Fr. Elias Chacour


Abuna Elias Chacour

"Either we stop claiming we are children of Abraham, or we act as brothers and try to reconcile."

Fr. Elias Chacour
Pt. 1

11:40 minutes
Real Video (5.9 MB)

Fr. Elias Chacour
Pt. 2

3:13 minutes
Real Video (1.6 MB)

Fr. Elias Chacour
Pt. 3

8:39 minutes
Real Video (4.3 MB)

Fr. Elias Chacour
Pt. 4

4:11 minutes
Real Video (2.1 MB)

Fr. Elias Chacour
Pt. 5

2:56 minutes
Real Video (1.5 MB)

Fr. Elias Chacour
Pt. 6

2:24 minutes
Real Video (1.2 MB)

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Last summer, when I was starting to plan my Israel trip, my friend Del Reynolds gave me Fr. Chacour's book, BLOOD BROTHERS. The memoir starts with his experience - as a 12-year-old Arab Christian of the Galilee - of the founding of the State of Israel and the destruction of his village. Then he tells of his education (some of it in Europe), ordination and assignment as parish priest to the Arab village of Ibillin. That was 1965. He expected to be there for a few months. He's still there.

In 1982 he built a high school for the village. Not just for the small Christian community, but for the village: Christians, Moslems, whatever. Today the school has 4000 students, and he has plans to open what he calls "the first Arab Christian Israeli University."

I found his book provocative, and resolved to try to find him. Later, Don Bustany put me in touch with him.

Ibillin was hard to find. I couldn't find it on either of my Israel maps. Fr. Chacour alluded to this in our conversation, and implied that it is a subtle form of anti-Arab discrimination in Israel. We hired a cab in Tel Aviv to take us to Haifa, and he agreed to wait for us while we checked into a hotel, take us to Ibillin, and then bring us back to the hotel. He had to stop many times to get directions, but we finally found it.

Transcription (edited) of video clips: Part 1Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6

Part 1: " The way out is extremely simple."

Peter: To start with, can I ask you to describe this place, and what is going on here?

Fr. Chacour: We are in the village of Ibillin. It's an Arab village, half Muslim, half Christian. The villagers are an agglomeration of what remained from four different villages that were destroyed and the population deported. Those who fled the deportation and hid, later agglomerated themselves in this village and became a large village of 8500 inhabitants. These are among the 460 towns and villages that were completely destroyed or deleted or emptied for the arrival of the Jews.

I was appointed parish priest in 1965, for the small Catholic community in the village. I was appointed for one month, and I am still here. More perseverance than success.

In 1982 I felt the responsibility to build a high school for this village. We started from scratch, and not only from scratch, but also without building permits. It was impossible to obtain a building permit.

Peter: Why?

Fr. Chacour: Ask the authorities, not me.

Peter: Have they left you unharassed?

Fr. Chacour: No, I was very often harassed, taken to court. But that's our dirty laundry! That's not important. That I wash with my Jewish friends here.

We started with 82 children. Now 20, years later, there are over 4000 students, Christian, Moslem, Dru and Jewish.

Peter: How do you draw them?

Fr. Chacour: I don't draw them. They are attracted. I think it's the quality of the school.

Peter: What language do you teach in?

Fr. Chacour: Arabic, English and Hebrew. We used to teach also French, but there is no demand for it now.

So now we are living on this big campus, with the hope very soon to open the first Arab Christian Israeli University...I see all these three characteristics are basic for us. You can (put them in any order), I don't mind, but no one should have primacy over the other. They come as the household, not as guests and host.

Michael: Coming up the hill, at one point the signs are in Hebrew, and then they become Arabic. Where does this community start?

Fr. Chacour: It depends on the authority.

Michael: I'm asking you.

Fr. Chacour: I don't make the rules.

No road signs should be in Hebrew only. They should be in Hebrew and Arabic. But we are happy if the sign has the village in Hebrew and Arabic, because very often they don't even put us on the map. You need a specialized map to find Ibillin.

Michael: Is whatever I see here Ibillin?

Fr. Chacour: Yes, but it's surrounded by Jewish settlements that they call mitzporim, or observation points... All the Arab villages in the Galilee are surrounded by Jewish posts of observation, that started with 10 or 20 houses, but grew into big villages and towns, and now we are surrounded by beautiful Jews who observe what we do.

Peter: What's the relationship between them and this community.

Fr. Chacour: Well the relationship is based on the fact that they are sitting on our own confiscated lands. And they decided once to come and put their houses there. (You can go to court, but you need years for resolution.

Peter: When you say that for observation, does that imply that the government built them for that purpose?

Fr. Chacour: Yes, absolutely. They were built in the famous King Program. King was governor of Galilee in the early 60s, and he had a plan to "Judaize Galilee." 56 per cent of the inhabitants were Arab. And among the points he wanted to establish were these observation points he succeeded extremely well, in planting these observation points that became villages or kibbutzim or settlements. The most important among all of these observation were the two cities of Carmeal and Marot...that now have at least 30-40,000 inhabitants.

