Deal W. Hudson
Published August 3, 2010
Archbishop Elias Chacour of the Melkite Church in Israel is a remarkable man. Nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize, the author of three books on religion, and now in his early 70s, he’s an internationally recognized leader in the effort to find a peaceful solution to the hostilities between Jews and Arabs.
“We don’t need anyone else to become the enemy of the Jews or the Arabs,” he told us. “We need people to become the common friend of both.”
He kindly received our small group at his residence in Haifa and spoke with us for well over an hour. “Why are you here?” he asked with a smile. By the time we’d left, we all had a better idea of how to answer that question.
Chacour was eight years old when the Israeli soldiers entered his Palestinian village in 1948, the year of Israel’s founding. The village of Biram is in the region of Galilee near Nazareth. His father had prepared a banquet for the soldiers – he fed them and they slept in the family’s beds. After enjoying the hospitality, the soldiers ordered everyone to leave the village; their land and homes were being “annexed.”
The residents fled up into the adjacent hills and lived for several weeks until a group of the village fathers ventured back to ask if they could return. The men wouldn’t return for months. Eventually the fathers, including Chacour’s, found their way back to the families living in the hills near their confiscated village. The men had been put into trucks and taken to the other side of the West Bank, dropped off, and told never to return. They walked through Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon to rejoin their families.
The Palestinians took their case to the Israeli Supreme Court, which ruled three times in their favor… only to have the military continue to block their homecoming. Finally, in 1952, they descended the hills to return to their houses, only to watch Israeli bombers level the town in front of their eyes.
“My father told all his children never to hate, never to seek retribution,” the archbishop said, choking back the strong emotions he obviously still felt from that experience so many years ago.
Chacour was the only one of the four sons to become a priest, thus fulfilling his father’s fervent wish. He studied in Paris for six years, returned to Galilee, and became a parish priest in a small village much like the one he was born in. His book Blood Brothers, first published in 1984, brought Chacour into the public eye leading to his appointment as archbishop (archimandrite) in 2001.
Before we left, I asked “Abuna,” as he is also called, if he had a personal message I could record for Catholics in the United States. You will find it here.