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An Excerpt from “We Belong to the Land” by Elias Chacour

Nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize, world-renowned Palestinian priest Elias Chacour narrates the gripping story of his life spent working to achieve peace and reconciliation among Israeli Jews, Christians, and Muslims. From the destruction of his boyhood village and his work as a priest in Galilee to his efforts to build school, libraries, and summer camps for children of all religions, this peacemaker’s moving story in We Belong to the Land brings hope to one of the most complex struggles of our time.

Excerpt from the Introduction to the New Edition: 

Good trees give good fruit.

What has become of the Prophet Elias High School in Ibillin, Galilee, Israel? What has Abuna Chacour become after all these years? We Belong to the Land ended at the dawn of 1991. One building stood alone on the Mount of Light, a high school for approximately 800 students. Since then we have progressed enormously. The present campus enrollment is approximately 4,000 students and 275 faculty members. They commute every morning from seventy different villages and towns all over Israel. In any given week more than 4,000 Children of God come to Mar Elias Educational Institutions. They generously radiate joy and take back home with them friendship, hope and knowledge.

We have grown so much. The school became the “Mar Elias Educational Institutions” (MEEI). This is the only Arab campus in all of Israel and the high school is only one part of this campus. We have added the College with its three-year program following high school and have started working toward accreditation as a full-fledged University.

Nineteen hundred and ninety-four was a year of challenge at Mar Elias. We felt the urgency of providing an alternative that would slow down the rate of emigration from the Holy Land, especially of the Christian Palestinians. Many more Palestinian Christians live in the huge Diaspora of the Western world than in the Holy Land itself. We reached the conclusion that the only thing that could slow down this tragic emigration would be the creation of an Arab-Christian-Israeli university. No one except us, a small group of believers and friends, were ready to consider this possibility. It would cost millions and no one had the funds. Besides, who could deal with the civil and religious authorities to get their blessing and endorsement for the project? Many of the Arab citizens in Israel realize that we cannot hope for any blessing from the authorities, since in fact they have no blessing to give.

We had no choice but to fall back on the popular adage: “It is easier to seek forgiveness than to obtain permission.” Once again we sought to establish an accomplished fact.

What was going on there on the Mount of Light on that morning of October 14, 1994? University students at Mar Elias? Yes! One hundred students were gathered in the gymnasium. They looked lost inside the big hall. I began my opening speech. Here are some of my remarks:

“My friends, today at this moment we are starting a new page in the history of Israel-Palestine. We are challenging everyone in this country. We are ready for the long march toward the first Christian-Arab-Israeli university. We have matured and we refuse to be dependent on others for our education. Our community is ready to take the initiative. We want to build this country together with our Jewish brothers and sisters. It is time to challenge them all with higher education and modern skills. We have conformed long enough to the type of “good citizen” they imposed on us. We refuse any more to be passive. We want to build this country together. We need to be genuine, active citizens, to be partners in the decision-making process. We have to start now, together with our Jewish brothers and sisters, to prepare the future we want for our children. Both the Jews and Palestinians are children of Abraham. The Gentile Friend of God, Khalilu Allah, is our common father. They the Jews and we the Palestinians can never be a sign of hope for the nations unless we reconcile and give a joint witness of compassion and of mercy. Through your presence you become a living stone. Together you are the cornerstone of this future university.

“You must know that we decided to start without any kind of permit. We have permits neither from the Church, nor from the academic or civil authorities. We do not have permission to open the first scholastic year, but we have the God-given right to education and no one can deprive us. You want a university! You have decided to join us in the long march! You are ready to take the risk, to get your hands dirty. That is why you are here.

“It is time for us to proclaim loud and clear this is the hour to create an institution of higher education inside the state of Israel, an Arab-Israeli university. We want Jewish students to come and join us. They will not be considered guests or a minority. They are invited to be our partners, part of our own self. We need their presence and their help, but we are also ready to share with them and to offer them help. We are citizens of this big national community and want to be active citizens. Bear with us all the problems and the difficulties. We will not rest until we have the recognition of the authorities and accreditation from the educational institutions. Through perseverance we can overcome.

“We need to challenge the authorities with perseverance, excellence in achievement, and the highest possible standard of human values. There will be moments of hardship, of despair, of doubt, of temptation to give up, times when we long to turn and go home. I invite you, every time you reach the bottom of hope, to start again beyond despair. To sink into despair is not for us. Out from the tomb comes the Resurrection. Isn’t it true that the Friday of the crucifixion is followed by the Sunday of the Resurrection? Yes, my dear friends, it is the reality. Those who sow with tears shall reap with joy.

“I close my eyes and look three years ahead. You shall not be alone, you shall double, even triple in number. You shall be hundreds and thousands to start the school year. You shall not remain alone-Christians, Moslem and Druze. Keep a place ready for our Jewish brothers and sisters. They will be missed always until they come and sit with us around these simple desks. They will come and start the serious work of preparing together the future we all want for our children. Now, my dear friends, thank you for the immense trust you put in each other. Together we have no other way but to be stronger than any possible misunderstanding or any storm that might arise on our way toward our common goal; the Arab-Christian-Israeli university in Galilee . . . “

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