Bishop Speaks For Justice, Friendship And Peace
By Sonia Nettnin
29 March, 2006
Rev. Dr. Abuna Elias Chacour
spoke about the need for security and peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
He said people need to take responsibility for one another by befriending
people they consider their enemies.
Chacour is the founder and president of Mar Elias University, located
in Ibillin, Israel – where Muslims, Christians and Jews interact
at the educational and social levels. On February 25, 2006 Chacour became
the Catholic Bishop of the Galilee.
Chacour spoke at North Park University in Chicago, where hundreds of
people celebrated the tenth anniversary of The Center for Middle Easter
Studies. Here is a condensed summary of what Chacour said to an audience
of Muslims, Christians and Jews.
“It is really a great pleasure to be with you. You should envy
me for what I see. I see a beautiful face. May God bless you and give
you courage to say the truth to the people and flatter the poor. I will
do what I normally do but very short and succinctly.
I have the pride of introducing myself as a Palestinian. I am a proud
Palestinian. I am Palestinian-Arab, which means my mother language is
this very easy to learn Arabic language (audience chuckled). I challenge
you; you will see even our children in kindergarten they speak very
easily (audience chuckled more).
I am also a Christian – that complicates the picture a little
bit. People ask how comes were you born Christian thank God I converted
to Christianity. I am also strongly as convincingly a citizen of the
State of Israel. No way would I hide my social identity. Who am I first:
Israeli citizen? Israel is an entity 58 years-old and I am 66 years-old.
Israel immigrated into my country; my people became the Jews of the
Jews. They were scattered into three major groups who experienced their
The first major group is in neighboring, outside countries – Egypt,
Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. The second major group in the Occupied Territories
(West Bank and Gaza). They did not know they were going for no return
and 58 years later they’re still refugees.
A very striking example is a piece of desert called Gaza. Gaza had 45,000
inhabitants originally but after Al-Nakba (the Palestinian Catastrophe)
the rest (of the people) are Diaspora from 460? towns and villages and
these people in Gaza were left with no freedom and no rights but they
were free to make children who are healthy, clever, ambitious, but without
Twenty years later after they became refugees Israel controlled all
of Palestine including Gaza Strip and added the provision of daily humiliation.
It’s not hard to convince young man or young woman to end their
own lives. We have this horrible phenomenon of suicide bomber. Let us
be clear: Islam does not order these crimes against society. But we
are naïve if we condemn suicide bombers and think we have done
our job; destroying homes, killing people, imprisoning people (are contributing
factors to the conflict).
It is our job to regenerate the hope in the hearts of our young people.
The only thing to do is to end the occupation so that Israel can live
peacefully side by side with Occupied Territories that were destined
to become Palestine.
I was born a baby with a birth certificate. I was converted to Christianity
not long ago. He is our major problem: we don’t know what to do
without Him; we don’t know what to do with Him. It is confusing.
Two-thousand years ago that I was converted to Christianity and my forefathers
preached humanity built on two realities. They started saying to humanity
there should be no privilege of Jew against Palestinian, man against
I’m living in this Holy Land with the complexity of my identity
and what is wrong between Jews and Palestinians and why are we fighting
for almost a century. There has been no war of religion between Judaism
and Islam. It is not an ethnic conflict. During a speaking engagement
with Golda Meir I told her I’m more Semite than you. She was born
in Russia and she grew up in Milwaukee, but I speak Hebrew with an Abram
It’s a territorial conflict – land of Israel, land of Palestine.
Palestinian want justice what did we got we got misery only misery only
starvation only poverty we did not got justice.
We made a divorce between peace and justice and we need to remarry them
– that’s what we are missing. Religion is playing major
role to justify a political, national existence in the Holy Land –
not religion as such – but the selective reading of our Scriptures.
Each one tries to find justification for his political philosophy and
that’s why I wrote second book, ‘We Belong to the Land.’
The (Mar Elias) school we try to create role model to see if we can
change the mentality in education of children to respect no matter who
is in front of you…changing the policy of tolerance.
I am a tolerated person in Israel but I never tolerated any Jew. Tolerance
bears in itself the seeds of brutality and persecution. We are trying
to educate our children to go beyond tolerance to a welcome acceptance
of the other. We are testing whether we can create unity within the
existing diversity. Instead of considering Palestinian or Christian
or Muslim or Jew as contradicting we are trying to make that a real
It’s not a matter of denying or solidarity it’s a matter
of education. How we portray non-Jew to the Jew and the Jew to the Palestinian.
People see in the other the potential enemy or danger. This is where
the solution has to be looked for. I have few experiences these past,
Last August a Jewish soldier riding on a bus from Haifa to the city
of Shfaram took his machine gun and killed the driver, two Muslim sisters
(and another person). Twelve others were injured. The soldier was killed
and the police were unable to liberate (retrieve) his body. The minister
of police was sitting on the roof of a house while tens of thousands
of people around the bus.
‘This is a political man,’ the chief of police said to me.
‘If you can help us.’
‘I can go,’ I said.
I said to the people: ‘I want to see the body of the soldier,’
and making my way between the young people enraged, nervous, I reached
‘Abuna the brain of the driver is still in a plastic sack on the
left-hand side of the bus,’ a man said to me.
