Trained to Kill, Now I Offer Life
“Terrorists are holding hostages in a house in northern Israel.”
I WAS on a weekend leave from the Israeli army and was camping by the Sea of Galilee when I heard the news on the radio. I well knew what those words meant. I was an army officer in a special unit that was professionally trained to deal with terrorism. I also knew that I would have to be among those who would break in, kill the terrorists, and release the hostages. Without hesitation I jumped into my car and drove as fast as I could to the scene.
As officers in the Israeli army always go in first, I knew I would have to be among the first to face the terrorists, but the thought of getting killed or injured did not slow me down. I arrived at the scene just minutes after my friends in our unit had done the job, killing the five terrorists and releasing the hostages. I was so disappointed that I had missed that action.
Why did I feel that way? Because I was very nationalistic, and I wanted to prove my love for my country. But how did I get into this specialized antiterrorist unit?
I was born in Tiberias, in Israel, in 1958 and was brought up in a very nationalistic home. I believed my country was always right. So when I joined the army in 1977, I volunteered to serve in the most professional fighting unit in the Israeli army. Only a very small percentage of those applying are accepted to start the very difficult training course. Not all finish, and of these, only a couple are chosen to become officers. I was one of them.
My success was really a reflection of my love for my country. I had good reason to be proud of myself. After all, I was an officer in a special fighting unit doing things that the average man in the street hardly sees, even in the movies. However, the success, fame, and secrecy were accompanied with a spiritual emptiness that grew until I began to realize that there must be more to life. So after more than four very difficult years, I left the army in order to travel and see the world.
Why I Left Israel
My travels around the world came to an end when, in Thailand, I met Kunlaya, my wife to be, who was then studying art at Bangkok University. Neither of us had had plans to get married, but our love was stronger than we realized. So Kunlaya stopped her studies, I ended my trip, and we decided to share our lives with each other. Where? In Israel, of course. “I have to help protect my country,” I said to her.
In Israel a Jewish man can marry only a Jew; so I was well aware that Kunlaya, who was then a Buddhist, would have to be converted to Judaism, something she was happy to do. But the religious Jews responsible for such a conversion did not want her. Wherever we turned for help, we met the same negative response: “Someone like you should find a nice Jewish girl and not marry this Gentile.” Not only was Kunlaya a Gentile but she was also of a different race.
After six months of trying, we were at last invited to the religious court to be interviewed by three rabbis who would decide whether Kunlaya would be converted or not. There I found myself being reproved for wanting to marry a Gentile. They told me to send her home. “Why not take her as your slave!” one rabbi then suggested. They rejected our application.
I had had enough. While they were yet speaking, I took Kunlaya by her hand and left the courtroom, declaring that Kunlaya would never be a Jew even if permitted and that I didn’t wish to remain one. ‘A religion that treats people this way is worth nothing anyway!’ I thought to myself. Now that I had made my decision, special efforts were made to separate us. Even my dear parents were pulled into all of this by strong religious feelings and the pressure that was put on us to leave each other.
In the meantime the war in Lebanon between the Israeli forces and the Palestinian guerrillas had started. I was, of course, called to join the fighting, and while deep in enemy territory risking my neck for my country, Kunlaya’s passport was taken from her and she was asked to leave the country. All of this was part of the effort to get us apart. The very moment I found out what had happened, my love for my country died. For the first time, I began to realize what nationalism is all about. I had been willing to give so much for my country, and now I was not even allowed to marry the woman I loved! I felt very hurt and betrayed. As far as I was concerned, getting rid of Kunlaya was getting rid of me. Thus, fighting to win that case was in fact fighting for my own place in Israel, something I was not willing to do.
We had no choice but to fly overseas to get married and then return to Israel to make final arrangements before leaving the country. We left Israel in November 1983, but not before we made peace with my parents. I had always seen the hypocrisy in religion as the main cause of our troubles, yet I had never been so far from religion as I was then.
