Sunday, January 1, 2012

Book Recommendation: Blood Brothers by Elias Chacour

Proverbs 18:17 says, "The first to present his case seems right, until another comes forward and questions him." Or to put it in the vernacular, "There are two sides to every story."

Elias Chacour is currently the Archbishop of Galilee in the Melkite Catholic Church, which is an ancient Middle Eastern expression of Christianity loosely allied with the Roman Catholic Church. I had never heard of it before I read the book Blood Brothers. In fact, though I knew there were Christians in the Middle East, I didn't know that many of the Palestinians displaced by the establishment of the nation of Israel in 1948, were in fact Christians. Others are Muslims or Druze (a religion that combines elements of Islam, Christianity and Judaism). Most of them are simple, ordinary people just wanting a way to earn a living and raise their children.

Elias Chacour is a Palestinian Christian who was driven from his home, along with the rest of his village, when he was a child. Every building in his village was then destroyed by Israeli soldiers. The Palestinian village next to his had every man, woman and child killed and buried in shallow graves-- so Elias and his family and neighbors moved into the deserted homes of the dead.

Sound far-fetched? It is true. And none of this is anything I ever heard about as an evangelical Christian growing up in America, where Israelis were the heroes and the Palestinians were the terrorists, and that was all there was to it.

The amazing thing is the path Father Chacour chose in response. Two options seemed all he had: either passive submission, or violent revenge. Chacour chose neither. He chose active peacemaking and a life dedicated to reconciling his people and the people of Israel. When Jesus gave His Sermon on the Mount, He said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God." Elias Chacour, walking over the hills of Galilee in prayer to Christ, heard the call to become a peacemaker. There is no judgment in his heart for those who harmed his people and took everything they had-- and then blamed the victims. It is true that many of his people have since turned to violence, but the blame does not lie all on one side.

However, Chacour feels deeply for the Israelis. He understands the fear and suspicion in which the Nazi Holocaust left the surving Jews. When he was still a young child, he heard his father say, "For centuries our Jewish brothers have been exiles in foreign lands. They were hunted and tormented-- even by Christians. They have lived in poverty and sadness. They have been made to fear. . . [but] the Jews and Palestinians are brothers-- blood brothers. We share the same father, Abraham, and the same God."

In the face of hatred, Elias Chacour offers compassion, understanding, and reconciliation.

In Matt 5:39-41, Jesus said that when someone slapped you on the right cheek, you were to turn the other. He was referring to the back-handed slap that a person in power would give to an underling with the back of their right hand. To turn the other cheek was to offer the left cheek, so that the slapper would be forced to use his left hand. In that honor-shame culture, this simple, peaceful action would have shamed the one doing the slapping, and forced him to think about his actions.

When Jesus said that if someone wanted to sue you and take your shirt, you should let him have your coat-- only a rich man could afford to file a lawsuit in the courts, and to give him more than he was suing for would shame him in the eyes of the community. So would it shame a Roman soldier if he forced you to march a mile for him (only a Roman soldier had the power to do this), and you went two miles instead. All of these are the actions of the peacemaker-- the one who chooses neither passive submission nor revenge in the face of oppression, but instead makes an opportunity for the oppressed to peacefully confront the oppressor, in a way that empowers both and offers both a chance to see one another as fellow humans.*

Father Chacour has planted olive trees in the soil where land was taken from his people. He has built and opened schools and a university to educate Palestinian youth, so that they have a way out of poverty and the hopelessness that can lead to violence. When violence does erupt, he and his students give blood to help the victims-- Palestinian and Jew, Muslim and Christian alike. Nor are his schools exclusively for Palestinians; though his schools are the only ones where Palestinians may be educated, he does not turn away others, regardless of race or religion. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times-- and yet here in America, I had never heard his name or his side of the story.

Some of my relatives are Jewish, and I have a Holocaust "orphan" in my own family-- my uncle fled Nazi Germany as a boy and was raised in an orphanage, not to know where his parents were, or if they had survived, until he was grown. I have always been glad that Israel was re-established as a homeland for Jews, and I have not changed in that. But I have been misinformed and I have misjudged the situation, on the basis of having only one side of the story. No group of humans are unqualified "heroes," and listening to and hearing the stories of the disenfranchised is so important.

Brother Chacour says to the Palestinians, "Do we need to produce more victims, more martyrs and more humiliation?" He says to his Jewish brothers and sisters, "Do you need to produce more millions of victims from among your own people to convince the world that others have hated you? Are you listening as the voices of all the dead cry out, 'Cain, Cain, what have you done with your brother?"

And he has this to say to those of us in the West:

Was it a bad thing that Europe organized to liberate itself from a savage occupation before and during World War II? Were the Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution "acts of terrorism"? Who is the terrorist? Who is the fighter for liberty? How do you find it your right to judge?

I'm so glad I found the book Blood Brothers. In the spirit of Proverbs 18:17, I encourage everyone to read it.

*For more information see Walter Wink, The Third Way .


Anonymous said...

Kristen, This is a wonderful, thoughtful post about this book and about the topic. I didn't know specifically about Father Chacour, but I did learn that there were two sides to the Israeli story when I was 19 or 20 and taking a college class on Middle Eastern history and culture, taught by someone who had lived there for many years. It was an eye-opener because in church I kept hearing only one side -- that the Palestinians had no rights at all because my church said Jews were the chosen and the Palestinians' rights were not granted by God. Even then I remember feeling disturbed when I heard this in church because it seemed that the Palestinians were not being treated like human beings. Today I still hear even some of my Christian friends condemn the Palestinians as terrorists. And the tirades against anyone who is Muslim, including American Muslims, are downright tiring.

There's a beautiful book written for teens about the topic: Samir and Yonatan by Daniella Carmi. It's about a friendship that develops between a Palestinian boy, Samir, and an Isreali boy, Yonatan, when Samir is trapped in a hospital among the very people he blames for his brother's death. It ends up being a story of healing and redemption, and includes a glorious dreamlike sequence where the boys travel to another place beyond hate and fear.

Matt 5:39-41 -- I'm glad you included this cultural perspective about fighting back through yielding, like the water yields within the stream, and in that place of yielding is its strength.

-- Kim

Kristen said...

Great points, Kim-- I like your metaphor about the water. I will have to find that Carmi book; it sounds like something I'd really enjoy reading.

Anonymous said...

Samir and Yonatan is the winner of the 2001 Batchelder Award, which is for the top international book for young people translated into English. The general criteria for the award is that international books put in the hands of young people build bridges between cultures. It was translated from the Hebrew by Yael Lotan. It can be found at most libraries and is at your library, Kristen,

-- Kim

ukashray said...

It is interesting to find your response to Blood Brothers. I started his UK support group, ASHRAY recently and your friends may like to visit our website to keep updated on his current activities and learn more about the spiritual and cultural background to his work. Thanks for your 'Book Recommendation'. Everyone should read it. In Peace, Audrey

Kristen said...

Ukashray, thanks for the comment and the link! I have looked at your website and will look into it more soon. I'm very glad that this work of reconciliation is continuing.