Updated: Oct 31, 2019
About 15 years ago I read the book Blood Brothers * by Elias Chacour. It had a huge impact on me when I first read it.
The book is "the unforgettable story of a Palestinian Christian working for peace in Israel."
Elias Chacour lived in a small Palestinian village in Galilee - not far from the Sea of Galilee and very near the Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus gave His Sermon on the Mount. Perhaps Jesus even walked on the same land where Elias lived. When we hear the word "Palestinian" we often associate that word with Muslim. But Elias' family and his village were Melkite Christians and his family had lived there since the first century. They were very proud of their heritage.
According to Elias they and their Jewish neighbors lived in peace in Palestine. All of that changed with the events in 1948.
Many American Christians point to political actions in Israel and make prophetical claims they do not know to be true. I recently had a discussion with two people about current events/ Israel/ End Times. I suggested they read this book and I decided it was time for me to re-read it to see what I think of it now. I could not put it down!
Elias Chacour had the unique perspective of being a Palestinian, but being a Christian too. Elias' family's fig orchard was located in the small town of Biram which was burnt and bulldozed by the Zionists. Even their church was destroyed and the church bell was taken. His family's home and land they had owned for centuries was destroyed and they were not allowed back on it. Elias could have chosen to hate. He didn't. He went to seminary in Paris, he holds a doctorate, speaks eleven languages, and he became a Melkite Catholic priest. He spent his life working for peace and reconciliation between the Palestinian and the Jewish people. Elias Chacour was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize 3 times and won many other awards for his efforts.
What I found particularly interesting was chapter 8 of the book which explains how it came about that the Jewish people were relocated to Israel after World War II.
The Jewish people had been horrifically persecuted during World War II. They needed a home and it was decided on Palestine.
Elias wrote, I had witnessed a terribly ironic twist of history in which the persecuted became the persecutor.
Timeline of events from chapter 8:
1. Zionism, the movement to find a home for the Jewish people, actually started way before World War II. It had been founded by Theodor Herzl. A conference was held in Basle, Switzerland in 1897 to discuss finding a homeland for the Jews. Palestine was on the table, but the conference also considered Argentina or Uganda and other alternatives. The leaders were pushing for Palestine. Many delegates objected because Palestine had established borders and had long been inhabited by the same people of a respectable culture. Devout Jews argued against Zionism because they recognized resettling any land would necessitate violence, something they were against.
As a result of this conference the Zionist leaders said they had adopted the principles of non-violence. This rallied the masses to their cause. In private though they still had their sight set on Palestine.
2. In the early 1900s the Palestinian people weren't paying attention to the Zionist movement. They were still struggling and suffering under the Turkish Ottoman Empire which had oppressed them for hundreds of years. At the end of World War I in 1918 the Turkish Ottoman Empire, which had been on the side of the Germans, collapsed.
The Mandate system was set up where more powerful nations would help weaker nations in establishing independent governments. Britain saw an opportunity in the Middle East and agreed to set up a temporary Mandate government in Palestine. The British would get rid of the Turks, set up a Mandate government, and would slowly withdraw and leave Palestine an independent nation. The Palestinian leaders agreed in 1920.
3. In Great Britain there existed Christian Restorationists. They were "a group that believed they might bring to pass - by manipulating world events and reestablishing the nation of Israel - the Second Coming of Christ." (Whoa Nellie! I could not believe this when I read it. What in the world? The Second Coming of Christ will come when God wills it. Not by the meddling of men.) The Zionists aligned themselves with the Christian Restorationists because they both had the same goal - obtain Palestine.
According to what Lord Balfour wrote, the Cabinet favored creating a Jewish homeland in Palestine. But his motives might not have been motivated out of love for the Jewish people since he had played a big role in passing the Aliens Act of 1906 which sought to exclude Jews from Great Britain. Lord Balfour also wrote to the British Cabinet that they had always intended to violate the agreement with the Palestinian leaders.
4. When the Palestinians found out that the Zionists and the Restorationists and the Cabinet all supported a Jewish homeland in Palestine and that Britain did not intend to hold up their part of the Mandate government where they would let Palestine be an independent nation, they tried to reason with Britain through diplomatic channels. For years they tried diplomacy to no avail. Unrest grew in Palestine.
5. In the 1920s more and more European Jews immigrated to Palestine under the approval of Great Britain. They bought up land with money from the Zionists, and built hospitals and schools that were not open to the Palestinians. Resentment grew.
6. Even many Zionists warned the situation was not morally right and that the Zionist Party should try to live in unity with their Arab neighbors. Sadly this group did not have the loudest voice. All Jews did not hate Palestinians.
7. In the 1930s the British government allowed Jewish settlers to flood into Palestine. The plan to displace the Palestinian people who had lived on the land for centuries was now apparent. Anti-immigration demonstrations broke out in violence in 1935.
8. In 1936 the Palestinians protested by going on a general strike for six months. The Zionist trade union retaliated by terrorizing Jewish businesses that employed any Palestinians. Palestinian fields and vineyards were damaged. Guards kept Palestinian workers out of orchards. The Palestinian protest was put down in 1938.
9. By then the world had begun to see the persecution of the Jews. Their sympathies went out to the Jewish people. It is important to note that while the world was mortified at this persecution of the Jews, no major Western nation increased its quota of Jewish immigrants. Instead they sent them to Palestine which the British government controlled. While these new immigrants to Palestine flooded in and bought up the land and took the jobs, we in the West were silent. We were complicit.
