‘I am a Palestinian. I have no bombs.’ — Archbishop Chacour

by Eva Stimson
Presbyterian News Service

SAN JOSE, June 25, 2008 — Archbishop Elias Chacour calls himself “a walking contradiction.”

Preaching at the Ecumenical Worship Service of the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s 218th General Assembly, Chacour — whose full title is Archbishop of Galilee of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church — said, “I bear in my identity all the factors that make for war and that make for peace.”

“I am a Palestinian,” he said, prompting laughter across the packed Civic Auditorium as he added, “I have no bombs.”

The author of Blood Brothers, a book widely known among those seeking peace in the Middle East, Chacour went on to explain that he is a Palestinian Arab Christian who is also a citizen of the state of Israel.

“That complicates the situation,” he said. “A Palestinian is supposed to be a Muslim. An Arab is supposed to be bloodthirsty.” And when people learn about his Israeli citizenship, they often wonder, “Why doesn’t he go home?”

“But,” he asked, “where is home for Palestinians?”

“I am older than the state of Israel,” Chacour added, noting that Israel is 60 years old and he is 68. “Israel was created in the state of Palestine when I was a young boy.”

Introduced by Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick as “one of the great reconcilers and peacemakers of this century,” Chacour praised the PC(USA) for its peacemaking efforts in the Middle East. “Many times your church has shown the courage of saying the truth in the face of mighty people.”

But he urged Presbyterians to do more. The most effective thing the PC(USA) can do, Chacour said, is to invest in projects to bring Jews and Palestinians together.

“Some say, ‘We’re not Jewish or Palestinian. We’ll not get involved.’” But, he asked, what would have happened if the Good Samaritan had not gotten involved? “He got his hands dirty. And I invite you Presbyterians to get your hands dirty, to get involved.”

Speaking of U.S. involvement in the region, Chacour made this plea, “You’ve sent weapons and money to the Middle East. Stop that, please!”

Lamenting the declining numbers of Christians in the Middle East, Chacour noted that 25 years ago, 60 percent of the people living in the Holy Land were Christians. Today Christians make up only 9 to 10 percent of the population, and 75 percent of Palestinian Christians are living in refugee camps or in exile outside the region.

“On behalf of the 147,000 Palestinian Christians who still live in the Holy Land, I invite you to come visit,” he said. “But don’t just go to places like the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the supposed burial place of Jesus.”

“Go to Galilee of the resurrection where you’ll meet your Lord,” he said. “We are waiting for you in Galilee.”

The one-hour worship service featured music from a variety of countries and traditions. Participants in the service came from the Presbyterian Church of Chile, the United Church of Christ in Japan, the Presbyterian Church in Rwanda, and the Moravian Church, among others. Many are serving as Ecumenical Advisory Delegates to the 218th General Assembly.

Victor Makari, the PC(USA)’s coordinator for the Middle East, stepped in for Yousif Al-Saka, an elder in the Presbyterian Church in Iraq who had been scheduled to lead prayers but was unable to get a visa to attend the Assembly. Makari asked worshipers to pray for Al-Saka and the church in Iraq.