We are living with many contradictions. And we have to overcome our own bitterness to say we can't change that, and to see what we can change.

Peter: We hear from several people that this is the worst time for Israel.

Fr. Chacour: If it's the worse time for Israel, you must imagine that it is three times worse for the Arabs of Israel, because they are the first to be affected..Our school here, the cuts...are over five million sheckels...We are going backwards, from the living standard, and the Jews are not protected from that either.

Peter: What is the way out of this dilemma. I know there is no simple way out or people would take it.

Fr. Chacour: No. The way out is extremely simple, but the problem is that men and politicians are extremely complicated.

The Jewish people, and rightly so, are asking for compensation for artworks that were hanging in Jewish homes under the Nazi regime. The problem is they deny to the Palestinians who have lost their homes, their fields, their dignity, their independence - everything - any right of return or compensation, or even recognition. That cannot be right.

Palestinians do not ask for compensation. They ask just for the return of the occupied territories to have a viable independent state, side by side with Israel. Without that, there will never be peace or security. Unless the Palestinians, by divine power, decide: "We accept to be the slaves. We accept to be the Jews of the Jews. We accept to be the eternal deportees/refugees, no human rights observers." If that would happen, that would be a solution.

Peter: That's hard to expect. Who could ask for that?

Fr. Chacour: Well, Israel's asking for that.

Part 2: " They have water once or twice a week."

Michael: Why is this Arab village different from others, that are barbed-wired, with soldiers guarding the gates?

Fr. Chacour: There is no Arab village with barbed wire and gates guarded with soldiers.

Michael: Even on the West Bank?

Fr. Chacour: None. All the villages that are surrounded by barbed wire and gates to enter are Jewish settlements. The Arab villages and towns are surrounded by ditches that the Israelis dug. The entrance and the exit are destroyed by bulldozers. Even if you are allowed to come and go, you can't drive.

This is what they call the siege. They are in the Occupied Territories. We are citizens of Israel. They are not. We can appeal to a certain legal regulation, but they can appeal to nobody. Not to Bush, not to God, not to the Devil. They can appeal to the mercy of the Israeli prime minister. That is all.

Peter: And you can vote as well, but they can't vote in the West Bank?

Fr. Chacour: No. Not only can they not vote, they cannot work. Their children can't go to school. They can't pick their olives. You should go to Gaza. You would understand everything. (We discuss the possibilities and logistics of visiting Gaza.)

There are 3000 Israeli settlers around the city of Gaza, surrounding 1,200,000 Arabs. And the 3000 settlers, to my knowledge, have the right to 85% of the water of Gaza, while the 1,200,000 have only 15% of the water, which is hardly enough to drink. They have water once or twice a week.

Part 3 :" ...both claim the land to be theirs, and none is willing to share it with the others.'

Michael: Who hates who, and why?

Fr. Chacour: It might be nobody hates anybody. But both have rights, and both claim to be exclusively right. That's why, both fall in the situation of being wrong. Fifty-four years ago, there was no such thing as the State of Israel. The land existed before the State of Israel was created. And in the land there was a people who were living here. This people's name is "Palestinians," with a majority Moslems, second community Christians and third community Palestinian Jews.

Suddenly, because of what you have done to the Jews in the West, with the Holocaust, the Inquisition, the Dreyfus affair with all the injustices done to the Jews, you in the West were guilt-ridden. "We have done something bad against the Jews."

So far so good. I differ from you. I feel responsible for what happened against the Jews in the sense that I have the obligation to take every good-intentioned Jew by the hand and say "Together we'll form a front where there will be no more holocaust, no more persecution, no more discrimination. But that's not what you in the west wanted. You repair the evil done to the Jews.

So, you wanted to repair the evil that was done to the Jews, but that is impossible. You cannot bring back the six million. But instead of saying "We have done the evil, we will give them from what we have," have chosen us to be the reparation goat for your sins in the West, and we became the Jews of the Jews.

Since Palestine was already overpopulated from the time of Theodore Herzel, 1902, he said we have to act with shortsightedness. To act as if there was nobody on this land.

Peter: I'm glad you brought that up, because people tell us, well, there was nobody here. One man told us that the Jews came and started to build and reclaim the land, and then Arabs came from other countries to come here and work for the Jews.

Fr. Chacour: Either he was fooling you, or fooling himself, or fooling both of you.

Tell your friend that I was born in a village, a very beautiful village. When we heard the Jews were coming, we prepared a banquet for them. We gave them our beds to use, and only ten days later they deported us, and we are still deportees, while our homes and land were turned into wasteland.

I don't want you to have the impression that I am speaking against the Jews or against Israel. History is very painful. I like to look forward.

Peter: Can you look forward to a better future? Is there a way for people to live in peace? Every time there is a bombing, that notches it up. Every time there is a bulldozing in the West Bank (Fr. Chacour: "Or a massacre") that notches it up. Each action on both sides pumps it up.

Fr. Chacour: What do you expect? Do you expect people not to react? This is the tragedy. We don't have any leader on either side who is charismatic enough, who in response to an act of terror whether by the Israeli government or the Palestinians will not react with an act of violence; I will try to find a solution. Such a leader we do not have.