10. Propaganda played an important role in all of this. The Zionists renamed the protests of 1936-38 "The Arab Rebellion." (Note at the time it was true the majority of Palestinians were Muslim, but there were a significant percentage of Christian Palestinians. In 1922 approximately 10% of the Palestinians were Christian. In 1946 this percentage had dropped to 8%. In 2015 the percentage of Palestinian Christians has dropped to 2%. Realize the terms "Palestinians" and "Arab" refer to Christians and Muslims.) They coined the phrase "Palestinian terrorist" and that is how the world perceived them. The world did not see the Palestinians as freedom fighters. The new Jewish immigrants were indoctrinated that the Palestinians were their enemies. Perhaps they were. The media fed it. The Western nations believed it. If we here in America suddenly found ourselves in the same situation - immigrants flooding in with no control, taking our land and our jobs - do you not think we would protest? Would we resort to violence? And the Palestinians did resort to violence. Anger on both sides spilled over.
11. In 1939 the British government reversed their stance and banned further land purchases and immigration in Palestine. But by then the Zionists were very powerful and they turned their forces (and guns) on the British.
12. World War II occurs. We all know what horrific things happened to the Jewish people. The world wanted to help them.
13. The Zionists, getting nowhere with Great Britain, started focusing on the United States for support. President Roosevelt was unwilling to displace the Palestinian people. He instead wanted all of the free nations to open their doors to the survivors of the Holocaust. But Roosevelt dies and Harry Truman becomes president. The Zionists lobbied him and got his support. When Arab leaders spoke with Truman he said, "I am sorry, gentlemen, but I have to answer to hundreds of thousands of those who are anxious for the success of Zionism; I do not have hundreds of thousands of Arabs among my constituents."
14. The Zionists continued to fight the British in Palestine. In 1946 a militant right-wing Zionist organization bombed the King David Hotel (the British administrative headquarters were located there) killing almost 100 people. Do not judge the Jewish people by the actions of a faction of them. I certainly don't want to be judged by some of the actions of my government on which I have no control over. Most of what happens in the world is decided by a few in power and the rest of us get swept along by their decisions whether we agree or not.
15. The Zionists petitioned the United Nations to make Palestine their homeland. The U.N. decided to partition Palestine in a compromise. The world leaders went along. This compromise strongly favored the Zionists. The Zionists were given the majority of Palestine (54% although they only owned 7% of the land.) In five major areas that were being handed over; well over half the people - up to seventy and eighty, even ninety-nine 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. It gave away the vast Negev region where the Bedouins produced most of the barley and wheat grown in Palestine.
16. Thus the vast majority of the Holocaust victims were never given a choice as to where they would live; only twenty thousand were admitted to large, free countries like the U.S. in the three years following the war. Oh, if only the free countries had opened up to the Jewish Holocaust survivors, things might have turned out very different.
17. Britain had suffered tremendous loss by the long war in Europe. They were battered and bruised. They were no longer willing to spend the money and lose more lives in the conflict with the Zionists. In 1947 shortly after the U.N. vote to partition Palestine, they announced they would pull out their Mandate government by May 15, 1948. What was supposed to be a temporary government lasted 28 years. What was supposed to leave Palestine as an independent nation left Palestine in a tangled mess.
18. As the British began pulling out the violence in Palestine spread. The Zionists declared they were fighting a "War of Independence." The Palestinians saw it differently and said they were freedom fighters. With the Holocaust fresh on the minds of everyone and wanting to help the persecuted Jewish people, the Western world sided with the Zionists. Terror spread in Palestine. And the Palestinians were way out matched. And their rights got pulverized.
17. On May 14, 1948 the State of Israel was established. And on that same day U.S. President Harry Truman recognized Israel as a nation.
And the violence continued.
In 1967 the United Nations tried to get Israel to address the Palestinian refugee situation. The talks dragged on. Some Arab nations tried to force Israel's hand and Israel came down with all of its might and won the Six Day War.
The violence. It continues today.
On both sides.
One in three refugees worldwide is Palestinian.
There are over 7 million Palestinian refugees worldwide.
More than 4 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants displaced in 1948 are registered for humanitarian assistance with the United Nations.
Palestinian refugees represent the longest suffering and largest refugee population in the world.
We humans can do better.
Who started it?
It certainly wasn't the terrified persecuted Jewish people coming out of the Holocaust who were looking for a home.
It certainly wasn't the Palestinians who had their homes and jobs and land taken from them.
It certainly isn't the fault of the Jewish and Palestinian generations born since then. They had no say in any of this. Seventy plus long years have gone by. People have been born and people have died and the situation has not changed for the better.
It was the people who sit behind closed doors high up in the governments. The ones making the deals and the decisions. People often bring religion into this conflict. I don't think religion was the driving force. It appears to me it is much more about power - who has it and who doesn't. And it is about decades of hate, violence and injustice on both sides that is going to be hard to move past.
The truth is Isaiah 56:1-8 tells us that foreigners will be included in God's people and the LORD will gather others to those already gathered.
How do we change it?
Elias Chacour wrote:
Suddenly I knew that the first step toward reconciling Jew and Palestinian was the restoration of human dignity.
Yes, we change it by the restoration of human dignity. What might that look like? Giving people hope with education and training, medical care, jobs, opportunities...
But how do we do that? What power do we have?
We can start by remembering that each person is someone that matters to God. That love thy neighbor is just not the person living in the house beside you. And it certainly isn't just the people of our own faith. Jesus told us to love.
We have prayer. Don't underestimate the power of prayer for a solution. God is sovereign. He controls the fate of the nations. He hears our prayers.
We are told to forgive our enemies. We must ask God for the strength to do that.
We have our voices to be advocates of peace.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
These are the words of our Lord as he taught the Sermon on the Mount.
The past can't be re-written. It is what it is.
The future is where our hope lies. May God lift up leaders with solutions. May God bring peace.
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Blood Brothers by Elias Chacour, copyright 1984, 2003, 2013; Published by Chosen Books a division of Baker Book House Company.