Naïvely, I have always viewed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in terms of Jews and Muslims. The descendants of Isaac and the descendants of Ishmael. Of course, nothing is as black and white and the conflict over Israel and Palestine impacts many more people than those two particular groups.
Elias Chacour’s memoir, Blood Brothers reminds me again and again that we are bound by much more than religion, political views, and geography. If we are to truly live out the upside down, peacemaking message of Jesus, it does us no good to divide into separate categories.
Chacour brings his own story of belonging to one of those other groups to life. As a Melkite Greek Catholic, Chacour imagines that his family, who had farmed the same area of land in Galilee, may have “eaten bread and fish miraculously multiplied by Jesus’s hand” (33). That is to say, his family have been Christians since the earliest followers of Jesus and they have lived in Palestine longer.
And yet, when the Zionists began claiming the land of Palestine in the 1940’s, Chacour’s family, supporters of their Jewish neighbors and those who wanted to settle in Palestine, were forced to leave and live out their lives as refugees.
I have a lot of mixed feelings about which “side” is the right side. Our neighbors are from Israel; my husband’s family is Jewish; I was raised with the Evangelical ideal that Americans support Israeli Jews without question. And yet, my heart aches for those who were forced to leave their homes and who have lived in exile for generations. I grapple with my belief that we are called to help the refugee, to pursue peace, to turn the other cheek with the complex idea of justice and how that looks for so many opposing sides.
What Chacour reminds me, is that this particular conflict is the work of politics, not of people. Through money and distorted vision and broken treaties, the land of Palestine has been broken by political manipulation. Chacour’s Jewish neighbors were just as shocked and saddened to see the destruction of homes and families as the Palestinians themselves.
Chacour has devoted his life to living out this radical message that the peacemakers are blessed; that Jesus cares for all people, regardless of religious beliefs; that as long as we feel there are sides to this story, we will never achieve understanding or peace.
This third way—of not taking sides at all, but of working with and loving everyone—is incredibly radical. Chacour’s main goal of restoring hope and dignity to the Palestinian people through education and training is much more groundbreaking than any political negotiations will offer.
What stuck with me throughout this book was Chacour’s own struggle to overcome his deep hurt and anger with a response of peace. I appreciated that he recognized anger at injustice, but did not make that anger the root of his work—he is rooted in peace.
In 1965, Chacour’s perspective changes from viewing the Zionists as the cause of the conflicts between neighbors. As he processes yet another bombing he recalls, “For the first time, I saw clearly the face of my true enemy and the enemy of all who are friends of God and of peace. It was not the Zionists, but the demon of militarism.” (131) He recognizes that as a Christian and a pacifist, he will not combat hate and bombs with more hatred and bombings. He wonders about the balance, “As a Christian do you speak out against the actions of your enemies—or do you allow them to crush the life out of you?” (133)
With recent decisions made by my own government, I have vacillated between fear for my neighbors, anger at those in power, and a desire to act and give my own time and talents. How do I push back peacefully, without vilifying the other side? For, as long as we make our neighbors into our enemies, we won’t be able to combat the true enemy.
Chacour reminds me again and again that people cannot be enemies. We are all capable of violence, of discrimination, and of hatred. When we get caught up in politics and ideology that is not aligned with the peace of Christ, we turn our neighbors into enemies. But when we include the other side in our work toward peace, that is when we see this upside down kingdom of Jesus.
He finishes his story with this invitation:
“My challenge, really, my provocation—for you to get up, to go forward, to do something, to take the risk and to make a difference … for justice and peace.” (227)
Questions for Reflection:
- How do you stand with the oppressed without making an enemy of those in power?
- How do you practically live out the upside down view of peacemaking that Jesus preached?
- Chacour reminds me that we see terrorism where we want to and can read the news through a skewed lens. What are some practices you keep in finding a balanced way of staying informed?