Three-time Nobel nominee talks peace and reconciliation in Dillon |

Three-time Nobel nominee talks peace and reconciliation in Dillon

Summit Daily/Brad Odekirk

DILLON – Not that Father Elias Chacour ever stumbles for things to talk about, but last Wednesday’s election – in which the Palestinian militant group Hamas claimed 76 of 132 parliament seats – gave his Summit County audience plenty to throw his way in Sunday morning’s talk at Lord of the Mountains Lutheran Church in Dillon. The three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee and winner of numerous other honors, most recently the 2005 America’s First Freedom Peace Award, lightly hails himself a Palestinian Arab Christian Israeli. No stranger to political turmoil, the Melkite Catholic priest was born in Galilee in 1939. By 1948, his family – along with the rest of the townspeople – had been evicted from their village. He’s been threatened multiple times and kidnapped once even by the PLO, yet he says people tend to get a bit over-political in their views.”You are strange people in America,” he offered with a calm smile. “You want to reduce me to a politician, which I am not. You feed yourselves with politics. … A very clean democratic election, that’s what you want, no?”Much of the audience sighed in agreement.

Chacour said it should be no surprise that a group that has been traditionally viewed as fringe has come to the center of power in Palestine. Pointing out that Hamas scored a mere 7.5 percent of the vote in the last election, he said the Palestinian climate has changed enough that “slowly, the only ones who knew what they wanted to do were the extremists.” He said Hamas seemed increasingly viable as the ailing Yasser Arafat loosened his grip on Palestine-Israel affairs, and as the premise of the last election – peace with Israel – appeared to be lost.Discussing the treatment of Palestinians, one audience member referred to them as “second-class citizens.” Chacour paused briefly and said they couldn’t be characterized as any form of citizen when “they are hardly considered human beings.”He said it’s now up to Hamas to decide what it wants to do, and he hopes the group can see the wisdom to negotiate and “drop aside violent means.”It remains to be seen if that can happen. Chacour cautions against using old religious agreements to justify modern politics, arguing that it simply creates religious tensions.

Sunday’s talk was entitled “Reconciliation between Jews and Palestinians: Dream or Utopia?” In previous interviews Chacour has argued that tension between Palestinians and Jews in Israel is not a religious or racial problem, but rather “the identical claims of two nations on the same territory.”He says the way out is simple, but that men and politicians are extremely complicated.”Peace is not a goal in itself,” he said in a previous interview. “Peace is the result of a certain quality of human relations. And if you want peace and security, pursue justice and integrity.”And justice does not mean to settle accounts. Justice means to learn how to forgive, to make concessions, to reconcile … “

If that does not seem applicable in the quagmire of Jewish-Palestinian relations, consider the success of the Mar Elias Educational Institute in Ibilin, Galilee. Chacour founded the high school in 1982, and it continues to grow, with children from Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths studying side by side. The school is hailed as a place where students can establish a common future together, and Chacour says they’ve seen no major conflicts in the 23-year history of the school, with 4,500 students coming through its doors.Addressing the notion of younger generations making change, he says teaching is paramount. “It’s not the generation that decides,” he says. “It’s the education you give the generation.” He notes that within that lie the concepts of respect and suspect, and overcoming the difference.That said, Chacour says tolerance is bunk. “I hate tolerance,” he said, noting that people need to “accept the otherness of the other,” and take things a step beyond merely tolerating one another.Chacour favors the idea of people rediscovering their original identities. To him, that is not as a Jew, Muslim or Christian, but merely as a baby. “I try to create a small center of hope,” he says.

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