Finding the Truth About the Messiah
We were very surprised to learn that a particular immigration law made it impossible for us to live in my wife’s country. We had to look for a third country to live in! Our first son was born in Australia, but we couldn’t stay there either. We continued moving from country to country. Two years had gone by, and gradually we began to lose hope of finding a place where we could live permanently. In October 1985, we landed in New Zealand. ‘Just another country to go through,’ we thought as we were hitchhiking north with our 11-month-old boy. But how wrong we were!
One evening we were invited for a meal by a nice couple. After hearing our story, the wife offered to help us with our application for permanent residence in New Zealand. The next day, just before saying good-bye, she handed me a small book entitled The New Testament (Greek Scriptures). “Read it,” she said. “All its writers were Jews.” I put it into my bag and promised to look at it. I had no idea what was in that book—Jews usually don’t read Christian literature. We later bought an old car and proceeded to move south, making the car our home.
At one of the stops, I remembered my promise. I pulled the book out and started reading it. I found myself learning about the man the Jewish faith taught me to dislike, even to detest. I was surprised to read that Jesus had spent most of his life where I had spent most of mine, around the Sea of Galilee. I was more surprised to see the things he said. I had never heard anyone talk like him.
I tried to find fault with that man, but I couldn’t. Instead, I just loved what he taught, and the more I read about him, the more I wondered why Jews had lied to me about him. I began to see that although I had never been religious, I had been brainwashed by religion even as I had been by nationalism. I wondered, ‘Why do the Jews hate him so much?’
My question was partly answered when I read chapter 23 in Matthew. I literally jumped off my seat as I read that Jesus courageously exposed the hypocrisy and the wicked conduct of the Jewish religious leaders of his time. ‘Nothing has changed,’ I thought. ‘These very words of Jesus apply fully to the Jewish religious leaders today. I’ve seen it and experienced it myself!’ I could not help having a deep respect for this man who fearlessly spoke the truth. I was not looking for another religion, but I could not ignore the power of Jesus’ teaching.
Hearing the Name Jehovah
I had finished reading about half of the Greek Scriptures when we arrived at Milford Sound, in the Fiordland of New Zealand’s South Island. We parked our car beside another car with an Asian woman sitting near it. My wife started talking to her. When her British husband arrived, we briefly told them our story. The husband then proceeded to tell us that in the near future, God will destroy present-day governments and will have His government ruling a righteous world. Although it sounded good to me, I thought: ‘This man is dreaming.’
The man continued, telling us about religious hypocrisy and the false teachings of Christendom’s churches. Then his wife said: “We are Jehovah’s Witnesses.” It struck me, ‘What are these Gentiles doing with the God of the Jews? And with that name Jehovah!’ I knew the name, but it was the first time that I had heard it spoken. Jews are not allowed to pronounce that name. The couple gave us their address and some Bible literature, and we departed. Little did we know that meeting these two would change our lives.
Finding the Truth
Two weeks later we were in Christchurch. It was arranged for us to stay and to help on a sheep farm owned by members of a Pentecostal church. On the farm I completed reading the Greek Scriptures and started rereading it. I noticed how obvious God’s existence was to Jesus. For the first time in my life I wondered, ‘Does God really exist?’ I began searching for the answer. I was able to get a copy of the complete Bible in my own language, Hebrew, and proceeded to read it, in order to find out more about Jehovah, the one claiming to be Almighty God.
My wife and I quickly realized that the teachings we learned from the owners of the farm were not in line with what we read in our Bible. Nor was their conduct. In fact, at one stage we were so upset by the way we were treated on the farm that I wrote a letter about it to the lady who had given us the Greek Scriptures. “Up till now, I believe, God has shown us which ‘Christianity’ is false, and if God is really there, he will now show us true Christianity.” I wrote to her, not knowing just how correct I was. It was then that I remembered what those two Witnesses had told us about the hypocrisy of the churches. We decided to meet with the Witnesses again.
A few days later, that couple arranged for two other Witnesses of Jehovah, who lived nearby, to call on us. They invited us for dinner. At their place we discussed the Bible, and we loved what we heard. The next day we were again invited and had another long discussion. What they showed us from the Bible made so much sense that both my wife and I felt we had discovered something wonderful, yes, the truth!