I walked in the blood.
Where was the Jewish blood and where was the Palestinian blood. I could
not see who was Jewish or Palestinian who was the same color, who was
the same smell the same horror. I walked in the blood; I walked in the
blood of my brothers, the Palestinians and the Jews.
We are Christians, Muslims and Jews. We are enraged and we have the
right to be shocked we are shocked. We are instructed from our religions
whenever our enemy falls in front of us the only thing we have to do
is respect him and bury him with respect. Soldier of an unpardonable
crime. Our duty is to let him go.
It was 90 minutes before I could convince the crowd to let the chief
of police and his men retrieve the body. I told the soldiers: ‘The
time you are here no one is secure go away and security will come back
to the town.’ Nine soldiers were there with their machine guns.
I stood between me and the people. (Reader’s note: Chacour said
he stood between the people…the people).
I told the soldier: ‘you better take away of your machine guns
and go away with peace.’ The chief of police told the soldiers:
‘did you hear what he said the priest? He said go away.’
The men walked away. I said to the people: ‘Go home silently.
Respect our people who were dead. Come back tomorrow we’ll organize
a huge march against bloodshed against terrorism.’
Fifty-thousand people there were many Jews, I must confess the next
day. Eight days later we celebrated. We wanted to celebrate our martyrs
our two Christians, a way to celebrate to remember two Muslim sisters.
Pray to God to give them eternal rest. Full of Christians, Muslims and
Jews praying for their own martyrs in the church. It was the sweet from
the bittersweet of the martyrdom.
We never read in Israel about a Zion. We don’t want to read about
Zion (then, to the best of my knowledge, Chacour referred to the following
“Even the ox has knowledge of its owner, and the ass of the place
where its master puts its food: but Israel has no knowledge, my people
give no thought to me.” Isaiah 1:3
The land does not belong to you it belongs to God. These passages have
to be read in the context of the Bible. The Bible has to be read it
is the struggle between God and humanity. That is why I think we need
to go back to the original interpretation of the Bible.
The first, two questions that God asks humanity: ‘Where are you?’
He was hiding because he did something bad. ‘Where is your brother?’
Crime worse than am I my brother’s custodian you are coming to
ask me? (Here is the passage I believe Chacour referred to)
“And the LORD said unto Cain, Where [is] Abel thy brother? And
he said, I know not: [Am] I my brother's keeper?” Genesis 4:9
As a Christian this question (where is your brother?) has changed dramatically.
I am my brother’s custodian. I am responsible for my brothers.
Jews in the concentrations and Palestinian refugees. I’m responsible
what happened to my Jewish brothers and sisters in the concentration,
but in no way am I guilty. To be responsible means to be ready to ally
for one common front so that no way no such holocaust horrors happened
anywhere against anyone anybody anytime – a common front so that
no more holocausts against human beings (audience clapped loudly).
The Armenian is a Holocaust (Armenian Holocaust) – the genocide
in Cambodia. I was in Cambodia ten years ago I saw mass graves. These
people were not buried. They were buried alive. What happened in Rwanda.
When will we have what happened time and time against the Palestinians.
In the Talmud it says when you save one human life it is as if you save
the whole human world. When you kill one human life it is as if you
kill the whole human world.
We use religions in order to justify our own selfishness, ambition,
Why did I tell you all of these stories in a rapid way because I believe
you can make a difference you can make a big difference. I come to beg.
I want a favor from you. I’m not begging for money. I am here
to beg you for something much more difficult. I am inviting you to change
your mind if your need is there.
On behalf of Palestinian children I beg you to give your friendship
to Jews but if you take the side of the Jews and you empathize with
the Jews but if it is in enmity against me you are wrong. It should
mean to speak to the heart of your friend so that he accepts his enemy
as a potential friend.
When you visit Palestinians if they do not have they will borrow money
to give you what you need to feel comfortable (Palestinians are generous
and hospitable people).
But if the side of the Palestinians would mean for you that you will
justify the violence all our people commit; if taking our side to encourage
us to go ahead with our hatred then we do not need your friendship.
You are reducing yourself to being one more enemy. We do not need you
to come to us to reduce us to pieces.
We are struggling to find a way out of this nightmare of killing each
Jews and Palestinians never risk to live alone or die alone. We are
condemned to walk side by side or to hang by each other. We were never
enemies with the Jews until 1948. I am all for the Jews to have freedom
of expression, home and homeland. I am ready to struggle with the Jews
because they are human beings. But when my people cannot live, how can
I agree when my people are homeless, the scattered, the dispersed, how
can I agree? There should be another solution so that there is justice,
peace and security.
This is your responsibility as human beings unless you want to be like
the sheet of paper that came out of the factory, immaculate like white
snow on the table by itself, but the pens and pencils around the paper
did not approach…clean white empty forever. What kind of hand
do you want: clean and empty hands or hands loaded with dirt because
you worked in order to save the poor and the impoverished?”
Directors Claude Roshem-Smith and Andre Chapel made a documentary about
Chacour. Here is a link to a review of the film: Elias Chacour: Prophet
in His Own Country.