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Review: Elias Chacour - Prophet in His Own Country

Film Review - Elias Chacour: Prophet in His Own Country

By Sonia Nettnin

Father Elias Chacour talks about his life, the people and the construction of the first university for Christians, Jews and Muslims (photo courtesy of CPFF).

ELIAS CHACOUR: PROPHET IN HIS OWN COUNTRY is a film about a Melkite priest who brings the seeds of peace to the Israel-Palestine conflict. The third annual Chicago Palestine Film Festival hosted the screening at the Southwest Youth Collaborative on Saturday.

Directed by Claude Roshem-Smith and Andre Chapel, the documentary explores Chacour’s lifetime work in the town of Ibillin, near the Golan Heights. In 1982, Chacour opened a school, Mar Elias Elementary, where Israeli and Palestinian youth learn together. Twenty years later, the school has 4500 students, who are Christian, Jewish and Muslim, from 70 towns and villages.

“I saw educating the Arab population…is the way to peace,” he said. “We believe man is born to build not destroy.”

The film, predominantly in French with English subtitles, is a series of interviews with Chacour in his daily life. He travels to the ruins of Bar’Am village in upper Galilee, where he was born in 1939. Raised in a Palestinian-Christian family, Chacour remembers a life close to the land, where orchards of olive and fig trees yielded over four tons of fruit crops annually. After the creation of the state of Israel, the Al-Nakba for Palestinians, “they chased us from our homes,” he said.

Now a public park of shrub land and dilapidated stone homes, Palestinians are forbidden from Bar’Am.

The film reenacts Chacour’s childhood, which enhances the historical narrative of the film.

Chacour’s journey through his past runs parallel to the problems of identity for the Palestinian youth. Interviews with several teens reveal how torn they are between their ethnicity as Palestinians and their citizenship as Israeli-Arabs. Feelings of loyalty and betrayal collide when there are outside pressures from the people around them. The required, ID card is not as light in the pocket as it is in the mind and the psychological outcome is described as an identity crisis.

When the youth merge these conflicts into a solution, the death of a young, Palestinian man from the Seeds of Peace organization illustrates what can happen in these internal and external resolutions. Then the film moves to the classroom, where teachers talk about the education curriculum for the students. The focus on Israel’s history and the absence of the Palestinian Diaspora affects the psychological-social development of the youth -- the memory of exile is not erasable from the Palestinian, collective identity.

Chacour expresses these internal and external conflicts in his monolog. He asked himself: “How can we find a common language for the three families who share one God?” In response his question, he devotes his life to peace and unity among Christians, Jews and Muslims. As a result, people persecuted and despised him for his words and actions. As a Palestinian-Christian, he says the role of reconciler is inherent in his religious vocation. The camera captures his facial expressions as he expresses his personal thoughts and feelings.

“What counts more is the role God plays in our minds,” he said.

His determination for reconciliation among the “blood brothers” is through the construction of a university for Christians, Jews and Muslims. Moreover, Chacour believes the occupation creates destruction and that military force creates fear and insecurity.

The physical environment of this area is lush with palm trees and orchards. In one scene, a falcon flies soars over a plethora of green. The streets did not have debris and I did not see any military vehicles in the film. Overall, there is a physical difference between Ibillin and for example, Gaza.

This documentary possesses a didactic quality, alluded to in the film’s title. Some of the messages I heard in the film are: take the high road in life because grace is found in the road less traveled. If people are insensitive, mean or cruel, spiritual freedom is in forgiveness of their words and actions. Perseverance develops character. Physical violence and psychological violence have their own paths of destruction.

Chacour is the author of two books: BLOOD BROTHERS and WE BELONG TO THIS LAND. The former has translations in 28 languages and the latter has translations in eleven languages. Chacour is the recipient of Japan’s Niwano Prize 2001 and he has been nominated for the Noble Peace Prize. More information about Mars Elias Educational Institutions is at


Sonia Nettnin is a freelance writer. Her articles and reviews demonstrate civic journalism, with a focus on international social, economic, humanitarian, gender, and political issues. Media coverage of conflicts from these perspectives develops awareness in public opinion.

Nettnin received her bachelor's degree in English literature and writing. She did master's work in journalism. Moreover, Nettnin approaches her writing from a working woman's perspective, since working began for her at an early age.

She is a poet, a violinist and she studied professional dance. As a writer, the arts are an integral part of her sensibility. Her work has been published in the Palestine Chronicle, Scoop Media and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. She lives in Chicago.

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