In this time of international conflict, it is inspiring to read of one man who, with God’s help, is striving to achieve reconciliation between Jews, Christians and Muslims.
We Belong to the Land tells the story of Elias Chacour, a Palestinian Christian priest in Northern Galilee. It discusses a number of the tragic events that has afflicted Palestinians – Chacour’s family is evicted from their village in Northern Gallilee in 1948, the massacre of 3000 men, women and children in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and Chacour’s agonising visit to the Gaza strip in 1988 during the Intifada. However the main thrust of the book is on his work towards reconciliation.
Elias Chacour grew up in a Christian family, where daily activities pivoted around prayer and Bible reading, and this coloured his later ministry. After spending six years training as a priest, he was sent to Ibillin, a small village in Galilee, 30 km from Nazareth. Ibillin had had a ‘verifiable history of continuous Christian population and presence from about the first or second century AD’.
In order for the Palestinians to have self respect, and respect from the Jews, Chacour realised the need for providing them with educational opportunities.
In 1981, he applied for a building permit for a secondary school which was to be open to Christians, Jews and Muslims. It was refused. This refusal continued for many years. He decided to proceed without it. Chacour had contacts overseas, though the stereotype that all Palestinians are terrorists proved an obstacle. The final building permit was given after pressure from US Senator James Baker, and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.
Since this book was published, more progress has been made and Ibillin now has a Teachers’ Regional Centre which has 1225 teachers. They are working on a University but are once again having difficulty obtaining a building permit.
The book is not without humour. Jewish pig farmers, with the support of the police, evicted the Palestinian workers from the Jewish-owned slaughter house. Chacour retaliated by saying he would tell the press: “They will be fascinated by the story of Jews confiscating a pig slaughterhouse in an Arab village.”
Yet Chacour recognises that to build bridges people must acknowledge that, ‘my friend is also right, and I am also wrong’. This book shows the need for western Christians to support their Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East, especially in the area of education.