‘You are strange people in America’
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 his talk Sunday 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 ” calls 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 was once kidnapped n by the PLO, yet, he said, people tend to get a bit over-political in their views.
“You are strange people in America,” he said 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.
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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.”
When an audience member said one audience said Palestinians are treated 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.
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.”
The way out is simple, but that men and politicians are extremely complicated, he said.
Chacour founded the Mar Elias Educational Institute, a high school in Galillee, in 1982, and it continues to grow, with children from Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths studying side by side. There have been no major conflicts in the 23-year history of the school, with 4,500 students coming through its doors, Chacour said.
“It’s not the generation that decides,” he says. “It’s the education you give the generation.”