others.  One of the young men in the demonstration fell to the ground (from the effect of the tear gas) and started shaking. I located the tear gas bomb and kicked it away from the young man. There was not much else to do until someone came to the rescue with onions in his hand.

We walked in the dark towards Anton's house. His family were in denial and could not believe Anton was gone.  I sat there shedding tears as his family showed us pictures of him and told us about his unfulfilled dreams.

I have been to the homes of many grieving mothers...
I saw the shattered glass of Salam's house after an Israeli settler fired bullets at his house killing him in front of his mother. I saw bloody remains of two ladies from my town whose bodies were blown to pieces when an Israeli helicopter threw a missile close to where they were standing. I was in a taxi in which the martyr 14-year old Mo'ayad was transferred to the hospital. He was shot with his school bag still on his back. 

Palestinians still die. A few months ago, one of my mother's friends was shot by an Israeli soldier.  And, just the other day, another young man was killed in Beit Ummar...

 Click for Story on Beit Ummar Martyr 

There are some small demonstrations still going on in Palestine although many of my people have given up hope of ever attaining freedom. They lost hope of ever having human rights and being treated like humans. 

I can't help but wonder if all these martyrs died in vain. Will there ever be a day when their efforts would be rewarded?
I did stop and wonder sometimes if it would be better if they did nothing. They know they would die or get arrested if they demonstrate, so why do they do it?

Then I remember how I felt that day in 1987 when I saw Isaac's body in front of me and something within me said "I must do everything to make sure his blood has not been shed in vain. I must speak out and let my voice be heard to stop the injustices being performed against my people.  If Isaac died honoring the Palestinian flag, I want to make sure that flag remains high and that a Palestinian state be established that would guarantee freedom to all Palestinians."

Deep down, that is the aspiration of us all...liberty and justice to all... Each of us humans should strive to establish a world where everyone is free and has the basic human rights. Where racism vanishes and we treat each other as brothers and sisters. My prayer is that we all will stand with the oppressed and pray for those that suffer all around the world. May we do all that we can to bring freedom and peace to all nations.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Gathering of Israel

I have mixed feelings today and was not quite sure what to write about. I think I will save my other topic until next week and simply talk about my Sunday School lesson today: the Gathering of Israel.

I think many misunderstand the Gathering and even associate the word Israel with the current State of Israel. I hope people can understand that the State of Israel today has nothing to do with the people of Israel mentioned in the bible, and the gathering of Israel has nothing to do with the Jews going to Palestine. 
The word Israel was given to Jacob by God. It means "Triumphant with God" It is actually a good word, even though some try to pollute it.

As I prepared the lesson today I have come to realize two main things: 
1. The house of Israel are the covenant people of God. They are those that believe in His son and make covenants with Him and keep His commandments.

2. The main reason for the gathering is to help people come unto Christ, have faith in Him and make covenants with Him. That was why the early members of the church were asked to 'gather' in the US in the early days of the church. Because it was the only place they could have a temple so they could receive ordinances and make covenants with God.

When we follow the savior and are baptized into His church we become part of the house of Israel. We become the people of God. 
The gathering happening today is a spiritual gathering...many are coming into the fold of God to be numbered among his people. In the Book of Mormon we read:
"For behold, I say unto you that as many of the Gentiles as will repent are the covenant people of the Lord; and as many of the Jews as will not repent shall be cast off; for the Lord covenanteth with none save it be with them that repent and believe in his Son, who is the Holy One of Israel."

Some mistakenly think that the gathering of the Jews to the land of Palestine is a fulfillment of prophecies. It is not! That gathering of the Jews is not the promised gathering of the children of Israel.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie said: "Let there be no misunderstanding in any discerning mind on this point. This gathering of the Jews to their homeland and their organization into a nation and a kingdom is not the gathering promised by the prophets. It does not fulfill the ancient promises”

The land of Palestine was given to the 'Covenant people of God' anciently. At the time, the covenant people of God were the Jews.  God made a covenant with Abraham and told him that if his seed was faithful, they will inherit the land of Canaan. But, that is exactly what that was, A COVENANT. When we keep our end of the covenant the Lord keeps His. When we don't, we have no promise.  The children of Israel anciently broke that promise and because of that they were scattered and driven out of their land of inheritance.  

When, and only when, they come to the knowledge of their redeemer who is Christ, and follow Him, then they will be gathered and blessed. 

