Reprinted with permission from Ami Magazine.

This is the unbelievable story of Zahir Adel and his personal journey from the grazing lands of Nablus to the streets of Bnei Brak. A smiling, baby-faced man who speaks Hebrew like a native, he rejected the violent Arab culture he grew up in and served as an informant for the Israelis for many years, at great risk to his life. Many of the military actions he participated are still under wraps. Most fascinating, though, is that today he is an expert in Jewish law and has been preparing for his conversion to Judaism for the past several years.

"I was born in 1978 in Azun, a little village near the Tapuach Junction between Shechem and Ariel,” he begins. His father was a clothing dealer, and Zahir's 14 siblings tended to his flocks of sheep. He received the standard Islamic education in school, but even as a child he felt as if he didn’t fit in. "I was a regular kid to all appearances, but I always shied away from violence. It really bothered me but I couldn’t escape it. Violence was such an integral part of our lifestyle. Every time we didn't listen to our father or displeased him in some way we were beaten. Whoever didn't behave perfectly in school received a beating. Every minor quarrel between families or clans in neighboring villages morphed into bloodshed. Female family members who didn’t toe the line were brutally murdered by relatives. Petty arguments evolved into horrific killings. If you skipped a prayer at the mosque or said something offensive, you were in for it.

We were instilled with a hatred of Israel and Israelis and taught to view them as monsters worthy of death.

“I was disturbed by the rampant cruelty in my environment. Later, as a teenager, I studied the Koran and was appalled by how much violence it contained. We were taught how Muhammad, the founder of Islam, massacred thousands of people who refused to follow his path. We learned how Islam conquered massive cities by the power of the sword and spread its doctrine through wanton slaughter. The whole culture was soaked in blood. Then there was the anti-Israel component. We were instilled with a hatred of Israel and Israelis and taught to view them as monsters worthy of death. From early childhood we were trained to cut down every Israeli and settler and fight them to the death.

"IDF soldiers were the worst. They were the cruel, barbaric conquerors, and it was our duty to wipe them out. After school let out, all my friends were encouraged to throw stones and firebombs at Jewish cars. Throughout my early years I learned by osmosis that Jews, and Israelis in particular, are murderers who have no right to live in Israel, and that killing them is mandated by the Koran. I was disgusted by these ideas due to my aversion to violence and the beatings I received in school, but that's how I was brought up. It's hard for outsiders to comprehend the obsession of Arab society with violence. It's such an intrinsic part of society.”

Meeting the Enemy

Then came the moment that changed Zahir's life: "I was a young teenager, and had been beaten for several days in a row because of trivial offenses. I was wandering around aimlessly after school, my stomach rumbling, when I came across a checkpoint manned by a few Israeli soldiers. They were the archenemies, and I knew that I was supposed to hate them and attack, but I was curious. I approached the checkpoint to observe the enemy face to face, and all I saw was a smiling young man dressed in a khaki uniform. The soldier knew some Arabic. He told me not to be afraid and to come closer.

They were very kind and I realized that these were not the cruel conquerors I’d been led to believe.

"I was shocked that the enemy was treating me so nicely. He took two sandwiches out of his satchel for lunch, asked if I was hungry and offered me one. I was ravenous, so I accepted it despite my reservations. As we sat and ate together he asked me about my life and told me a little about himself, and it occurred to me someone was actually listening to me. After a while he and his friends started to play soccer and included me in the game. They were very kind – they didn't try to hurt or kill me – and I realized that these were not the cruel conquerors I’d been led to believe. It was a real eye-opener and I was shaken to the core. All of a sudden I understood that the Israelis weren’t brutal monsters. The whole foundation of my upbringing, that Jews are the epitome of evil, came crashing down.”

"From that moment on I began to take an interest in Israelis,” he says. "I traveled to Tel Aviv and other cities. I got to know Israelis and was stunned to discover that violence is not a fundamental part of Jewish life. I visited the city of Ariel, which isn’t far from where I lived in Samaria, and everyone treated me well. I helped customers by doing odd jobs and earned a modest salary. Amongst the Israelis no one ever insulted me, but as soon as I came home the blows began. That brought me back to Ariel, but when my friendship with the Israelis became too obvious I began to receive threats and even harsher beatings not only from my relatives but from friends.”

