It doesn’t happen every day that I am invited to write a column in a promising and ambitious magazine such as Presence. Who am I to be asked to write for the wider public? Is what I live, what I am and what I know of any real value to anyone except myself and my close relatives and kindred?
I am not a man who has enjoyed peace. For most of my life I have been living in the midst of repeatedly murderous conflict—the longest of the past century. I have witnessed the killing of my brothers and of my people on both sides of the conflict, and both were part of myself. Every time one has been killed it was as though an important part of my own self was mutilated. In a very real way it has been as though I have died.
Whenever a Jew or a Palestinian dies—killed by each other’s hands—I ache deeply because both are persecuted nations. They both have suffered too long to deserve more suffering.
The two parties are blood brothers, each claiming to be the children of one father whose name was Abraham. He, Abraham, does not identify with either of them exclusively. He is their common father, the Iraqi Friend of God, the Bearer of the Promise and the Patriarch seated at the right hand of God the Father. He is the gentile living among gentile nations.
Why me? Who am I? It might be helpful for you to know whose writing you are invited to read. Doctors know somehow about the various diseases, but patients experience the disease. As patients long for their doctors to truly understand the nature of their complaint, so do I long for you to acknowledge us, the Palestinian people, our very presence and who we are and then for you to embrace us in solidarity, partnership and friendship.
Let me introduce myself. I am another man from Galilee. I am a peasant from the village Baram, born in the north of Israel, not far from the Sea of Galilee. I know who I am but I can’t identify with any of the human labels, Palestinian-Arab-Christian-Citizen of Israel, as being the main feature of my identity. Indeed, I bear all the contradictions, whether religious, national or ethnic. I am a Palestinian-Arab-Christian-Israeli. I am at the same time none of these facets. It is virtually impossible to give any scale of priority to any one of the four sides. I love my socio-political and religious reality and yet I am none of them exclusively.
Who, then, am I? What and which one was I at my birth? I was born a baby in the image and with the likeness of God. Not more—but not less either. I am exactly like you; you are exactly born like me. We are alike, no matter whether we were born in a Palestinian home and family, or in a Christian family, an Arab family, or born and became citizen of Israel. I have survived eight wars and two big intifadas. I am living with and have become an integral part of two nations. One wanted independence and won physical independence and the other is still struggling for independence, for liberation. The road to freedom still seems to be very long and the price for freedom very high.
I have learned that one is never given freedom and independence. Freedom and independence are earned, not given. They are taken with much determination—never given as a charity. Both peoples will not give each other the pragmatic and real recognition of their origins and their roots—being born babies in the image and with the likeness of the almighty Creator (Genesis 1:27). I wish I could invite them all, every one of them, to look in the mirror in my study, to look alone once and then with the others. No matter who the others might be, friends or enemies, and in the mirror to read, and remember, and accept the fact, they are looking at what God has created as most beautiful. They should remember that God does not kill his own creatures, God does not kill.
This is the reason we human beings have abused and are abusing God’s silence. We oppress and kill after persecuting each other. We justify our crimes by registering them on God’s account. And because God is now silent, we forget to ask the crucial questions He asked humanity early in our history: Man, where are you? In other terms, why are you hiding? The second question is, Man, where is your brother? Cain killed his brother. He did not accept responsibility for his brother’s life and survival. That is why he answered the Creator’s question with Am I my brother’s custodian? If you look into my mirror and read what is written underneath it, you would rather answer the Creator, Yes Lord, I am my brother's custodian.
From this attitude and from this faith comes the truth that we are all—every one of us—responsible for what happens to anyone else anywhere. The responsibility does not always need to be coupled with guilt. This kind of responsibility of facing evil should mean to create an alliance that stands in front of every persecutor. This means to do everything possible in order to respect every human being, and to stop the persecution against anybody, anywhere, at any time. I am not what others have labeled me so easily, without any consideration for what I am. Any portrait of me, other than the one the Creator gave me, is totally wrong and discriminatory.
Consider the roots—our roots, and my roots—the essence of human beings. The additive qualities or appellations should aim at awakening the awareness of everyone, at our origins. In Byzantine theology the other is an icon of God. You see God on your neighbor’s face. The face of the other is the face of God.
This vision, although easily related to the three monotheistic religions, remains nonetheless far from identifying with any of them. The three monotheistic religions are, so far, unable to create unity within the diversity of human groups. Did they become, or even were born, to segregate and to divide people instead of uniting them? Is there any possible way to live together and bring to completion doing good and pursuing justice? Is there a way to collaborate together in order to make human society more human for humans? Is there a way to convince all of us, or at least the leaders, that everyone is created a baby in the image and with the likeness of God? Why do we continue to hide behind our preconceived ideas and our prejudices? Can we—are we—ready to set human beings free from our own preset agendas?
Sometimes I get angry at our human sectarianism because it makes us blind to reality. We are preconditioned to see only our own sector of life, belief and culture. Those who are more enlightened risk being overcome by despair. There is so much violence, so much anger and hatred.
We are tempted to give up; to raise our arms saying I can do no more. It is too much for me. I would rather let go. There is no hope any more. To all these brothers and sisters I wish to end with this Galilean short story:
The storm was madly raging and the wind was blowing fast and destructively. No pity and no kindness above the beautiful green forests. The branches of the trees started beating each other, destroying each other’s leaves. Even the fresh branches were mercilessly broken from beating against each other. It was a kind of apocalyptic vision of destruction. Every tree lost so many of its branches and these were hanging in chaotic order on the bigger branches. At that time a passerby saw the damaged forest and started blaming these crazy foolish trees. The trees are destroying each other. One of the trees that was severely damaged heard the passerby. She said to him, My friend, don’t you see the cruel storm? Don’t you feel the merciless wind? We the trees are the victims of the storm and of the wind. Nonetheless, I wish you knew that no matter what, all the time our roots are embracing, we are stronger than the storm. We shall survive!
ABUNA ELIAS CHACOUR is the president of Prophet Elias Community College
in Ibillin, Israel. He is the author of Blood Brothers (1984) and We Belong
to the Land (1997). He is the first Palestinian to earn a degree from Hebrew
University in Jerusalem, and has been nominated three times for the Nobel
Peace Prize for his work of building schools, libraries and community centers
throughout Galilee. During 2001, Chacour is a guest columnist in Presence