Transcript from Interview on 9 January 2013
Minor grammatical changes were made to this transcript for better understanding.
Thank you for meeting with me.
Well let me just start by sharing some of the things that I’ve taught here. Christians in Israel are stuck between a hummer and an anvil. Its really something very important to think about because on one side they belong to the Arab culture, which is mostly Muslim, and they need to find themselves. They share the Arab society, traditions and language and on the other hand they are different because of their religion. Then on the other side they share the Israeli, the Jewish Israeli Bible or the ancient testament, but they are different because they consider them as Arabs. So they don’t know where to go, to be Israeli or be Arabs. Would you want just to know a little bit about who are they, who are they… the Arab Christians here in Israel? Would you like to hear it?
So they are part of the Palestinians and the Arabs in Israel. As you see here, the Arabs or the Israeli Arabs or the Arabs in Israel are the Arabs who have Israeli citizenship and have lived in Israel since it was established. Okay, by roots they are Palestinians and they have relatives in other countries, for example, relatives in Jordan and in Egypt and also in the West Bank, which means since the establishment of the Israeli state. So it kind of separated them from their relatives. The Arab community in the Israel by the way, consist of 20.5 % of the population.
And that’s not including the West Bank?
It’s not including the West Bank. The number here that you see is not including also East Jerusalem. Now the birth rate is very high. Its higher then they are among the society. So there are about 315,000 households, which consist of about 40% of the whole households in Israel. By the way I don’t know how much you have traveled here, but the Arab population in Israeli is living in about 128 localities and if you want to see about 65% of them are living in the north. And we also have the triangle and also the Nagev and the mix cities and whatever. So if we are looking for religious, or religion in the Arab society, about 82% from the whole society are Muslims. Okay you probably know these figures, so no need to go inside that deep but the interesting thing is that Christians in Israel are just 2% of the whole society. It means we are only talking about 2% from the whole society of Israel.
And about 1% is in the West bank?
Yes… no, it’s more than that. It’s about 1½ or 2% in the West Bank. Okay, if you just include also Gaza. So they have a lot of challenges. They live within a quadrille identity of being Arab, Palestinian, Christian, and Israeli. So if you go and ask someone, okay…Christian, please can you just tell me about yourself? So he has conflict to tell you. Does he start with Arab or Palestinian or Christian or Israeli? 140,000 Arab Christians living in Israel meet this challenge every day. How should I identify myself? Am I Arab? Am I Palestinian? Am I Christian? Am I Israeli? But they are part of the land identity and living in the borders of Israel. Most of them they are in the Galilee as you know. I think you know also these that there are Greek Orthodox and Latin and Maronites… You have several churches or denominations. So they have confused identities and I face it personally, this confused identity. How…? So you can ask me a question.
So the question is, well… I understand the difference between saying I’m an Arab and I’m an Israeli but saying… saying I’m a Christian, that’s a very different thing.
It’s a wonderful question.
Because Christian… I mean, Arab refers to ethnicity, Israeli refers partially to your ethnicity but also to your nationality…
You need to understand two things. First of all, it’s a kind of survival, you are a minority inside minority. If you just walk the street and have your Christianity as the first priority, you have problem of acceptance in the Arab community because they will see you as someone that is not related, and you are not one of them. On one hand you want to be a part of the Arab society in Israel and on the second part you need the… the Jewish community, they don’t want you as part of the Jewish community or the Israeli community, so where to be? Where to be? Because of this for example you can find a lot of leaders, in the political sides especially, talking about nationality and whatever and that they are Christians because… its like an avenue for them to survive in their community, in our community. So they will not consider them, you know, with a lot of question marks. So it’s a survival issue. Arab Christians need to excel and to be different and to be excellent at what they are doing. It’s like any minority in the world. Take for example the Jewish as minority in the world. They did wonderful things to survive in the world and that’s what happens also with the Arab Christians as minorities. They want to be excellent in order to survive. If they do not do this they will disappear. Okay and we know that there is a disgrace in the amount of Christians in the holy land because they do not find opportunities and they are looking for the west as a place where they can be there and try to be excellent and to find a good way of life. From one side they feel that they belong to the Arab culture, but as I said to you…
The Christians are more associated in the West…
Yes because of their mentality. For religion or whatever they are more close to the West on one side, but they are Arabs and they have their traditions and we can understand from the Bible in Acts that the Arab Christians were here from the existence of Christianity. They were here and they kept their Christianity in the Holy Land. If we don’t have Christians here we have a problem with Christianity in the Holy Land. It means they are an integral part and they kept Christianity, which is very important also to the whole Christian world to support and to again give them support, yeah.
