• FEATURES \ Nov 03, 2003
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    Chacour: Sharing Holy Land would resolve the conflict
Chacour: Sharing Holy Land would resolve the conflict
MISHAWAKA -- The Rev. Elias Chacour is clear about the differences between Jewish and Palestinian groups in his homeland of Israel.

But he's also clear about their similarities.

"We all pride ourselves to be the children of Abraham of Mesopotamia, now Iraq," Chacour said Friday afternoon.

The historic conflict between the groups isn't about race or religion, Chacour told a group of about 45 clergy gathered at First United Methodist Church of Mishawaka. It's about both groups wanting the same territory they call the Holy Land.

"We need to learn to share the land together," said Chacour, a three-time nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize and winner of other awards for his ongoing work to create peace in Israel.

Chacour is a Palestinian Christian who became a Catholic priest. He founded Mars Elias Educational Institution in Galilee for students of all faiths. It now has more than 4,500 students. This fall, after several years of work, Chacour opened Mars Elias University, the first Arab-Christian-Israeli higher education institution, he said. The University of Indianapolis is involved in that effort.

The school opened this fall in Galilee, and he now has to give care to raising it like a child after birth, he said. Birth plays a key role in how he views his neighbors, too. "We were all, first of all, born babies in the image and likeness of God," he said, later adding, "I am a Christian. Born Christian? No. I was born a baby, as I told you."

That similarity as children of God is what should bind people together, whether they are Jew, Christian or Muslim, he said.

The Palestinian suicide bombers and Israeli military are going against God's orders not to kill. "He orders us, 'Kill not.' We should ask why do we continue killing? Why do we keep making weapons that can kill other human beings?" said Chacour.

Chacour urges people to look beyond the headlines and ask why suicide bombers are desperate enough to take their own and others' lives. He said it's because of despair felt by individuals who no longer want to live as refugees. "Many young people prefer death to ongoing life of humiliation," he said.

Rabbi Michael Friedland of Sinai Synagogue in South Bend challenged Chacour during the question and answer time. He said Palestinian suicide bombings prompted Israeli troops to be returned to occupied territories. The two talked publicly, and Chacour later told Friedland, "The Jew was not born to be the police for the Palestinian. The Palestinian was not born with two stones. ... If I do not make concessions on what I deserve, I cannot ask you to do the same."

Jews and Arabs could and should live together on the land they both cherish, said Chacour. Good leaders are needed on both sides, but people interested in peace must not just contemplate it, but act to help create it. People must give up violence and revenge for peace to grow. "If we don't work side by side we shall continue the tragic dance of death to hang beside each other, God forbid," he said.