The last couple of days here have been full and intriguing. Visits to many of the places associated with the life and ministry of Jesus have been ameliorated by the relative absence of crowds of other tourists. Frustration with the weak wi-fi signal at the place we are staying (Beatitudes) is minor – especially when realising that this is one problem Jesus didn’t have to address.
Our last full day began in Nazareth and Cana, but from there we drove to Haifa to meet Archbishop Elias Chacour, top man of the Melkite Church. The last time we came here we met him in Ibillin – this time we went to his home where the welcome was very warm.
Chacour’s story is well known through his books – particularly Blood Brothers. He is powerful, charismatic, but totally humane. He began by asking why we had come to the Holy Land in the first place. He wondered aloud why anyone goes to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Resurrection) in Jerusalem: “He is not there!” He listened to our questions and then told his story.
This is where political opinion about Israel-Palestine from a safe distance begins to look thin and inappropriate. This is not a man who speaks in terms of ideology or rights, but has lived through dispossession, witnessed murder, suffered injustice, fought against the dehumanising powers of authority and become more resolutely Christian through it all. His observations include:
- If ‘a thousand years are as a day’ to God, then Jesus was here the day before yesterday. We need a sense of perspective about time: Israel is a tiny baby in terms of time – and the story is not yet finished; indeed, it has barely begun.
- No one is born a Muslim, a Jew or a Christian: we are all born the same – as a baby made in the image of God. That’s the bit we forget first when our ideologies feed our raison d’etre.
- The Beatitudes tell us not to be passive, but rather to ‘straighten yourself up’, get out and get your hands dirty for the sake of the Kingdom of God. You can’t say to his ‘children of Gaza’, “Be happy because you mourn!”
- If you want peace and security, you have to pursue justice and integrity. And there is no justice where some are privileged over others. (Arab Israelis pay the same taxes as others, but get hugely reduced service by comparison – too many examples to cite here).
- Why is Chacour known in his passport as an ‘Arab National’ when no other people is known by their language? He is a Palestinian Arab Christian citizen of Israel, but his official papers say he is nobody and belongs nowhere.
- Christians in Israel-Palestine are united in their differences/denominations – not divided by them. So, whatever Rome or Canterbury or any of the Patriarchs might say, many of these Christians share worship and Eucharist together. Pressure strips away the rubbish and leaves us with what really matters.
- Violence only creates more violence: if you use violence, you will become the victim of violence.
- Justice is not partial: the Jew must have justice and security as well as the Palestinian – but not at the expense of the Palestinian who seems to be paying the price for other peoples’ persecution of the Jews. (Chacour’s childhood village welcomed the Israeli soldiers, housed them and fed them… only to see their promises abandoned and find themselves as refugees from their own homes and villages.)
- If friendship with Palestinians means hatred of Jews, then we don’t want your friendship. Love cannot come at the expense of hate.
- We should not waste time trying to pull down the wall that divides and imprisons in Israel – rather, we should build bridges until there are so many bridges over it that the wall will disappear.
More could be said, but I have to get on the bus. Maybe I’ll edit later and put the pictures in when I get home. In the meantime, Chacour leaves us with a serious challenge to Christian commitment as a way through the conflict that rends this wonderful place.