I’ve been away from the internet since leaving the Bay Area on Saturday morning. After attending days of meetings, I was at the wedding of a hiking partner, and then made a three day trip to Virginia City, Nevada where I spent my time seeing old friends and hiking the hills that I love. I’ll write more about Virginia City later and promise many photographs. I'll also try to catch up on everyone's blog, but it may take me a few days. The photo is of Bishop Chacour.
While in San Jose, I had an opportunity to hear and to meet Bishop Elias Chacour, the Archbishop of Galilee for the Malkite Greek Catholic Church. Twenty or so years ago I read his classic work, Blood Brothers. In this book, Chacour describes life in Palestine before and after the establishment of the state of Israel. He continues to live in Israel as a second class citizen (he’s not Jewish), yet he works for peace as he strives for dignity for the Palestinian people. I enjoyed listening to Chacour. He’s quite funny and not bitter, which is an accomplishment considering the difficulties he and his people face.
In discussing American Christians making pilgrims to the Holy Lands, Chacour said we need to recall what the angels said at the tomb, “He is not here.” After a laugh, he reminded us that the angels then told the disciples to go to Galilee and invited us to come and to see their situation for ourselves.
One of his funniest stories was about his first encounter with James Baker’s wife (the former United States Secretary of State). I’m not sure how much of the story happened this way, or if he embellished it for our pleasure, but he has been friends with the Baker family. According to his story, he was told that Mr. Baker was the American official with whom he needed to discuss the plight of his people, so he went to Washington and called at Baker’s house. When Mrs. Baker came to the door, he introduced himself as “Father Elias Chacour, the other guy from Galilee.” When asked if he had an appointment with Mr. Baker, Chacour said, “No, we men from Galilee don’t make appointments, we make appearances.” He went on to tell how he got invited to Mrs. Baker’s Bible Study and about how she gave him this terrible drink—ice tea—which he described as "drinking medicine." (Mrs. Baker must of fixed him a glass of syrupy sweeten tea!)
Chacour pointed out the problem of having so many Palestinians packed in Gaza as refugees. For 60 years, Palestinians have been locked up there and, he noted, the only right they have is the right to have children. So, with nothing else to do, they have children and more children who grow up without hope and that when you have no future, it’s not difficult to decide to put an end to your life. So they become suicide bombers. According to Chacour, if Israel wanted to end the bombings, they must find a way to regenerate hope. Instead, they build walls and increase despair.
“Most people believe the Palestinians just want to throw Israel into the sea,” Chacour noted, “but they haven’t talked to the Palestinians.” He noted how, before Israel, the Palestinian Arabs were the educated people in the Middle East. When they first had a chance to vote, they voted for peace (for Arafat instead of Hamas) by an 80% margin. But Arafat wasn’t able to get Israel to fulfill the promises he’d negotiated. While Arafat was talking, Hamas was busy building schools and medical clinics, which is why the Palestinians voted for them the next time around. The people have seen action from Hamas, not just empty promises. Speaking of the broken commitments the Palestinians have experienced, Chacour proclaimed that Israel is no longer the Promised Land but is the Land of Promises.
Chacour also grieved the decline of Palestinian Christians. In 1948, most Palestinians in the region were Christians. Bethlehem which was 60% Christian just 25 years ago is less than 10% Christian today. Only about 25% of Palestinian Christians live in Israel, the rest are either refugees or exiled or have moved overseas.
Speaking frankly about the tense situation in the Middle East and the danger of Nuclear Weapons, Chacour said in that culture, if your neighbor has something, you also want it. Unfortunately, this also goes for nuclear weapons. He suggested that the best solution would be to get rid of all nuclear weapons in the regions, noting that people there have to be willing to talk to one another. “You make peace with your enemies, not your friends,” he pointed out.
Chacour’s speech provided hope and a more realistic look at the problems of the region. “It is healthy to have questions,” he noted; “it is dangerous to have only answers.” Certainly, there are more questions than answers when it comes to achieving peace in the region. I now have a copy of an autograph copy of We Belong to the Land: The Story of a Palestinian Israeli Who Lives for Peace and Reconciliation, Chacour's most recent book.