“The perseverance of small, powerless drops of water dripping on the same rock, in the same place, ends by breaking the rock. In the same way, the power of faith with perseverance can break walls of hatred, of rejection, and of violent injustice.”*
The book sits on our book shelf, old and dusty with pages breaking out of the binding. The inscription on the first page says only this:
God does not kill!
It is signed by Elias Chacour – the author of this small paperback.
The book is titled Blood Brothers and I read it in 1990. Some books influence you for a week, some for a year, others for a lifetime. This book is in the last category.
Blood Brothers healed my eyesight.
Prior to reading it I had sympathy for Palestinians but held to my minimally researched view that saw things quite simply. The Jews, as the chosen people set apart for God, had a right to their land. It was the Abrahamic Covenant. Therefore, whatever they did to protect their country, their land was okay – the ends justifying the means and all that. Not completely okay – I would have twinges of doubt when I read news reports on the plight of Palestinians but in the big, eternal scheme of things okay. To think otherwise would be disloyal.
Or would it be disloyal? Was the situation for Palestinians really okay?
Blood Brothers tells the story of one Palestinian Christian and his struggle to reconcile what happened to his family in 1947 – 1948, a time when they were exiled from their home of generations. It captures his struggle as a Palestinian Christian and Israeli citizen who loved God and the word of God, and struggled with how to live at peace in the midst of conflict.
At the time I read the book we were living and working in Egypt and felt close to the conflict. I wrestled mightily with my feelings. Was I blinded by my surroundings? What about “chosen people?” What about covenants? It was during this time that my husband took a new job in Cairo starting a brand new Middle East Studies Program for American Christian students who wanted to learn about the Middle East. In directing this first ever program, he was tasked with several things. One of them was to give students a more balanced view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than the one narrative that they knew. He began to travel regularly to Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, and Golan Heights. Each time he returned he had more stories of the conflict, more tales of meeting with both Israelis and Palestinians. With each story I heard and each book I read, my eyes began to open and my vision began to heal.
A Short History
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict dates back years ago. Contrary to what many think, the conflict is not religious. It began, and continues, over land. The land that both Jews and Arabs claimed was called Palestine until 1948. Between 1948-1949, the land was divided into three parts: The State of Israel, West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. The West Bank and Gaza Strip were separate territories and movement between the two was difficult. Until that time Palestinians were in the majority and had lived peacefully, owning land, houses, olive groves, and vineyards for centuries.
As Israel became a nation, over a 2-year period they carried out a mass eviction, driving over 700,000 Palestinians from their homes. Over 85% of Palestinians were evicted from what then became the state of Israel. Palestinians call the 1948 event “al–nakba” literally meaning “the catastrophe.” Refugees by the thousands had to leave homes, families were separated and many lost their lives. To this day, the displacement of Palestinians has created a massive and near forgotten refugee crisis. In fact, Gaza is considered one of the worst places to live in the world. It is an overpopulated food desert with 60 percent of the water undrinkable, purposely kept this way by the state of Israel. In the years following al-nakba, laws were created that denied citizenship and previously owned land to Palestinians.
Many Christians have historically held to a belief in Israel as a blessed land, a land that has a unique place in history. They see the modern-day state of Israel as being much like the ancient land of Israel. I was much like one of those Christians. Yet, the modern day state of Israel is a secular state, and could hardly be described as a godly nation. It is not an example of biblical righteousness. In holding to this viewpoint, Western Christians have ignored what scripture says about the aliens and strangers in the land, they have ignored the breaking of a covenant relationship, and they have not questioned Israel’s policies and history.
In believing this way, Christians ignore the bigger story. We forget about Palestinian Christians – Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant. We forget about justice and peace and do not hold the nation of Israel accountable to a history of wrongs committed against Palestinians. The prophet Isaiah had strong words for a people who cared more about a nation than loving God and pursuing justice.
In Blood Brothers, Chacour challenges these beliefs, gently and patiently pointing to a way of justice. While he begins with his own story, he moves on to talk about the bigger picture. In his words, Western Christians visit Israel to see holy stones and holy sands, all the while ignoring the living stones – Palestinian Christians. His call is not to demonize Israel or Israelis, but rather a call to reconciliation, peace, and non violence.
Five years after I read Blood Brothers, I had my own opportunity to travel to Israel and Palestine with the group of students in the Middle East Studies Program. It was my husband’s 8th trip to the region and I got to experience first hand the stories I had read and heard. One day we would be sitting in a synagogue eating a Shabbat meal with Israeli Jews, the next day we would be in the home of Palestinians hearing their stories. The conflict became even more difficult because it now had faces and names. We visited ancient churches and we met those living stones that Elias Chacour talked about – Palestinian Christians. Despite all they had experienced, they still hoped for justice. They still hoped and longed for others to see what the Israeli Occupation was doing to Palestinians – both Muslim and Christian. They still hoped to live as equals in the land of Israel. I was deeply moved by the faith, resilience, and perseverance of these people of God. I began to see why Father Elias Chacour says to people “Don’t choose sides! Learn what it means to be a common friend to both Arabs and Jews!”
I began to see that true justice and peace is to believe that both Jews and Palestinians should be able to live side by side in safety and freedom, with Palestinians enjoying all the rights of citizenship including homes, land, jobs, freedom of movement, education, and hope. Demonizing either side was not the answer. I began to pray that this would become reality.
A Prayer for Justice
The contradictions between biblical nationhood and the modern state of Israel are profound. Human rights abuses, an exclusivist state, arrests and detentions, destroying homes, stealing land are just a few of those contradictions detailed by Dr. Gary Burge in his book Whose Land? Whose Promise? And whether we be Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestant Christians, we need our eyesight healed and our vision restored. We need to see the nation of Israel for what it is – a nation deeply in need of grace, forgiveness, and restoration; Jews for who they are – a people who have experienced unconscionable genocide and should not have to fear suicide bombers and rocket attacks; Palestinian Muslims for who they are – a people who are rightly angry at living conditions and past and present injustice, some who have committed inconceivable acts of terror that do not help the cause of peace; and Palestinian Christians for who they are – people saved by grace, living in oppression and injustice, yet continuing to love the Lord their God and seek His peace – our brothers and sisters in Christ.
I don’t know much about politics, but I do know that God cares more about those living stones than he does about nationhood. He cares about reconciliation and weeps at oppression and injustice. I do know that he cares deeply about us being agents of peace. From the ancient words of Isaiah we hear this:
“A bruised reed He will not break
And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish;
He will faithfully bring forth justice.
“He will not be disheartened or crushed
Until He has established justice in the earth;
And the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law.”
Today is the 70th anniversary of El Nakba. It is a day to remember and to think about the importance of looking at history, remembering an injustice that continues daily in the lives of Palestinians. It is a day to pray for peace and justice. It is a day to ask that our eyesight be healed.
*We Belong to the Land p.207
Also, take a listen to this beautiful, poignant video sent to me by an Israeli friend:
[Author’s Note: this piece was published exactly 4 years ago today, but in light of recent events in Palestine, I thought it important to repost. Thank you for reading.]