Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Northwest Groups Host Talks on Palestine, Iraq

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Northwest Groups Host Talks on Palestine, Iraq

Article excerpt

Northwest Groups Host Talks on Palestine, Iraq

Palestinian Melkite Catholic priest Father Elias Chacour of Galilee, Israel, and former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark visited the Pacific Northwest for separate fall events sponsored by an impressive list of organizations concerned with deteriorating peace prospects between Palestinians and Israel and the ongoing human tragedy in Iraq.

Elias Chacour Meets Northwest Groups

Fr. Chacour's Oct. 20 to 24 Oregon itinerary was organized by a dozen groups, including Good Samaritan Ministries, the Portland State University Middle East Studies Center, the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Oregon Interreligious Committee for Peace in the Middle East, Mercy Corps International, Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon and several local Christian churches.

In presentations before audiences at universities churches, a Jewish high school and a Rotary Club, Fr. Chacour was unyielding in his belief in peace. He referred to the peace agreement between Palestinians and Israel as "a poor agreement, a miserable peace treaty almost worth nothing." But in the same breath he insisted that "peace is the only alternative." He compared the peace process to a premature baby who needs more attention and more love. "You don't let it lie and die." he said. "You must take care of it, give it more. It must live. The alternative is death."

Fr. Chacour is the author of two books, Blood Brothers and We Belong To The Land. The first, written in 1984, tells the story of Chacour's childhood in the Galilee region in the context of the creation of the state of Israel. The second book is a sequel recounting Chacour's religious formation and achievements in subsequent years.

Many who listened to the peacemaking priest asked why Palestinians reacted so violently to the opening in Jerusalem of a tunnel which, according to news reports, had been carried out merely as a convenience to tourists. "It's not that simple," Chacour said, adding that in opening the tunnel, "Israel was asserting exclusive sovereignty over Jerusalem and did not calculate the outcome."

The status of Jerusalem is one of the pivotal issues remaining in final negotiations between Palestinians and Israel. Since the 1967 war, however, and even after the 1993 peace agreement was signed, Israel has developed the city aggressively in its own image.

Chacour reminded his audiences that the previous government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin agreed to negotiate the final status of Jerusalem and that the new government "should have waited to open the tunnel together" with the Palestinians, but only if both sides agreed to it. He blamed the media and the current U.S. administration for America's unquestioning support for Israel. "America is building bridges on one side of the river, on Israel's side," he said, and urged Americans to continue their friendship with Israel but to "stop interpreting your friendship with Israel as automatic enmity with Palestinians."

Chacour urged peace-loving people to look for the truth. He told how his Palestinian students gave blood for Jewish victims of bombings in Tel Aviv, expressing regret that the news media do not report positive stories like this. He told of the time that Shimon Peres promised in front of 1,800 people gathered at the new Prophet Elias College in Ibillin, Galilee, to be the Palestinians' ambassador with the Israeli government. Chacour said Israel's minister of education, who was there that day, asked, "Will your school accept some of our young people who have just finished their military service?" The priest proclaimed, "Yes! For God's sake, send me the whole Israeli army!"

Sen. Wyden at George Fox University

Chacour made a presentation on "U.S. Foreign Policy and the Palestinian/Israeli Conflict" at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon. He shared the podium with U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) who, in January 1996, won the race to replace Senator Bob Packwood (R-OR), a staunch supporter of Israel. …

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