Helping Israel

At the age of 14 Zahir endured a beating that was particularly violent and realized that he could not continue to live at home. He packed a few belongings, said goodbye to his mother and left, never to return. He settled in Rosh Haayin, working in a local supermarket and lodging with one of the residents. He has never returned or seen his mother since.

"Sometimes I ask myself if I miss my mother. Of course I do. I try to phone her from time to time, but my relationship with my father is over. To be honest, I feel bad for my mother, who is living under a regime of fear. It’s the women who bear the brunt of the ingrained violence in Arab society. I really miss her, but at a certain point I crossed the line and realized that if I returned to the village, I wouldn't emerge alive. Visiting my mother would put her in mortal danger as well.”

For the next several years Zahir, who now goes by Udi, gradually integrated into Israeli society, supporting himself by doing odd jobs. Then one day when he was 18 some strangers came knocking on his door. They were brusque but businesslike, and were familiar with his background: where he was born, where he grew up and how many years he'd been living in Israel proper. Then they made him an offer he couldn't refuse. "They told me that they were from the Shabak, the Israeli security agency, and asked me if I would be willing help them prevent terrorist attacks. I had always opposed the murder of innocent people, irrespective of their nationality. So I told them I was averse to doing anything violent but I'd be happy to help prevent attacks, as long as that was my one and only task.”

That is how Zahir began helping the Israelis, operating mostly on his home turf near Shechem. At first his assignments entailed gathering intelligence on the terrorists’ targets, which he would then convey to the Israeli intelligence services. "I can't go into too many details but I’ll give you a typical example,” he says. "One time I was sent to trail a certain person suspected of involvement with Hamas. It was during the second Intifada, when suicide bombers were blowing themselves up in restaurants and crowded public areas all over Israel. Knowing how to blend into the crowd, I shadowed the guy and saw him getting into a car wearing an explosive belt. I conveyed the information to my superior, and the man was arrested before he could do any harm. God knows how many people were saved. I also helped expose dangerous organizations. Later, I found like-minded fellow Arabs who were also averse to terrorism and they too passed on crucial information.”

Eventually Zahir's activities branched out and he began to accompany the elite undercover units known as “mistaarvim” on their assignments in Palestinian villages. These are Israeli soldiers who disguise themselves as Arabs and blend into the local population.

I never felt as if was doing something that was against the Palestinians’ interests. All I was doing was preventing the murder of innocent people.

"I went with them everywhere, all around Hevron, Jenin and Jerusalem, although never in Gaza. I participated in operations all over the West Bank. One time some snipers were shooting at Israelis from their hiding place up in the hills. One night, disguised as locals, we caught them red-handed before they could open fire. I even helped capture some dangerous fugitives and exposed several terror initiatives by Hamas. I never felt as if was doing something that was against the Palestinians’ interests. All I was doing was preventing the murder of innocent people.”

Incremental Death

Unfortunately, word eventually spread to the Palestinian Authority that Zahir was an informant and he started to receive death threats; apparently a price had been placed on his head. His time working undercover had run out.

“One day I got a phone call from a Palestinian asking to meet with me so he could pass on some information. I wasn't careful enough, and when I got there I was attacked by a whole mob of Palestinians who beat me, tied me up and threw me into a car. It turned out that my source had been discovered and threatened with death if he didn’t help them capture me. I was taken to a makeshift prison where I was tortured and interrogated. They told me that they had already decided to kill me, not all at once but in increments. Every day I would wake up to heavy blows. It was agonizing. My whole body was full of scars and burns.”

After six months of unrelenting torture Zahir was a shadow of his former self. Eventually his captors became somewhat less vigilant, as they were certain that no one in that condition could ever escape. But Zahir never gave up hope and when the opportunity presented itself he seized it with both hands.

"It was Eid al-Fitr, the day marking the end of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting. The guards had abandoned their posts and gone out to feast on a lamb they had roasted over an open fire, leaving just one person on the lookout. Then the telephone rang in another room, and I saw him walk away to answer it. This was the moment I’d been waiting for. With superhuman strength I managed to crawl to the door and let myself out. I was surprised to find myself in an area I knew well, Shechem. A few minutes later I could hear that my disappearance had been discovered. Several shots were fired in my direction, but thanks to the familiar terrain I managed to evade them and take cover. With God’s help, I eventually reached an IDF post in the Gerizim area above Shechem. ‘I'm a Shabak informant! I told them. ‘I was held captive but managed to escape. Please let me in!’ The soldiers immediately began to treat my wounds and alerted the regional Shabak coordinator. He had me evacuated me to a clinic in Ariel, and from there I was taken straight to Tel Hashomer.”

