Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. —Matthew 5:9
Last fall, my local YMCA hosted a workshop with guests from the Jerusalem International YMCA. The speakers, a Palestinian Christian man and an Israeli Jewish woman, came to talk about how the Y in Jerusalem is doing the work of peace. They talked of their ethnically and religiously diverse staff, their beautiful hotel that hosts guests of all nations and races, their policy of open welcome and acceptance. They told us about their preschool, where classrooms house teachers and children who are Christian, Jew, and Muslim and where they speak and teach in more than one language to foster an appreciation for others’ traditions. They told us that to enter the preschool, you pass a sign that says, “We all laugh in the same language.”
To be honest, I’ve never really paid much attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While I’ve heard it mentioned in the news and by our government officials for most of my life, it’s always seemed like a complicated, unending struggle I didn’t understand. I’ve only ever had vague ideas in my mind about biblical prophecy, religious zeal, and acts of terror in the name of staking claim to the land. This month’s Red Couch selection has been an education.
Blood Brothers is the story of Elias Chacour, a Palestinian Christian working for peace in the Middle East. Chacour was just a child when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict began, and the book recounts his journey of love for those on both sides of the struggle. He provides detailed historical background and reflects on biblical prophecy, all the while sharing his steadfast love for Jesus and his desire for peace and reconciliation.
In some ways, I’m grateful that I came to this book with little bias or prior knowledge. I had no preconceptions to overcome, no stereotypes to break down, no stance to challenge. But Chacour isn’t asking us to take sides anyway. It is with the most generous grace that he asks us simply to see the people tangled up in decades of struggle. He was taught this profound grace by his parents who, throughout the book, bolster Chacour’s commitment to mercy and peace. In fact, the most beautiful thing about Chacour’s story is the myriad ways that he walks with his Friend, Jesus, just as his parents taught him.
“She took on a gentle strength, and to anyone around her it gave the solidness of hope. Mother’s greatest comfort was in prayer … To Mother, peace came not from habit or ritual words, but from talking to a dearly respected Friend—One who cared for us.” (p. 60).
Chacour’s faith is simple without being naive, and it calls him to act on behalf of his people. While others wish to turn their eyes away from the political complications and violence, Chacour leans in to them, believing that the work of peace is his great calling. Amid bombs and destruction, he sees how the gentle work of dedicated people in small villages can change hearts. “Peace is like a chain. And every link is important in its rightful place. Before me stood two commitments—one to God and one to my people. They were inextricably bound together. And suddenly, I knew I would rather be on God’s side, which is stronger than human might.” (p. 223).
The question he asks near the end of the book is this: “As a Christian do you speak out against the action of your enemies—or do you allow them to crush the life out of you? So many seemed to think that submitting to humiliation was the only Christian alternative. Should you not, sometimes, be stinging and preserving like salt?” (p. 133). Elias Chacour’s story is one of great striving, striving always toward peace and reconciliation and justice. He takes what we think we know about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and challenges it, asking us simply to remember that there are faces and families on all sides and that all people are God’s people.
So, I’ll hope you’ll join us in reading Blood Brothers this month and enter into this complicated, but important conversation. As you read, try to examine your preconceptions, if you have any. Try to recognize the ways this conflict has been framed in the Western world. Pay attention to the ways that Chacour relies on his faith and his Friend to work toward peace, break down barriers, and make room for all people.
- Are you joining us in reading Blood Brothers this month? What do you hope to find in this book?
- Have you read any books on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before? Which books stand out to you?
- A few years ago, we read The Lemon Tree on the Red Couch together. Here are the Introduction and Discussion posts.
- Whose Land? Whose Promise?: What Christians Are Not Being Told About Israel and the Palestinians– Gary M. Burg
- Justice and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation– Naim Stifan Ateek
- A Palestinian Christian Cry for Reconciliation– Naim Stifan Ateek
- Tea With Hezbollah: Sitting at the Enemies Table: Our Journey Through the Middle East– Ted Dekker and Carl Medearis
- A Wall in Jerusalem: Hope, Healing, and the Struggle for Justice in Israel and Palestine– Mark Braverman
- Whose Promised Land?– Colin Chapman
- Toward a Jewish Theology of Liberation– Marc Ellis
- Nothing More to Lose– Najwan Darwish
- Israel/Palestine 101 (video)
- History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict via Wikipedia
- Israeli-Palestinian Conflict via Wikipedia
- Current coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict via Huffington Post
- Bereaved (stories and photos)– New York Times
I am a wife, sister, daughter, and friend. I work at a non-profit by day and go to school at night, and try my best to find times to write in between. My biggest passions are travel—France, in particular—film, and good conversation. I live in New Jersey, where my husband and I open our house to others with good food and wine. I blog at Seek.Follow.Love about wrestling with faith and church, looking for meaning in the everyday, and feeling my way through life. I am on Facebook at @jywatkinswriter