Well let me ask you, how many people would feel okay referring to themselves as an Arab Israeli Christian?
You use three phrases here, Arab, Israeli, and Christians, okay.
Yeah because I use Arab to refer to ethnicity, Israeli to refer to nationality and Christian referring to religion.
I told you this is the challenge that every Christian here is facing everyday. To start with Israeli or to start with Arab or to start with Christian is a big question. Some of them they say no I am Arab 48, some of them say no I am Christian, and some of them say no look I am Israeli. So they have a really confused identity. They don’t know where to go. They want to be an integral part of the population of Israel but they are living among Arab society. If they do that and be an integral part of the Israeli society they will not be accepted by other Arabs… the Muslim Arabs. And for the Jewish, well… they are Arabs and they are suspicious. It’s really confusing and we need to understand that here it’s not easy to do this challenge. They are trying to say I am Arab Israel. They do not want to lose their nationality and the Jews do not ask them to lose their nationality and to say that we are Arabs. Okay, if we take a look at Arab Christians all over the Middle East we can find, and really this is something that we need to talk more about, that Israel gives more freedom to their religion to worship than any place in the Arab world. It means Israel give Arab Christians the freedom, okay. If you take the situation for Christians in the Arab world, they have more problems than the Israeli Christians and that’s because for the Arab Christians outside of Israel, it’s not just about worship, it’s about being part of the community and fulfill…to make fulfillment and being… and… and feeling equal and feeling like a citizen.
So how do you identify yourself?
That’s a wonderful question. Okay, I’m Arab Israeli Christian and also Palestinian, Arab Palestinian, whatever, Israeli Christian. So the word Palestinian is interesting because also the Jews are Palestinians because they are part of the Palestine area and they have their state, which is Israel. Okay, which is my state also, the same. So I belong to Israel. So when I go abroad, you know for example going to travel to Egypt or Jordan. They ask, but don’t want to listen or hear that I am Israeli. But for myself, or my transparency I could not say I am Arab 48 or whatever. I am Israeli, Arab Israeli and I belong. I have the Israeli passport and I am living here. It’s the fact. You could not say that there is no Israel, Israel exists… you need to understand this, but they do not like to hear that you are Israeli, and if you say that, you will… they don’t want you to be, which is not easy. It’s a big challenge, but I do believe in empathy and I do believe in understanding the other and in being curious, to eliminate the methods from the other, and start understanding the other and have some dialogue. You know… our world with the diversity and with what we face today, it’s not easy. It means there is a need for a lot of work.
Right, understandable. If it’s okay, I’d like to change the subject just a little bit…I wrote down some questions here. So… first of all where were you born?
I was born here in Nazareth. I was born and grew up in Nazareth.
And your wife?
My wife also the same. And it’s an interesting story if you would like…
I will tell you briefly the story and it’s really interesting. So I was born in Nazareth and I was learning in school; the first class of the 6th period in the governmental school. I came from a poor family and I am very proud and very blessed and grateful to Heavenly Father that he gave us the opportunity to build ourselves and to be very successful. But it was… you know, as I say that all things work together for those who love God and… you know the scripture. So if… I am going from today backwards and think about the history of myself, it’s very interesting and I think that it was built by my Heavenly Father.
So I grow up here in Nazareth and little by little I discovered that… in the school that I am very talented in calligraphy – Arabic calligraphy. I was just 11 years old. A teacher of mine came to me and told me, “Look Fadoul, if you want you are very talented and it is something unique and I want to suggest something for you. I prefer that you go and continue your study in private school. You could not reach any place if you continue here. You are brilliant. You are doing well also in you study and you are very talented.”