President Joseph Fielding Smith said: “Every person who embraces the gospel becomes of the house of Israel. In other words, they become members of the chosen lineage, or Abraham’s children through Isaac and Jacob unto whom the promises were made. The great majority of those who become members of the Church are literal descendants of Abraham through Ephraim, son of Joseph. Those who are not literal descendants of Abraham and Israel must become such, and when they are baptized and confirmed they are grafted into the tree and are entitled to all the rights and privileges as heirs”  

I am proud to be of the House of Israel and a descendant of Abraham. I hope we all realize that we can have those blessings given to Abraham. We are His seed and are children of the covenant.

I am amazed at some who think that everyone must support the current State of Israel in order to be a good Christian. Like the lady I met at church one day who seemed so confused when she expressed how much she supports Israel and how we should all support them. The 8.5 million dollars Israel receives from the US EVERY DAY is used to buy weapons to kill my people, or used to build more walls and checkpoints to restrict their movement.  I don't support the State of Israel and I don't think anyone should. Not the way they are treating the Palestinians.

Sadly there are US presidential candidates who think most Palestinians are terrorists and that they need to send more weapons to Israel so they can kill us all...I am a Palestinian and I am not a terrorist and I don't appreciate being referred to as such. I wish people could be more understanding and more accepting of others.

I am impressed with the many Palestinian and Israeli women who are marching for peace. I hope we all can realize that we are all brothers and sisters. I know that we all can love one another...As we come unto Christ, and abide in His love, we can develop some of His attributes. Attributes such as forgiveness, tolerance, love, patience, sacrifice...Then will He gather us, as a chicken gathereth her chicks under her wings. 

I look forward to the day when the Jews, also, will be gathered into the fold of God; when they will be converted and believe in their Savior, the Holy One of Israel; when they no longer wait for a Messiah, but understand that He actually did come. And then they will be gathered and then will the Lord remember the covenant He has made with them.

The Savior loves each and every one of us. He is the true Messiah, the one who the Jews rejected, the one who the Jews have waited for and continue to wait for. He DID come...He came to His own and His own received Him not. He was rejected, persecuted and crucified. Yet, He lives today...And He will come again in His glory. He will part the clouds and appear from the East...all will see Him, all will recognize Him, and every tongue will confess that He is the Christ...Every knee will bow before Him, who is the King of King and Lord of Lords...the Savior of the world. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Ask and ye shall receive

My thoughts today are about prayer. We often pray and wonder why God is silent and would not answer us. Why He would not take away our hardships or pain...If you feel this way, then this post is for you.

I listened to a talk the other day that clarified this to me. The speaker spoke of his daughter. He said, one day when they were putting her to bed at bedtime she refused to go to bed. Even though her parents knew that her body needed sleep she did not see that. She started with certain demands, I want some water, some milk or cookies. Then other strange demands, like "I want grandma". After the demands increased, her father stopped answering her because her demands were unreasonable.

The speaker said that our Heavenly Father is the same. If our demands are strange, or if we are asking for things we want (not need) then he stops answering. 

I have had all my prayers answered. Sometimes the answer to my prayer was no. An example to that is the time that I prayed for my brother-in-law, Hazim, to be cured from cancer. I was told Hazim's death would bring blessings to my sister and her family. And even though it was hard to see how that is possible, I trusted my all-knowing Father in Heaven then. 

Sometimes the answers came months when I prayed to find a job after returning home from my mission. Heavenly Father knew where He wanted me and knew when the job would be open up and so I didn't find any other job until this one at BYU-I became available. As I prayed month after month and struggled financially I sometimes thought He was not listening. But, He was. He always listens!

Too often we kneel down and pray for our trial to be removed, and often we get discouraged when it doesn't. Isn't that what we signed up for? We knew life would be hard. Isn't that what we chose to come to earth for? We will learn and grow from our trials and become more like our Father in Heaven. Don't we all want that? Don't we want to be refined and perfected and stand spotless before Him. If so, let us not try to move the mountains from our path. Let us have the courage and faith to climb our mountains, walk our dusty, rocky roads and keep our eyes fixed on our Savior Jesus Christ. 

The Savior said: "Take my yoke upon you...for my yoke is easy and my burden is light." As we take His yoke and allow Him to walk by us sharing our burden, we will be strengthened and helped as we walk this hard path.  No, it won't be smooth full of flowers, it won't be easy, but we will make it.

Elder Holland said: 

“Jesus has chosen, even in a resurrected, otherwise perfected body, to retain for the benefit of His disciples the wounds in His hands and in His feet and in His side-signs, if you will, that painful things happen even to the pure and the perfect; signs, if you will, that pain in this world is not evidence that God doesn't love you; signs, if you will, that problems pass and happiness can be ours.”

