National Lutheran News

Christian Palestinians are an essential part of the Holy Land solution

An urgent plea for peace

Father Elias Chacour loves his job and his homeland. He is the Archbishop of
Akko, Faifa, Nazareth, and Galilee in the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. With
so many holy sites under his jurisdiction, Chacour is happy to think of what
he loves most.

“The Galilee is known for being green. That makes the people hospitable,”
Chacour claims. “Galilee for us Christians is the Galilee of the Resurrection. It
is there that Christ appeared so often to his disciples.”

There is certainly a rich diversity in Chacour’s territory. A number of Christian
denominations are represented, with Melkite Catholics as the largest with
about 76,000 people. In addition, there are 40,000 Greek Orthodox, 11,000
Roman Catholic, and smaller numbers of Mennonite, Lutheran, and other
Protestant groups. “And 54 percent of Galileans are Gentiles,” Chacour adds.
But who are the Melkite Christians? “The Melkites are the Byzantine Christians
who remained in communion with Rome when the Big Schism of the eleventh
century took place,” explains Chacour. “During this time the pope and the
patriarch of Constantinople were sworn enemies. In fact, they
excommunicated each other.”

The King of Constantinople, however, was against his own patriarch. That’s
why he remained faithful to Rome. “So they became the ‘Royalists,’ or the
Melkites, because the King stayed with Rome; in Arabic and Hebrew that is
the word for royalty.”

Chacour is probably best known internationally for his book titled We Belong
to the Land, which he wrote in order to explain to those who don’t know that
the common claim for the same land is the primary reason for the conflict in
the Middle East. “The land is so important to us that we teach our children to
be respectful of wherever they are walking.”

“The land is more than just real estate; it is part of our identity,” the
Archbishop of the Galilee goes on to explain. “Only the land will decide
whether there is a conflict resolution or a conflict conflagration.”

“It’s not about religion or ideology. It’s about territory. Either we see that we
belong to the land, the land doesn’t belong to us, or we won’t survive.
“But we also have to be able to say, ‘[The neighbor] belongs to the land.’ We
have to learn to share.”

“If I despise you or negate you constantly, how can there be peace?” Chacour
asks. “There is a need for mutual recognition, acceptance, and respect.”
“The land is God’s, and we must together as Israelis and Palestinians, learn to
use the land to glorify God.”

Palestinians and Jews have the same length of history on that land. Chacour
warns, “We must consider the Bible. Isaiah in the third chapter says, ‘Woe to
those who join one piece of land to another, who confiscate one house after
the other until they believe it is their own. They will be deported naked as
when they came out of their mother’s wombs’.”

Chacour warns that a selective reading of the Bible to support one’s own
position is a crime against God and a crime against humanity. “If you use
Biblical arguments to justify your political and geographical rights, you are
making God the granter of your arguments, and there is no way for any
concession.”

While preaching at a Luther Seminary chapel service, Chacour announced that
he came as a beggar — not for money, but for friendship, for solidarity with
Palestinian Christians.

Chacour asks those people who visit the Holy Land to put aside at least one
day to share food and water with Palestinian Christians. “We are very
hospitable, and will share our food, and tell you the story of the open tomb.
When you are an archbishop of a land that includes people named Jesus,
Mary, and Judas, you realize you have a responsibility. And you recognize
that you need to be in relationship with other Christians around the world.