‘I wanted it demolished on all our heads’

by Mike Ferguson
Presbyterian News Service

SAN JOSE, June 25, 2008 — Elias Chacour, Archbishop of Galilee for the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, points to the Northern Israel city of Haifa as an important role model where Jews, Christians and Muslims can exist together — but not necessarily coexist.

During a press conference at the 218th General Assembly here Wednesday, which followed a worship service that featured him as the preacher, the 68-year-old Chacour remembered the July 2006 night that Haifa, 30 kilometers from his home in Ibilin, began to be shelled.

“Hezbollah had issued the order for Arabs to go away from Haifa,” Chacour said. When he heard the news, he called a rabbi he knew in Haifa and the city’s mayor, got in his car and was in the port city — which was indeed being shelled — in an hour.

“If the city was to be demolished,” Chacour said, “I wanted it demolished on all our heads.”

The three men departed safely three hours later, “not as Jews and Christians but as real brothers solid in the same faith.”

Chacour said he hopes Haifa’s long run of peace can be replicated until Israel becomes “a Greater Haifa.”

Chacour is author of Blood Brothers, the story of his peacemaking efforts to ease the Arab-Israeli conflict. He founded the Mar Elias Educational Institutes to offer Palestinian youth educational opportunities.

His message to commissioners at General Assembly is to “get their hands dirty” helping Jews, Muslims and Druze to “solve our problems together.”

“I hope we can convince our Jewish friends that it is not true that every non-Jew is an enemy of the Jews,” he said. “We need to respect everyone as a potential friend. The one message I want to convey is to have Presbyterians continue to have the courage to say the word of truth.”

The situation for Christians is difficult both in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Chacour said a poll of Palestinian youth indicated that 60 percent would leave Israel/Palestine immediately if they had the opportunity. But, as he pointed out, people on all sides are bound together.

“When someone is killed in Gaza, we hurt,” he said. “When someone on the West Bank has travel restrictions, we hurt.”

The best political future for Israel/Palestine — a scenario Chacour called “wishful thinking” — is as a secular democratic state where Christians, Jews and Muslims “can worship God or not worship God.”

Appearing alongside the man he called “Abuna,” an Arabic word meaning Father, the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), called Chacour “an incredible blessing to us.”

“We can only be the church if we work with Christians around the world, said Kirkpatrick. That is why we care so much about the Middle East and in particular Israel/Palestine.”

Kirkpatrick continued, “These are the living stones of the Christian faith, an area where Christians are in a most difficult and fragile situation. We have a deep commitment to our sisters and brothers in that part of the world, and we’re eager to do everything we can to support the Christian community there,” including the support of justice and the end of violence.

“There’s no one we could have thought of who represents those values more” than Chacour, Kirkpatrick added.