Mark Halawa
Mark Halawa Yonit Schiller, courtesy of Mark Halawa

Mark Halawa was born to a secular Muslim family in Kuwait, and like many in the Arab world, viewed the State of Israel as an enemy, despite knowing that his maternal grandmother was Jewish

Born in Jerusalem in the 1930s, Halawa's grandmother married a Jordanian soldier, and moved with her husband to Zarqa, Jordan.

"The Middle East - and my life - does not fit into a simplistic category," Halawa said. He described the education he received as a child from "the enemies of Israel."

"They taught me from a young age that Jews have no connection this land, and that Israel is a racist colonial project set up by Western imperialists and supported by America - the Great Satan - to divide the Ottoman Caliphate so that there would never be a Muslim empire again."

He described his mixed Muslim and Jewish heritage and how his father, a Palestinian Arab born in Beit Shean in 1945, told him "how Arab radio broadcasts urged all the Arabs of British Palestine to clear out immediately to make room for the great slaughter that would be carried out, promising them they would come back and seize the properties of slaughtered Jews in a matter of days. So they left and became refugees in camps in Jordan, in Syria, and in Lebanon."

But a decade later, when Mark moved to Canada to study at university, an unexpected encounter changed his life forever. This is the story of how Mark became Mordechai.