As I’ve been approaching the time to go home, and feeling excited but also apprehensive as to how to share my experience with friends and people at churches, I was looking forward to meeting with Abuna (Father) Elias Chacour (click here for another bio) last week. Abuna (as everyone refers to him in I’billin) actually came and spoke at my alma mater a few years ago while I was there, but I was unable to attend the lecture. He has quite a connection with Whitworth as well as the Christian community in Spokane (specifically First Presbyterian Church), and one of my professors at Princeton knows him well, so I had many greetings to bring him.
Chacour is most well-known for his book, Blood Brothers (you can read the first 6 chapters here), and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize on three separate occasions. He is now the priest of the Church of the Sermon on the Mount, a beautiful newly-constructed Greek Catholic church (see pictures of this beautiful church here). In fact, if you go and look at the pictures, you’ll see the beautiful door that was given as a gift by the Spokane Christian Community, as well as the name of one of my professors at Whitworth on the plaque: Raja Tanas.
I had a chance to meet with Abuna Chacour briefly last week. It was a short meeting, but it was good to hear his perspective on some of my experiences and the things that I’ve seen. One of the things that I’ve heard on this blog a lot, and something that I’m expecting to hear when I go home is: “Well, what about the other side?” or “Don’t you think your summer experience was a little biased? I mean, how many Jews did you spend time with?” His response to this was short, but to the point: “But when you are in the refugee camp who have lived in the camp for 57 years and you see that they are suffering…? What do you need to know more than that?”
Below are a few more quotes from the conversation that we had.
On the need to be open to new discoveries: “You prefer like those people of the government of Plato, to continue seeing the shadows than discovering the reality. Well, that’s very human. We need to question our certainties in the presence of what we discover about the concrete reality. We need to accept that when we met with the Jews after the Holocaust, we had to admit that the whole bunch of people were very wrong when they accepted the prejudices that Jews were dirty…And many people in the United States are afraid to discover that they were wrong in their belief [about Palestinians]…and unless we do that, we will always remain sick people, we will always remain misled people, we will always remain blind people. And the genuinety (sic) of the human being is when you discover something new, when you react to that new thing and you do away with what was not true.”
On why people don’t have hope: “Religions do not give so much hope. It’s people who believe in that religion, that give or give up hope. Why do you want him to find hope in his religion, whether Muslim or Christian, if for 57 years he was thrown in a refugee camp with nothing to do, with no human right to practice except to make children. And his children and grandchildren grew up healthy, intelligent but with no future. Why don’t you go and blow up yourself…? It’s because your life is meaningful for you – it’s because you have a future, you have a vision, you have a hope, you have something to live for. But kids in Gaza have nothing to live for, except to wait for the next coming humiliation from the army. And they have nothing to wait for, except to grow up naturally, to mature physically and to couple with a lady or with a man, and make children. And that’s no human life – that’s animal’s life. And unless you in America would understand that human beings have a sense of dignity and self-esteem. Take their dignity and their self-esteem and there is nothing that remains but despair and hopelessness.”
How the location of people (Gaza vs Galilee vs West Bank) affects the hope people have or don’t have: “Take our youth in Galilee. You will not find anyone who would even contemplate to hurt a Jew, not even so much to commit suicide, but to hurt someone else. Because they have a future, they have something to live for. Life means something good for them. They will not be the victims of humiliation again and again every day.”
On the US campaign against terror: “Take all what the United States is doing against terror. You created your own monster. You created your own monster, that was hidden in a bottle and you let the giant get out – and now you are nurturing him. And the way, I think, to do away with terror, is to practice a minimum amount of justice. It’s not Islam who is organizing terror – it is the injustices that are in the Muslim world, as well as in Latin America, as well as in Africa, that brings people to resort to violence and to terror because they are fed up with being used and abused.”
On how to share what I’ve experienced this summer: “You have to learn to keep silence. And you have to learn to be patient. And you have to be aware that the experience you passed through, that might be life changing, your people, your friends did not pass through this experience. They are were you were 3 months ago before you came here. And that’s why you have to tolerate that they say you are biased, they say you are one-sided, and you don’t need to defend yourself and protect yourself always by words. And sometimes you have to say something. But whatever you say should not be in contradiction with what you experienced. Even the closest friends, even your parents, might accuse you of being brainwashed. You don’t need to prove to them that you are not brainwashed…But you need to learn how to keep silence, and not with everybody to start arguing. Some people…you cannot argue with these people, you just have to pray and fast for them.”