262Listen: Stephen O’Doherty chats to former sniper-assassin, Tass Saada.
The transformation of Tass Saada from a Jew-hating assassin to a peacemaker, is nothing less than the work of God.
Tass is the founder of ‘Seeds of Hope’, an organization in the USA that works to bring peace and reconciliation between Arabs and Jews. In an interview with Hope 103.2’s Stephen O’Doherty, he shared his remarkable story.
A Palestinian born in the Gaza Strip in 1951, Tass came from a Muslim family, and by age 16 was living in Saudi Arabia fighting with Yasser Arafat’s forces for the cause of ‘homeland’.
“My father was a big donor for [Yassar Arafat’s organization] Fatah, so whenever Arafat came to Qatar, where my family lived that time, he came and visited at my father’s house,” Tass said. “He was my hero.”
Driven by Hatred
Tass didn’t just join Arafat’s forces, he became a highly trained assassin. He was even involved in an assassination attempt against the Crown Prince of Jordan. He says the hatred that drove him, made him a revered fighter.
“The anger and the hatred towards Jews in my heart for all my life at the time equipped me to fight so vigorously against Israel and the Jews,” he said. “The leadership at the time noticed my vigorous fight and my zeal for the homeland, and so they kept rewarding me. They noticed I was a good sniper, so they decided to train me. That’s how I became an assassin.”
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Despite being driven by hatred, though, Tass found that being an assassin was hard to do morally—even as a nominal Muslim who didn’t have a particularly strong faith in God.
“As an assassin, I studied the life of the individuals [I targeted],” he said. “That became more personal and was affecting me emotionally. The fact that I began to feel guilty about what I was doing, it must have been God.
“So I thought I’d go and fight the Jews with my brain instead of my weapons, and that’s when I made my way to America to get more education.”
The fact that he even got a visa to go to America in the first place was a miracle, considering his past.
Changed by Kindness
It was while he was working in restaurants in America, that a particularly kind customer named Charlie struck up a friendship with him. It was a friendship that began Tass’s journey towards faith.
“He treated me very kindly and with respect—which intrigued me,” Tass said. “And that started a relationship.”
After nearly 20 years since first meeting him, one day Charlie helped Tass to find a location for his restaurant. But the building he chose was a former funeral home and Tass was terrified.
“This place…this building used to be a funeral home, they fixed dead people in there,” Tass said. “So when I went in there, I was so scared. I felt demons and ghosts all over the place. I told Charlie and he laughed at me. For the first time ever, he speak to me about God. He said, ‘Do you know why you felt scared like that?’ I said, ‘No, why?’ He said, ‘Because you don’t have the fear of God in you.’
“I was surprised. I said, ‘Charlie, I’m a Muslim. I fear God.’ He said, ‘No, you don’t, but not to worry…I can help you with that. I can fix it.’ He points his finger to the sky and he says, ‘I have connection.’
“I laughed at him and I walked away. But it unsettled me. For three weeks after that, I’m thinking, ‘What is this connection?’ This word ‘connection’ took me over.”
‘To Have Peace, You Must Love a Jew’
Three weeks later, Charlie got back in touch with his friend and said, “Tass, to have the peace that I have, you must love a Jew”.
Anger rose up in Tass, an instant.
”I froze, literally,” he said. “It made me very mad.” But it had begun a conversation.
Tass asked Charlie about the ‘connection’ he had with God, and Charlie explained that the connection was with Jesus, who was not just a prophet – but also God.
Infuriated, Tass almost ran away; what he had been told was blasphemy to a Muslim. But Charlie asked for just a few more minutes.
A Supernatural Encounter With God’s Son
“Charlie put his Bible right between the two of us,” recalls Tass. “I jumped away from it. He said, ‘Why did you jump like that?’ I said, ‘I can’t touch that…it’s got the word of God and the name of God in it.’ He said, ‘So you believe this is the word of God?’ I said, ‘Yes.’
“Why did I say yes, when we as Muslims really don’t believe that? And that’s when my whole mind started being taken over. He said, ‘Okay, if you believe this is the word of God, let me read to you what it says about Jesus.’ I said, ‘Go ahead’.
Opening randomly, the Bible fell open at John 1:1 and Charlie began reading, ‘in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God’.
What happened to Tass next can only be described as a supernatural encounter.
“The next I know, I’m on my knees on the floor, and my hands lifted up, inviting Jesus to be my Lord and Savior.”
“I just was taken over, and I lost consciousness, and the next I know, I’m on my knees on the floor, and my hands lifted up, inviting Jesus to be my Lord and Savior,” he said.
“I’m looking at Charlie, and he’s shaking and crying. I said, ‘Charlie, what’s the matter? What happened?’ He said, ‘Man, I’ve never seen anything like this in my life. When I started reading the word to you, it was obvious you were unconscious. You were taken off the sofa in the air, and you were lifted up in the air. And your hands, you looked like you were fighting something, and then you were brought down to your knees, and your hands were lifted up.’ And he said, ‘You started speaking in a language. It was not English.”
What Tass was speaking to, was what he knew was Jesus.
“I was speaking to a light that was saying to me, ‘I am Jesus. I am the way, the truth and the life, and there is no other way to the Father except through me.’ And it was a powerful light that was pouring out love on me that’s so much, I could not deny him. And I instantly believed He is the Lord of lords and the King of kings.”
Tass explains that his supernatural conversion experience is not an uncommon one.
“I’ve heard so many stories about the Lord appearing to Muslims in visions and dreams, and so I’m not the first one,” he said.
Learning to Love God’s People
The seeds of change: Children on a Seeds of Hope summer camp. Image: FacebookAs a follower of Jesus, over time Tass came to love the Jewish people. It was a love that didn’t come easily at first. In fact, when Tass first read Jesus’ call to ‘love your enemy’, he screamed at God, “No way! I will never love them!”
“I kept screaming and telling him why I could not love the Jews,” Tass said. “I was saying, ‘they took my home, they took my land, we were homeless’, and this, and that. And after I got tired of talking, then he spoke to me in a small voice and said, ‘They have done more than that to me, but I still love them.’ And that broke me.
“I cried and said, ‘Lord, if you love them so much, I will love them too.’ I had to lose my family, everything I believe, my culture, everything. I had to leave it behind.”
Some time later, in a meeting with a Jewish landlord, Tass felt a strange peace, and realized he no longer hated the people of Israel.
“My brain was saying to my heart, ‘Where is that hatred you have for the Jews?’ And my heart is saying, ‘It no longer exists…it’s been cleansed by the same Jew you’re worshiping now.’”
Another major step in Tass’s transformation was seeking forgiveness for the lives he took as an assassin.
“It was not easy for me to forget those hearts…those humans that I’ve killed,” he said. “I made it my responsibility to go seeking forgiveness from the Jews and from the Christian Arabs for what I’ve done against them. Forgiveness begins a process of healing in our heart, in our life. And so He has given me that forgiveness.”
Only Spiritual Change Will Bring True Peace in the Middle East
The non-profit organization Tass founded, Seeds of Hope, now works to build peace between Jewish and Arabic people, and bring hope to those suffering in the Middle East.
They help the poor, build trust one person at a time, and ‘replace Middle East cycles of violence, poverty, and despair with peace, economic sustainability and hope’.
Tass believes that peace will only come in the Middle East not through political solutions, but through spiritual change.
- Learn more about Tass Saada’s story in Once an Arafat Man: The True Story of How a PLO Sniper Found a New Life – by Tass Saada & Dean Merrill.