Jerusalem, the city of my birth, means “City of Peace.” My parents were actually going to call me Salam, which means “peace” in Arabic. Instead, I was given the name Sahar, which means “awakening” or “dawn” (the end of the night and the first ray of sun). Peace was a feeling that was foreign to me and that I grew up wondering about. I had heard many speak about it, but for the first 24 years of my life, I didn’t know what peace was.
My young life overflowed with sounds of rifles, long days of curfew, the agony of smelling tear gas, house demolitions, arrests, and injustices. I shivered in fear one day as my friends and I hid behind a fence when an Israeli settler got out of her car and started shooting at us. I hated guns and the sound of gunshots. There was pain every time I heard that sound, and I heard it often.
I remember being awakened in the middle of the night as a young girl to hear that my neighbors’ house was about to be demolished by the Israeli soldiers. My neighbors’ son had been caught in a demonstration against the occupation. Demolishing his house was the punishment. Our family and other neighbors gathered to give support to this family, even though the time was approaching midnight. The soldiers knocked at their door and gave them only a few minutes to take out a few belongings before blasting down their two-story house, leaving them homeless. Shock and disbelief covered their faces as they quickly piled their belongings in the yard. What would I have taken if I was given only minutes to gather my things? I thought.
The conflict and war was right at our doorstep, and everyone seemed affected by it. Through all this, I wondered, What is peace? And where does someone find it?
I grew up right next to the birthplace of the Savior. I often saw the places where He was raised, where He suffered, and where He died. I could not understand why the Savior chose my country to be born in. He is the Creator of the world and could have chosen any city and any country to be born in. Why did He choose my country? Palestine seemed to be a place of conflict all the time. Why would someone referred to as the Prince of Peace choose to be born in Palestine, a place of constant conflict and war?
I was raised in a town where, two thousand years ago, angels appeared to shepherds to inform them that their Savior had been born in Bethlehem. That initial message from the angel to the shepherds was followed by a multitude of heavenly hosts praising God: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14; emphasis added). Peace on earth? But peace surely did not seem to exist in my country. So what is this peace the angels were referring to?
I discovered the answer to this question when I began investigating the Church. After I repented of my sins and started obeying the commandments, I started experiencing peace. This was a strange feeling to me, something I had never before experienced. It was a simple feeling that developed within me as I changed my heart, repented of my sins, and followed Jesus Christ. It was a warm feeling that engulfed my heart and soul, comforted me, and brought deep joy. It was a feeling that brought nourishment to a soul that had been hungry for years. Peace came into my life the minute I decided to walk in the footsteps of the Prince of Peace. Right after I joined the Church, I wrote in my journal: “My country has never experienced peace, but now I feel my heart has enough peace to cover the entire country of Palestine and to cover all the pain and suffering of my people.”
Sahar Qumsiyeh with Church members
I have come to realize that one of the reasons Christ was born in a place of conflict and constant war is to show us that real peace can come only through Him. The peace He offers is a kind of peace that is not dependent on the situation around us. It is not “as the world” would offer. The Prince of Peace has the power to stop wars and conflicts and to bring physical peace, but sometimes what is even more amazing is that He can and does provide internal peace to people living in difficult situations.
I testify that the Savior is the Prince of Peace. He is the only source of true peace and light in this dark world. If we come unto Him, we will find a joy and peace that we have never before experienced. If we turn our lives to Him and allow Him to be in charge of our lives, He will walk with us and often carry us back to His mansions above. I testify that the more obedient I have been, the happier I have felt. The blessings I have received through my obedience were feelings of comfort, peace, and joy. Although oftentimes our obedience will not bring us relief from trials, it does bring blessings and internal peace. Of this I bear witness.
Read more of Sahar's remarkable story in Peace for a Palestinian:One Woman's Story of Faith Amidst War in the Holy Land.
Sahar Qumsiyeh was born into a loving Christian family in Jerusalem and raised in Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem. Growing up in a country torn apart by political upheaval, Sahar struggled with feelings of hopelessness and anger as she watched her people being persecuted, tormented, and even killed.
In Peace for a Palestinian, Sahar shares her experience desperately searching for peace and joy only to find that true peace lies not in external resolution but in following the Savior. As she explains, "We may live in a place with barriers, checkpoints, and restrictions, but we can feel liberated by His Atonement."