I told him I cannot do that because I could not pay for it. My parents could not pay for my school. They are coming from, you know, my father just working in construction and my mother is in the house raising the family and trying to survive. He told me, oh he was Baptist by the way, and he told me, “Look, I am sure that God will take care of this”. Okay, I told him. So I went to my family and told them, “Look my teacher told me that I are very talented in drawing Arabic calligraphy and he wants me to go attend the Baptist school. It’s the best school here in Nazareth and there you will… I can just stay home myself and they will take care of me and try to make me an artist.” My parents had two problems. The first one was that I was talking about going to private school and the second one was that I was thinking about Baptist school while coming from a Catholic family. So going to a Baptist school is something that… is not the coolest, not the tradition you know. I would be the bad person at home going to the Baptist school.
I told my teacher and he told me, “Look I will help you attend the entrance exam over there.” Okay, indeed I went to the Baptist school. I was 12 years old along without a family and I attend the exam without telling them. I took the exam and I did wonderfully! So they told me I was accepted and we want you but I went there myself independently… without my family. So I told them, “Look, I come from a very poor family and I don’t think I could pay for the monthly payment that you need.” They told me they wanted me and that I did wonderfully on the exam and that they would give me a scholarship. Let’s say it helped me a lot. For me it was something that was very unique to understanding and knowing that. I went to my family and I worked a lot to convince them and I told them, “Look you are not going to pay anything. I am going to work also and to support myself.”
At 12 years old?
Yes, I worked in construction during my vacations. So I started at the Baptist School and by the end of the year one of my teachers, realizing that I am very talented in Arab calligraphy, he asked me also to teach the rest of them calligraphy at the school. Little by little I was working a lot myself, bringing books, trying to write and trying to do things. It means, I invested a lot of time in doing good calligraphy. By the way I’ve had a lot of exhibitions. I did a lot of exhibitions here in Israel and also abroad especially in Europe.
My teacher sent me to a newspaper and I went and I told, you know, and told them the manager, the coordinator of the newspaper that my teacher sent me in to meet and he told me, “Look I want you to start work in the newspaper.” In 2 years I became the first calligrapher in the newspaper. I just was working in between my studies and working in the newspaper after school and studying my lesions in the evening, at night, you know. I would go to school, go back to the newspaper and then back to school… Doing that… it was hard time but really I did wonderful work and little by little I became the first designer for that newspaper doing all the advertisement and doing not just calligraphy, but also graphic design. So I loved that and I decided to study visual communication or graphic design. I went to study visual communication and I worked in the leader advertising agencies parallel with my studies and working. I was working all the time parallel to my studies. I did a lot of exhibitions in calligraphy and it was very successful exhibitions here in Israel and abroad and after 2-3 years I finished studying and so I decided to open my graphic studio or…
And you hadn’t met your wife?
And I decided to open a branding office. I am starting working with leading companies little by little and I found that in the Arab society that there is no creative or branding persons. So I decided to contact a leader college here in Israel who was giving first degree and I convinced them to open a branch in the Arab society in Israel in order to create designers and creative person in the Arab society. I was the manager there, also the lecturer. I was a lecturer in my past so it was okay. We created about 24 persons that are working today and they are very successful. I am very happy about that. This is why it was my assignment. And then I decided to convert my graphic studio to advertising agency because, you know, its kind… visual communication is in-between marketing and branding. It’s not art, it’s in-between. So I started my advertising agency in 1995 and then till today little by little we grew up. By the way my wife I met in my office. She, Suzanne, is a wonderful women first of all. She is a singer; a well known singer and she was broadcaster. She was working in Israeli TV, channel one and Israeli radio, she had programs and whatever and I… in that time… there was a need in my office from a job and I accepted her part time and while working in the office I fall in love. So then we got married and we have Yasmin, 14 years old and another, they are 5 years old and we have a successful ad agency and we have some businesses, another business which is content start up partnership with Arabs and Jews here. I am involved in a lot of social work in the Arab society in Israel as well. I am trying to build bridges between Arabs and Jews in partnership and not in co-existence, you know. For me, I don’t like the word of co-existence because co-existence is something that says, you are in this part and I am in that part. I am talking about partnership. You are in the same boat. What you are doing for yourself, you are doing for your partner. If there is any risk to your partner, it’s the same risk that you have and I do believe in partnership more. So we have some businesses. We are trying to extend a lot our businesses.
