I was born in
Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives. I grew up in a little town called Beit Sahour. My town is about a mile away from the place where Christ was born in . Beit Sahour is the town where the shepherds were the night the angel appeared to them, informing them of the birth of baby Jesus. It is one of the many Palestinian Arab towns in the Bethlehem Holy Land. Through living here I witnessed many demonstrations, injustices, poverty, sadness, injury and death. As a child I remember the demonstrations at the school when the soldiers would come and shoot tear gas and rubber and plastic bullets. I remember the fear that filled our little hearts.
I did not know much about politics growing up. Palestinians had no nationality. We had no passport. When we traveled we would get what is called a Lasse passé which is a travel document. We would have to stand in line for hours to get permission from the Israelis to allow us to leave the country. In 1987, the Palestinians sought a change in their situation by demonstrating. This was called the Intifada (or uprising). During the first uprising in 1987 many Palestinians were shot, beaten or arrested often for no valid reason. We were under curfew (24-hour house arrest) many times. The soldiers would let us leave the house for 2 hours every week or so. The two hours were not enough to even wait in line to get groceries which would start running out fast.
I started attending
in September of 1987. On October 29th of that year the students at the university had a demonstration. They threw rocks at the Israeli soldiers outside the university gates. The university walls are about 10 feet high and the gate was closed. The soldiers did not allow anyone to leave the university. The students would throw rocks at the soldiers outside and the soldiers would throw tear gas bombs shoot at the students inside. Bethlehem University
We stayed inside as the outside was filled with the smell of tear gas. We watched as students were brought in with various injuries. Then they brought one student with a bullet wound to the head. The soldiers refused to let us take the student to the hospital. For two hours all of us students watched Is-haq or Isaac (that was his name) as we waited and hoped they would allow him to be taken out. 2 hours later the Mayor of Bethlehem interfered and they allowed Ishaq to be taken out. The soldiers went to the hospital shortly after the took Ishaq’s body. They returned at midnight to his parents’ house and said that only his mom and dad can follow. They took the body to a remote field and dug a hole and threw the body in it and covered it with rocks and dirt while the parents watched.
That day I developed a hate for the Israeli soldiers. I could not understand why they did what they did, nor could I forgive them.
After the event my university was closed by Israeli military order for 2 years. When the university re-opened 2 years later I went back to school and got a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics.
During my college years (and for practically 25 years of my life) I thought Heavenly Father hated me and hated the Palestinian people. “Why else would He let us go through all this and not care?” I thought. The Palestinians were hated and considered terrorists by everyone all over the world. I just thought it was so unfair for me to be a Palestinian and I hated being one. I did not want to be alive and, in fact, I would pray for Heavenly Father to end my life. I went on demonstrations and wished the soldiers would shoot me so that I would die. I was simply miserable.
Shortly after I graduated from
Bethlehem University I received a full scholarship to the American University in . It was a very good scholarship which offered 56 thousand dollars a year. I planned to go to get a masters degree in Statistics. Washington DC
One day, as I went through the local paper, I saw an ad saying that a university called
offered 4 scholarships for Palestinians. I decided to apply although I had no reason to (I already had a scholarship and it was a good scholarship and I wanted to go there). I received a call a few weeks later from the director of the Brigham Young University center saying that I got the Scholarship to BYU. During that phone call I thought: “should I tell him that I am not going, or should I wait?” I found out the scholarship to BYU was only 10 thousand dollars a year (less than one fourth of the other scholarship). Jerusalem
So, I had a decision to make although at the time it seemed like such an easy decision. Everyone around me advised me to go to
I felt confused because part of me wanted to go to BYU. I even asked Heavenly Father for direction. I had a strong feeling in my heart that I could not deny, saying that I should go to BYU. I could not identify it as the Holy Ghost then (I knew nothing about the Holy Ghost), but I simply could not shake that feeling. It was so strong that I got upset every time someone would advise me to go to Washington D.C. . Washington
Finally I followed my feelings and decided to go to BYU. At this time I knew hardly anything about the “Mormons”. I had heard rumors about the Mormons. The things that I had heard seemed strange and weird to me. I thought it would be so hard to get used to being in a strange place, but I felt right at home when I got to BYU. I thought I would never be interested in the church, just because it was so different and new to me. I went with my roommate to church once or twice. It was interesting, but too different for me. I got the chance to listen to some parts of the October General Conference during my first semester at BYU. The prophet then, President Hunter, in his talk called this country “
”. That was the first time I heard an American support the Palestinians and I thought a church that does not hate Palestinians must not be that bad at all. I asked my friend Shae to tell me about her church. She told me everything! She started with the creation, the fall, the atonement, the restoration…etc. Everything made so much sense. There were so many things that I didn’t understand that were now so much clearer. Palestine
A friend of mine from class, Bryce, gave me an Arabic Book of Mormon. I had it for a while and I would read bits and pieces of it. Bryce told me to read one or two chapters and then pray about it, but I planned to read the whole book. I thought “you can’t pray about bits and pieces of a book!” I don’t remember when I started reading it, but I would read when I had time. At first it was not what I expected, and some parts were hard to understand. But, what I read seemed to help me when I had a problem. I think I always felt that what I was reading was true. I started going to church more often and I learned many things about the church. All the things I found out were really what I was looking for. I loved the church and its teachings. But, I never thought about doing anything about it. Getting baptized never crossed my mind until I went to a friend’s baptism. It was a great service and the Spirit was so strong. Right after the baptism, I knew what I lacked and what I needed to do.
Then I came back to reality and thought: “what would my family say?” I called them up and told them I wanted to join the church. They were so upset and called me crazy and brain-washed. My mom said that if I do that I would never get married and people would just avoid me and our reputation would be ruined. That just broke my heart. I felt so good about getting baptized, and to think that this would hurt my family so much just tore my heart to pieces. I kept thinking about how much I loved my family and how selfish I would be when I don’t do their will. So, I decided to not get baptized. Yes, I know the church is true, but I will leave it at that.