Peter: In your book you describe a big peace march you helped put together in 1970. It seemed like that could have been the start of a big peace movement. What happened?

Fr. Chacour: It stopped there. Right after, there was the massacre in Munich. After that, nobody wanted to talk about peace.

(I talk about why I have come and what I expected.)

Fr. Chacour: Is it your first visit to this country? I would advise you a very simple - perhaps unintelligent - advice: Use your ears twice and your mouth once. And don't judge anybody. Go free from prejudice, and discover what you find. You will discover much more generosity than you expect.

This is a people here who have a history of over 3000 years. And now it is no longer a fight of one nation against another nation because of their convictions, but because both claim the land to be theirs, and none is willing to share it with the others.

Part 4: "I don't want to live in the past."

Peter: I was impressed with something Thomas Friedman said at the end of his book, "From Beirut to Jerusalem," that people should negotiate not about rights, but about interests. Because if they look at their rights, there is no compromise.

Fr. Chacour: It's acceptable to the Jews. It's not acceptable to the Palestinians, who lost their country, their land, their independence. They claim their rights. The Jews claim their interests. You cannot condition people to make a dialogue of slave and lord. That's no dialogue, unless the slave be liberated and lord no more considers himself to be lord.

Peter: That puts the onus on Israeli shoulders, doesn't it?

Fr. Chacour: No. On the Palestinians also. On everybody who refuses to talk with the other on equal footing. The Arab countries are not better than Israel. Palestinians have been persecuted in the Arab countries, sadly enough, more than they have been in Israel.

Michael: As painful as it may be, the answers are in history. What is your perception of the role of the British, French and Americans?

Fr. Chacour: Well, they are one of the main reasons for the problem. The British were given Palestine to be the mandatory power, to prepare Palestine for Independence. Like they prepared Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, etc. But instead of preparing Palestine for independence, they prepared to evacuate the Palestinians to hell and give the land to people who were not yet living here.

I don't want to even consider that. What I mind now is I am in a new situation with a majority of Jewish people minority of Palestinians living in Israel and three or four million living in the West Bank. What can we do to improve the situation so we can live together. Who was responsible for what we inherited, I don't pay a damn for that! Because I don't want to live in the past.

Michael: What's the answer?

Fr. Chacour: You in the West, in America, have the answers for everything. You have the answer for Afghanistan, for Vietnam, for Hiroshima.

Michael: What would you do tomorrow?

Fr. Chacour: I don't know. I don't have a solution.

Part 5: "Either we stop claiming we are children of Abraham, or we act as brothers and try to reconcile."

Fr. Chacour: The problem between the Palestinians and the Jews in Israel has never been a religious problem or a racial problem. It was rather the identical claims of two nations on the same territory. Who owns Palestine? Who owns the big land of Israel. These are two names for the same reality.

We did not come to terms to make a kind of harmony between our intellect and our heart. The majority of Jews understand that the big land of Israel can no more belong to the Jews alone. But their heart is in love with all the land, and they don't know how to make the separation.

Palestinians as well, especially Palestinian Moslems, say this is our ancestral land. And they know, with their intellect, that it is no more their land alone. But from their emotion, they cannot agree with the reality.

Both are now fighting themselves and fighting each other, because there is no interior harmony in the mind and spirit of the Jew, and the same in the mind and spirit of the Palestinian. And the easiest thing is to pour your violence on the other side, to dispossess him, to knock him down. And that's why we have this destruction in the West Bank. These man hunts. And in return we have these horrible suicide bombers that come and kill indiscriminately. And both are as worse, the one as the other.

Peter: It's tragic.

Fr. Chacour: It is more than tragic. It's sad. It's a bad destiny. It's absurd. And both claim to be the children of a gentile from Iraq (Abraham). This is absurd. Either we stop claiming we are children of Abraham, or we act as brothers and try to reconcile. And reconciliation cannot be in the form of slave and lord, powerful and powerless

Part 6: "If you want peace and security, pursue justice and integrity."

Fr. Chacour: I'm very sensitive to all kinds of political questions, because I feel they lead me to nowhere. I prefer to relate to human people. Not to the "Jewish problem," but to Jews in Israel.

To my Jewish friends, who come and sit like you sit here ... I would not have know that you were Jews if you had not said so, and I supposed that you were Christians from America. That's why I was so strong in my terms. I wanted you to wake up. That is, I wanted the Christians of Europe to wake up and see a more even-handed policy. And if they love Israel, they need to learn how to really love it, and not destroy it.

Let us all wish for peace. I wanted to say pray for peace, but you said you are not a man of religion. But if you want peace, you should know that the prophets have taught us how to obtain peace. Peace is not a goal in itself. Peace is the result of a certain quality of human relations. And if you want peace and security, pursue justice and integrity.

And justice does not mean to settle accounts. Justice means to learn how to forgive, to make concessions, to reconcile.

Otherwise if I stand for my justice, and the Jew stands for his justice, the only one who decides is the one who has the might. Might makes right. And this is the most cruel thing.


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