So with that story of your life, you were raised catholic and I presume your whole family is catholic?
Yeah and I was serving in the Catholic Church.
In what capacity?
It was until… I was 12 years old or 13 years old serving in the Catholic Church. Every Sunday I was going to the Catholic Church helping the priest with the ceremony, you know, holding, as a little boy, the candles and the cross, going between… I was very committed.
And after you were 12 or 13 you just stopped or is that just the age limit for that position?
After 12 I was in the Baptist school and I was very impressed with the Baptist vision and teaching and understanding of the New Testament as it is and whatever and I was going to the Baptist church.
So you started going to the Baptist church when you were 12. How did your family treat that? I mean, you were catholic and you just started going to the Baptist church after your influence from the school.
It’s not easy being, you know, minority inside minority inside minority. It means being… I faced a lot of obstacles and challenges so sometimes I don’t want to remember it. There are some periods that you want just to wipe out, you know, but indeed my family accepted a lot of things that I did because my head was in the heavens, let’s say, and my feet were on the ground. And I was also kind of a support for the family because I was working along with my study and… you know, my parents know that I was very responsible, however I was still a teenager or whatever. For me it was a lot of answers to a lot of questions that I had when I was Catholic because I did not accept a lot of the traditional, let’s say, way of… habits of worship and I have a lot of questions because it was not written that time in the New Testament. How did it come about and they told me, look it’s the history of the church. Sometimes it’s just principles that the Bishops and whoever, and the Pope wrote or whatever, but sometimes you say okay, there is a big gap between what is written and what do you have over there.
So after you went from Catholic to Baptist, did you switch after being a Baptist to something else or were you still attending the Baptist church when you married your wife?
Look, I was in between. I was a Baptist okay, and I was preacher in the Baptist church. I did, in quotation, missionary work for several years in the Baptist church, but indeed I was not a member all the time because I was married… I married in the catholic church because it’s kind of… let’s say problems or challenges because you need here the church playing a very important role in your everyday life. If you want to go to have something from the ministry… well sometimes you need documents from the church and if you are not registered with a church you have a problem and could not do things. With marriage for example, you need a church that supports, let’s say, a religion that supports the… the needed documents that you want, for your marriage. It’s a kind of survival. It means and the Baptist church did not have that back then, but today they are registered. They have their own ministries and they have all the documents that they need. They were official sure, but they did not do all things as written in the book. Let’s say, okay.
So you were married in the Catholic Church while you were a preacher in the Baptist church?
I can imagine how difficult that was for you and your family.
But all the time that I was in the Catholic Church or the Baptist church, I still had lots of questions. For example, why did God stop talking to man? Does it mean 2000 years ago life was different than today or the needs were different than today? What about revelations? What about talking to man? What about having directions or what about… or every day life? Okay, I accepted at that time that Jesus is my savior and I know that he came to talk to us and give us… to fulfill the salvation plan and all these things which I do agree with, but I have… there is no awareness for another thing that is growing in the world. For me the scale of Christianity started with Catholic and ended with Baptist. I was not open to what’s going on in the world. It was very different for me. I knew about Hindus and I knew all of these religions that say that they are not believing in God, but those who do believe in God were on the scale, as I said, between Baptist and Catholic. You can find Maronites, you can find Evangelicals, you can find Orthodox, Latins or whatever but that’s it. This was the scale of Christianity for me. There was not awareness, but not just for me. I am talking for the whole community in the Arab society. However we are in the digital world and we can go and google anything, but as Google said, in the Arab world there is just 1% of all materials in other languages, just in Arabic. It means we have a big potential because if you want to google something, the language I am going to goggle it in is Arabic, but you can’t find in Arabic. My second language is the Hebrew language. Arabic is my mother tongue, but Hebrew is the same level as my mother tongue. So English is my third language so the challenge was so big to find information on Google. During that time, if you do believe, I read the Koran and the Torah and I give a lot of respect to the other religions in order to understand and to find the truth. Where is the truth? Sometime you have… you get a lot of questions. But eventually I found the Mormons on the internet.
