Blood Brothers by Elias Chacour with David Hazard (Grand Rapids: Chosen Books 1984), 224 pp.
Blood Brothers chronicles four decades in the life of Elias Chacour, a Melkite clergyman who believes that God has called him to be an instrument of peace and reconciliation between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East. It is this reviewer’s opinion that the book falls sadly short of any such intention; if it is reflective of Mr. Chacour’s efforts, his mission of peace and reconciliation appears to be geared more for building relationships between Arabs and Western Christians than between Arabs and Jews.
It is difficult to criticize Blood Brothers, not because it doesn’t bear criticism, but because finding fault with a book which uses the language of love and peace puts the faultfinder in the unenviable position of appearing hard-hearted.
However, there is an unfairness to the reader which begins with David Hazard’s Urgent Word Before” (preface). He claims that “Above all, this is a story about people, not politics”(p.vii). It is an absurd statement, which is patently deceptive at worst, and at best, incredibly naive.
The story begins in the 1940s in the Galilean village of Biram, where Chacour spent his early childhood. We read how Israeli soldiers came to the village, first living alongside the Arab villagers, and then, according to Chacour, forcing an evacuation. Thus begins the author’s account of the life of a Palestinian refugee.
The Chacour family, finding they could not return to Biram, moved on to the impoverished village of Gish. Eventually, Elias was able to leave Gish to study at a bishop’s school in Haifa. Upon graduation, he completed further studies at St. Joseph’s Minor Seminary in Nazareth. There he became convinced that God’s call for his ministry would somehow involve bringing peace to his war-torn land. He planned to finish his education in Jerusalem but was turned away, ostensibly because he was Palestinian. Instead, he completed his seminary training at St. Sulpice in Paris.
The book takes an interesting turn once Chacour leaves France and begins his ministry in the Arab village of Ibillin. He describes his laborious struggle to gain the trust of the villagers. His accounts of building relationships there and the mending of the fragmented church were most absorbing, and this reader only wishes they would have comprised more of the book.
The author goes on to tell of the Jewish friends he makes at Hebrew University and the triumph of having Jews and Arabs marching together to protest the injustices done to Arab refugees. All of this is genuinely heartwarming, yet it is tangled up with sympathetic references to the terrorist PLO and a variety of bitter insinuations of trickery and deception on the part of the Israeli government.
Readers who are interested in Chacour’s odyssey will be frustrated and annoyed that instead of being left to read the story in peace, they are constantly being courted to embrace the author’s politics. It becomes a ticklish business to separate the sentiment of the story from the politics, and then again, the politics from the theology. One moment Chacour is showing us glimpses of his family and childhood. He wins (and perhaps rightly so) the sympathy of all but the most callous readers. The next moment, events and policies of the Middle East are interpreted through the eyes of the one who has just won our sympathy. While Chacour gives his personal perspectives as though they are simple, objective explanations, they are, in fact, propaganda.
Chacour places quotation marks around words like “compromise” when speaking of the land given to the Jewish people (p. 96) and “beleaguered” when referring to the nation of Israel and the sympathy she aroused from the West. These should cue the reader to his underlying agenda. Likewise, his interpretation of Scripture prophecy is stated as obvious and objective fact, whereas such statements are highly subjective.
Chacour seems determined to prove kind intentions toward his blood brothers by sympathizing deeply with Jewish people over the horrors of the Holocaust. His sympathy is no prize. Throughout the book, Chacour repeats how he and his family were able to forgive what he sees as Zionist acts of terror by viewing such acts as a reaction to the Germans. He blames the Nazis time and time again, but never mentions Arab threats to drive the Jewish people into the sea. Nor do we hear of any Arab aggression other than isollated instances by desperate men whom Chacour claimed were “not even welcome in their own country.”
His sympathy and forgiveness are at the expense of the Nazis (safe enough, because everyone can agree to be against them) and seem to serve as a concession to soften the fact that the author is actually pointing an accusing finger at Zionists: “To me, it seemed that the Zionists had entered into an unholy marriage, an alliance motivated by power and convenience, consummated in treachery” (p. 119). To say you love and sympathize with a person to gain a hearing for the grudge you bear them, whether done consciously or not, is manipulative.
In the same way that he blames the Nazis for making Jewish people fearful and thus “violent,” Chacour repeatedly draws a sharp distinction between the Jewish neighbors with whom his family had cordial dealings and the Zionists, whom he feels free to accuse of vengeful paranoia. The use of a concession here to justify an accusation there seems to be the underlying strategy of this book.
The pathos of personal experience makes for interesting reading, and this is certainly a well written, gripping tale. But to blend such pathos with the politics of a most complex situation is inappropriate, insensitive and dangerous.
No fair-minded person should expect an unbiased opinion of the Middle East conflict from Arabs or from Jews, much less from someone who has suffered the anguish of living as a refugee. Blood Brothers should be read with that in mind.