I could see the centrality of kindness and compassion in Judaism. I resolved to leave Islam and become a Jew.

It took a long time until Zahir was able to leave the hospital. Diagnosed with posttraumatic stress syndrome and severely disabled, his outpatient care continues to this very day. And the experience prompted him to sever his ties to the Palestinian community for good. “It was the unthinkable cruelty displayed by my captors that convinced me to disassociate myself once and for all. By contrast, I could see the centrality of kindness and compassion in Judaism. I resolved to leave Islam and become a Jew.”

Outstanding Volunteer

Following his discharge Zahir changed his name to Udi Ayalon. He was also awarded Israeli citizenship to protect him from future kidnappings, albeit only after a legal battle.

“At first, the government did not do its duty,” he says. “While they treated me well and I have no complaints in that regard, they initially refused to acknowledge me as a Shabak informant in need of rehabilitation.” It wasn’t until 2001 that he was officially recognized as entitled to subsidized treatment. He was also given rental assistance and a monetary stipend to live on.

Fortunately, Udi has come a long way in his recovery. “Udi received help from a lot of people after his release from captivity" says Rav Aharon Yiktar, a community activist and longtime volunteer in Tel Hashomer for the Atah Imadi organization. "As a Shabak informant he forged many connections with members of Knesset and security people who took him under their wing. He was actually doing well in business for a while but spent all of his money on helping the needy He then fell on hard times and found himself in the street until his minimal stipend was restored. Yet throughout it all he never stopped volunteering at the hospital.”

After developing a relationship with several rabbis Udi began to fulfill his dream of conversion. He threw himself into studying Jewish subjects and is already an expert on the laws of Shabbos. Udi is a familiar figure at Tel Hashomer where he is regarded as one of the most outstanding volunteers. "There's no one he doesn't help, and many of them don't even know it,” Ravi Yiktar says. “For example, an elderly woman once needed her doctor’s appointment to be moved up. Then one day she got a call informing her that it had magically happened. She had no idea that Udi had put in a good word with the hospital director. Udi has connections with people from all walks of life, including in the Prime Minister's office.”

The only thing that bothers Udi – and prompted him to give his first-time public interview – is the current spate of terror attacks which, in his opinion, is not being dealt with properly by the authorities.

"People say that we can't stop the wave of terror. They insist that the situation is too complex and that lone wolves cannot be prevented, but they’re making a mistake. The knife intifada can be fought if we want to.”

While you may have heard the following from others, when Udi says it, it's worth listening to:

"The Israeli government isn’t doing enough,” he insists. “The Palestinian Authority encourages terrorism and incites people to stab and kill Jews and the government does nothing to stop it. Did you know that every terrorist who is arrested automatically receives a bimonthly grant of NIS 1200 as a reward from the PA? Astonishingly, this sum is often transferred directly by the Israeli Prison Authority so they can buy whatever they want from the canteen! It's unbelievable. The PA openly supports terror and the Israelis do nothing. If the government meant business they would never transfer money to terrorists, and would certainly withhold luxuries in prison. The death sentence would be meted out in serious cases, and the current situation would not continue.”

A realist, Udi has no illusions of instant peace. "The problem is the Muslim culture,” he explains. "It's a mindset that preaches war, not peace. The Arab world suffers from constant turmoil. They murder each other because that's what Islam is all about. That's why I laugh when the Israeli left talks about making peace. They just don't understand Muslims in general and Palestinians in particular. As long as killing remains a central component of the Palestinian children’s education, there is no chance of peace. We have no choice: we must stay strong and never give up. We must continue to destroy terrorists' homes, deport them to Gaza and deny citizenship to Israeli Arabs who are involved in incitement and terror. There's no other way.”

In the meantime, Udi continues to study for his conversion. "Next Pesach, I hope to be a Jew and sit down to the Seder with the rest of the Jewish people.”

Reprinted with permission from Ami Magazine.