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Removing our Masks

I have been so busy recently that I convinced myself I don't have time to be sick. I had a sore throat for a while and felt a little bit of fever, but I pushed it away and it seems to be mostly gone except that now I am coming down with a cold which I hate. I hope it does not last long. It was nice to have a quiet weekend and do some of things that I needed to do like clean the house and do laundry. I am still far behind regarding my classes, but closer than I was.

Halloween is approaching and I see many shops display Halloween candy and many costumes. As I think of the masks and costumes many put on during this holiday, I marvel that behind those masks lie other masks. I feel that sometimes we are not who we appear to be. 

I ask my friends often, "So, how are you doing?" and always get the answer: "I am fine." I often see in their eyes a sadness or concern that they do not disclose. I have often told people how I feel, "Oh I am stressed, or sick or ..." Then I started to question myself, should I hide what I feel because my friends are starting to think I complain too much?

Why do we put on a mask? Why do we feel it necessary that others see us as someone else? I feel many are outwardly righteous when in reality their faith  has left them.  I have been evaluating myself and feel I belong in that group sometimes. People that meet me or know of me tend to think I am amazing and that I am faithful and have a strong testimony.  But, their view of me is not close to reality...I am not amazing as many may think. (shocking, right?)
I have started thinking lately that I need to be a different person. More loving, more kind, less judgmental and definitely more faithful. 

I have been allowing my busy life to direct what I do, but I realize I must stop and focus on the things that really matter. I hate this part of life in the US...everyone here is so busy and many become detached from anything that is real and anything that really matters.

There are good people all around us. Why do we not open up and get to know one another? Why do we each have a wall around us that prevents others from reaching our hearts and seeing our true identity? Why do we too often look at ourselves in the mirror and imagine a horrible person looking back at us.
We are divine beings. We are created in the image of God and we are magnificent. We can become better than we ever imagined.  Everyone around us is also amazing. We just have to see differently and listen differently.  President Uchtdorf said: "We tread a path covered with diamonds, but we can scarcely distinguish them from ordinary pebbles." Each one of us has a diamond inside waiting to be uncovered. 

We need the Savior to help us become from coals into diamonds. He commands us to be perfect and through His atonement we can be perfect.  I hope that as we look into the mirror we will one day see his image in our countenance. That as time goes by we will see that we are becoming more and more like Him.

Here is one of my favorite messages by Pres. Uchtdorf:
Click to watch the message about the ugly duckling

Sunday, October 2, 2016


I was thinking of writing something profound, but it is getting late and I have to go cook.  I will do better next week.

I have had an insanely busy week (I seem to be saying that more and more). At the end of this week I had 25 group exams, 100 quizzes and 100 exams to grade. I don't know what I was thinking having both my exams close on the same day and also giving my students quizzes.

After grading I realized that one of my classes did exceedingly well and the other one failed. I thought the opposite would happen as the other class seemed weaker. I guess I need to give more effort to help the other section.

I just finished watching general conference. I watched one session with my friend Danae who invited me over for breakfast and made the best pumpkin pancakes. (Thanks Danae) 
I translated some of the talks for conference and even was doing revisions on Sister Reeves' talk early this morning. I realized that some of the best talks for me were the ones I translated. Because you get to really think about the talk and then when you hear the speaker, it gives the talk such power. There was a quote in Sister Reeves' talk that I loved and it was shared twice in conference...It is by Elder Holland:

"However late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made, … or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines.”

It seemed like most of the talks yesterday were about repentance, getting the gospel to others and inviting others to come unto Christ.  President Nelson talked about the joy that the Gospel brings. Joy that won't go away even when you have difficulties. He said Joy is a gift from God to those who follow the Savior and keep His commandments.

I am so grateful for the joy that came into my life when I followed the Savior, Jesus Christ. I notice that when I am more obedient to His commandments I tend to be happier and have more peace in my life.

I am watching the movie 17 Miracles and looking at all the hardships the early saints have suffered. They went through so many difficulties but never lost their faith. When I see what others go through I become more and more grateful for my many blessings.

One of my students briefly told me about all her spite of all this she ended up with an A on her test. I am impressed that she could focus on school considering all the trials she is going through at home. As I hear about the lives of my students I am amazed at their faith and strength.  I am so blessed to teach here at BYU-I and glad I get to associate with such amazing faculty and students every day.

I hope that each of us will turn towards the Savior and follow Him and try to be more like Him. He is loving, merciful and kind. He stands with open arms waiting for us to come unto Him. He would especially love those that have left Him to return. If there is something in your life that is not in harmony with His teachings, I invite you to come back and partake of all the blessings He has to offer. The Savior loves you. He gave His life for you...He wants you back. He needs you!