Well, ignoring the feeling I had was harder than I thought. I kept going to church and I just learned to love it more and more. I finished reading the Book of Mormon in the summer of 1995. I bore my testimony in church for the first time the next fall. My friends were so shocked because none of them knew how I felt. I finally could not say no to those feelings I had about getting baptized. I called up the missionaries and arranged to take the discussions.
Bryce (my friend who gave me the Book or Mormon) came to the second discussion. He was the one who asked: “Sahar, are you willing to follow Christ and get baptized?” I knew he would ask that and I knew what I would say, but I was stunned. Am I really going to do this? Does nothing else matter? Do I really know what kind of commitment I am making? The answer was “Yes” to all these questions, so I simply said:”Yes”.
It wasn’t until February 4th of 1996 that I finally got baptized. After I got baptized I was worried about going home. I thought that since I was always so miserable back there, that I would be miserable after returning also. I did not want to go home and tried so hard to apply for a Ph.D. and stay in the States, but that just did not happen. I finally decided to ask the Lord, but I did not like His answer at all. Why would He want me to go home? I could not understand!
However, I did go home and it was great there. I could not understand why I felt so miserable before. I live close to where Christ was born, where He suffered, where He laid down His life for me, and that was amazing. Now I love living in the
Holy Land and I love being a Palestinian. When I got back, the situation was the same as before except that we didn’t have curfews anymore. We still had demonstrations and people still get shot and killed. Our land lacks peace. It is just nowhere to be found except deep down in my heart. I always feel this amazing peace inside and it is wonderful. I am happy no matter what happens around me. I might hear shooting around me, my family might yell and say bad things about the church, but I am always able to fall on my knees and God comforts me. I have the Lord on my side carrying me when I need a lift.
After the events that happened in
I had hate for the Israeli soldiers, but that hate dissolved after I got baptized. But, one day after trying to cross through the checkpoint I looked at one of the soldiers and remembered the Savior’s words: “Love your enemies…” I realized then that even though I did not hate the Israelis, I did not really love them. My imperfect heart could not forgive nor forget what I have seen some of those soldiers do. As I pondered and prayed about this, I came across the scripture in the Book of Mormon, Bethlehem University 7: 48 where Mormon encourage us to pray for the gift of Charity. I realized that only Heavenly Father can teach me how to love. Only the Savior who was able to love and forgive the very soldiers that crucified Him can show me the way to love my enemy. I fasted and prayed for many days. Heavenly Father changed my heart and I was able to “Love” each Israeli and each Jew. I love them as my brothers and sisters. One of my friends, Daphna, is an Israeli! I know the Gospel can bring the people of this land together. I have seen it happen in my own life. People of this land are searching for peace in the wrong place. Christ is the author and maker of peace. He has said: “Peace I give unto you, my peace I give unto you, not as the world giveth give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled neither let it be afraid.” True peace can only come through Him. Moroni
There are restrictions imposed on Palestinians regarding their travel into
Jerusalem and other areas. Getting to church for me was not easy. At first it involved climbing a small hill to avoid the soldiers at the checkpoint. Then, as time progressed it involved climbing hills, hiding, going on dirt roads, climbing walls and even getting shot at. Somehow, I made it to church on most days even though many traveling with me were turned back. I felt invisible at times as I would pass by some soldiers and they would not stop me, or when soldiers would search our bus and make everyone who does not have the proper papers get out, but say nothing to me. When the separation wall was completed between Israel Bethlehem and Jerusalem, the only way left to enter was a small hole in the wall. It took over 3 hours between traveling from my home to the “hole” then waiting for the soldiers to leave (for a break or change of shifts). Then I had to climb a 10 foot concrete wall then hide. Jerusalem
After going through the ‘hole’ a few times and almost getting arrested once, I decided I was tired and did not want to do this anymore. I prayed and told Heavenly Father that I could not go through this anymore. I had done this for 14 years…I asked Heavenly Father to help me find a way to get to
that didn’t involve putting my life in danger. Jerusalem
One year later I was offered a job with UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works agency) as a database analyst. My job was based in
Jerusalem and so my work helped me get a permit to enter . I was able to go to church every week and it was wonderful. Jerusalem
Shortly after, I got called as the relief society president and later as the district relief society president in my church (being in charge of serving all the women in the district). I have enjoyed both callings and am so blessed to have the chance to serve. In 2012 an official church group was organized in Bethlehem. We have a meeting house and meet to have church there every Sunday.
In October, 2012, the Lord called me to serve in a different place. I will be going to London, England. I will leave January 2013.
In October, 2012, the Lord called me to serve in a different place. I will be going to London, England. I will leave January 2013.
Our Savior lives. He was born here in
almost 2000 years ago. He gave his life for each of us then took it up again that we might one day do the same. I love this country. Every tree, every rock and every street here reminds me of my Savior and His sacrifice for me. I love the people of this land. I love every one of them Palestinian and Israeli alike. One day I will be able to share Christ’s message of peace and joy with them. Then they too can begin to feel the peace I feel. Bethlehem
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you,...For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” Matt 11:28-30. What a wonderful invitation Christ has given us, and how true it is. How much easier life can be if we follow Him. When I look back at my life I see clearly those promises coming true. I testify to you that His burden IS light; it is wonderful, super, amazing, and VERY easy to carry. If you ever feel that your burden is heavy, remember that you can always call on Christ to help you carry your load all the way to His mansions above. And on the way you will find peace, the peace that remains in your heart no matter where you live. In the name of Jesus Christ, the prince of peace, Amen.