So where you still searching for answers after you came across The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
No. No, I think all my questions… I found my answers and it was… well because it was the first time I heard the word Mormon, it was for me zero awareness about it, and little by little I understood and I think that it’s very important and it’s very… this is the true church. I know that.
Thank you for your faith and for telling your story. Your search for truth is amazing. There’s a lot of people in the world that don’t do that these days. Well as we come to a close, would you share a little bit about how you know Jesus Christ is the Messiah and the Savior? How did you come to believe? Maybe you can share your testimony just briefly.
I grew up in a place where it was easier to have the title of Christians then it is for others. It’s a Christian home, okay, that goes to the Christian church. The name of Jesus is mentioned here and there, you can see the cross over here and there, you can see pictures, and the priest is talking about it. I do believe that if you ask for truth you will find it, but only if you are honest and if you come with an open heart and you do believe that there is a God and the world could not have existed by itself. There is a power that did that, a universe and all the things in this universe and this is what we call it God so… and we knew a lot from the descriptions of others. They spoke to this power and they got a lot of answers.
Okay, and if you have this basic belief you can go to that power and ask honestly, “Am I in the right way? Should I be Christian? Who is right? Being the Muslims, being the Christian, being the Jewish? To whom should I believe?” It’s a big question but without having sympathy and small faith that you will get that answer, you will not get the answer. I want to tell you something very important that I have testified and I have experienced. I went to my Heavenly Father asking him to know the truth. I do believe that you are existed. I heard that Jesus came here and you sent your begotten son, your only begotten son to the earth in order to save people and I know that millions of millions are talking about your story, you know, and sometimes the testimony of the millions means there is something of the truth inside it. So please answer my question, are you there? Is Jesus my savior? If it’s okay, give me a sign and I am telling you honestly. I felt that inside… I felt it with the Holy Ghost coming and touching my heart and I don’t know before… I don’t know if you heard about those people that when they are getting drunk they are feeling that they are high. I just heard about it. Well I felt that I am in a high. I am in a place in my heart and you feel that experience and you feel that you have love and you have something and you have shinning eyes and you have… you have a very unique feeling and it’s not something human. It’s something out of the human ability. You can feel it. It means it’s like you see a hurricane or whatever that you see that it’s not human ability, it’s something else, okay. So you see and you discover that something inside you, something in your body, something in your feelings, something in your mind is going to change and giving you the wonderful sign, he is the Messiah. He is the Messiah and you know that this feeling is a fact. So you take this and you want to stay with this feeling all the time and to keep it because you feel…
While growing up, or even now, did you feel a special connection to Jesus because you grew up in the same place, the same city that he grew up in?
It’s very emotional. I do believe that I was blessed with being born and growing in this country, the holy land, and not in the… its in the time of annunciation. It means the annunciation came and started from here. For me every day when I am in the car I face the holy places, every day I see them. It means I can feel that, when I am looking from the window of my home and looking to the Christmas mountain where Jesus in the synagogue started saying and reading from Isaiah that he is the Messiah, I know it is true. The people did not like it, but he said it and they just run after him… and they just want to throw him from the cliff and I see that place that he is coming and giving the truth and he was not accepted it here in this country and he said, there is no prophet accepted in his country. I don’t know the exact scripture in english, yeah. So it’s very emotional. Its something that you feel everyday, the connection. When you think that 2.2 billion people all over the world consider themselves Christian, their eyes in this period of time to holy land, to Nazareth, Bethlehem, to whatever, its something that gives you uniqueness and for me its talking to me and I feel that I have… I have a unique connection to Jesus, the Messiah. He is the man from my country and I belong to this country. It is wonderful.