We could hardly go to sleep that night. We knew that life would not be the same again. I began to read the book You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, published by the Witnesses, and as I was reading it, I felt as if I had been blind but now could see! I was able to understand the purpose of life, why man was put on earth, why we die, why God permits so much suffering, and how world events fulfill Bible prophecies. I borrowed as many books as I could from Jehovah’s Witnesses and spent hours going through them. I could easily see the falsehood of the teachings of the Trinity, hellfire, and immortality of the soul. I loved the logic and the powerful Bible reasoning used by the publications.
Comparing Bibles and Believers
The owners of the farm tried to discourage us from studying with Jehovah’s Witnesses. “They have a different Bible, a false translation,” they told us. “Well, I will have to check it out,” I said. I borrowed a few translations of the Bible from the farm owners and also got hold of a copy of the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures and compared them all with a copy of the Bible in the Hebrew language. I was thrilled to discover that the New World Translation was the most accurate and genuine translation. My confidence in the publications of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society grew.
The first time we attended a meeting at the Kingdom Hall, we did not understand all that was discussed there, but we had no trouble understanding the marvelous love that was shown to us by the congregation. We were impressed that the name Jehovah was mentioned so often. “Jehovah, Jehovah,” I said over and over again on the way back from the meeting. “It is not just ‘God’ now, it is ‘Jehovah God,’” I said to my wife.
Eventually we moved to Christchurch in order to associate more with Jehovah’s Witnesses and to attend all the meetings. The publication Life—How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or by Creation? left no doubt in my mind that Jehovah God does indeed exist and that he is the Creator.
We Meet Palestinian Brothers
After getting in touch with the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Israel, I received some letters from Witnesses there. One of the letters was from a Palestinian living in the West Bank, and her opening words were: “My Brother Rami.” I thought that was incredible, as Palestinians were my enemies, and here one of them was calling me “My Brother.” I began to appreciate the unique worldwide love and unity existing among Jehovah’s Witnesses. I read that during World War II, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany were put in concentration camps, were made to suffer, and were executed because they would not learn to fight their spiritual brothers in other lands. Yes, this is what I expected of true followers of Jesus.—John 13:34, 35; 1 John 3:16.
We continued progressing in our study. In the meantime the immigration office of New Zealand kindly permitted us to live there permanently, which only added to our joy. Now we could settle down and worship Jehovah in one of the most beautiful countries in the world.
My Parents Face the Truth
Of course, as soon as we learned these marvelous Bible truths, I started writing about them to my parents. They had already expressed a desire to come to visit us. “I have found something worth any amount of money,” I wrote, building up their anticipation. They landed in New Zealand toward the end of 1987, and we started talking about the truth of the Bible almost immediately. My father thought I had gone mad because of my belief in Jesus, and he tried hard to prove me wrong. We had arguments nearly every day. In time, however, those arguments turned into discussions, and the discussions into a Bible study. With the genuine love extended to them by the Witnesses, my parents saw the beauty and the logic of the truth.
How joyful I was to see my parents being released from bondage to false religion and later from nationalism as well! After a four-month visit, they returned with the truth to their hometown by the Sea of Galilee. There they continued to study with two Witnesses from the nearest congregation, which was 40 miles [65 km] away. They soon started telling others about Jehovah and his Word. A few days before the Persian Gulf war started, they symbolized their dedication to Jehovah.
In the meantime my wife and I had joined the worldwide family of Jehovah’s Witnesses when we publicly symbolized our dedication to Jehovah God in June 1988. I well knew that for me there was only one way to serve Jehovah and that was as a full-time minister, so I seized the first opportunity to enter the full-time service. I will never forget how much I was willing to do for my country, even risking my life. How much more should I be willing to do so for Jehovah God, who I know will never let me down!—Hebrews 6:10.
We thank Jehovah for the incredible hope he gives us, the hope that soon planet Earth will be a beautiful home for those who truly love righteousness—a home that will be free of nationalism and false religion and, therefore, free from war, suffering, and injustice. (Psalm 46:8, 9)—As told by Rami Oved.
[Map on page 17]
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[Picture on page 18]
Rami Oved with his family today