Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Reflections on Israel and Palestine, Part Five:

            Book Review: Elias Chacour, Blood Brothers: The Dramatic Story of a Palestinian Christian Working for Peace in Israel.

For me, and many other seminary students in my generation, the reading of Elie Wiesel’s Night, first published in English in 1960, was a sort of moral and ethical rite of passage. We need to know about evil. We need to know about the real, full expression of evil in our world: the Holocaust. Because of his life, witness and writings Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. Now I wonder if a whole generation of students, like me, would have a deeper, a more sophisticated and larger understanding of morality, ethics and history if we had read Elias Chacour’s Blood Brothers along side of Night. These two books, Night and Blood Brothers, belong together and should be well read side by side.

Since my study tour of Israel and Palestine, I have been intellectually distraught by a stunning and simple question: Why did I not learn what happened to the Palestinian people after World War II? I am disturbed by the answer which I am beginning to discern. In our culture, what I learn, what I read, my worldview and the contours of my deepest convictions and moral commitments may be, in important ways, controlled and imposed on me. How is what I learn and believe decided?

            I have a stunning photograph from Israel. The photograph itself shows a beautiful, grassy, green hillside behind a secure fence; it is the story that is stunning. In Israel it is a piece of land set aside as a “forest preserve”, it is now an idyllic place with beautiful trees. It is the location of a Palestinian village which was taken by the Israeli’s in 1948 and all of the Palestinian residents were forced to leave. Now there is no sign of the Palestinian village; the village has been eliminated, destroyed and plowed into the ground. A village has been transformed into a forest preserve.

            Elias Chacour tells the story of his family who were living in one of the small, Palestinian villages when the land was given to the Israelis by the great powers after World War II. Why did I never learn this history from the viewpoint of the people who had lived in these villages for generations? Chacour writes:

            Palestine was first partitioned in what the United Nations called a “compromise”. Our elders and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians throughout the land were shocked beyond words, for the terms of the “compromise” were brutal.
            The Zionists were given possession of the majority of Palestine – 54 percent – even though the owned only 7 percent of the land! In five major areas that were being handed over, well over half the people – up to 70 and 80, even 99 percent – were Palestinians. The “compromise” gave the Zionists almost all the fertile land, including the huge, main citrus groves that accounted for most of our people’s export income.
               How had such a sweeping and one-sided decision been reached? Among the nations of the world, the United Nations vote was accepted without question or protest.”

            The United Nations decisions allowing the creation of the state of Israel on Palestinian land was more than fifty years ago. I did not know the reality on this history until I snapped that nice photograph of an Israeli forest preserve. I have not listened to or understood the pleading voices of Palestinian Christians. Elias Chacour is an important voice; can I hear? My deeper, soul-searching questions involve the ways and reasons why I have been taught that these people and their stories should not be heard. 

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”   Psalm 122: 6