The Very Reverend Fr. Peter Boutros, pastor of St. John of the Desert Melkite Catholic Church, has a word of caution for those who might be glued to the news emanating from Israel as the crisis in the Middle East deepens.
“We need to start looking at things a little bit more, look at the depth of things, not just lump everybody together,” Fr. Boutros said.
“These groups like Hamas and Hezbollah and so forth — they are terrorists, but you cannot say those are the Palestinians. Some of them are Palestinians probably, however not all Palestinians are Hamas or Hezbollah or whatever.”
Thousands of Christians live in Gaza, something unknown to many Americans. Church of the Holy Family is the only Latin-rite Catholic in Gaza, but there are other Christian congregations in the area, too.
Fr. Boutros, a native of Egypt, leads the Melkite Catholic Church in Phoenix. The Melkite Church is in full communion with Rome and is one of 23 Eastern Catholic Churches.
Several years ago, Fr. Boutros hosted the former Melkite Archbishop from Israel, Elias Chacour. The retired Melkite cleric has spent his life working for peace in the Holy Land, building schools, libraries, community centers and a university.
Archbishop Chacour is the author of Blood Brothers, an international best seller that chronicles what happened in his Christian village in Galilee and throughout the Holy Land in 1948 when the modern state of Israel was created.
Fr. Kilian McCaffrey, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Scottsdale, pointed to Archbishop Chacour’s book as one way for Americans to understand the conflict in Israel.
“The book is really an eye-opener,” Fr. McCaffrey said. “Most people don’t know the history of Israel and what happened in 1947 and ’48.”
That’s when thousands of Palestinians were “killed, murdered, and their land stolen. People don’t know that. It’s a huge problem,” Fr. McCaffrey said.
Fr. Boutros said he wants Americans to know “the Palestinians are not Hamas and Hezbollah. The Palestinians are a very peaceful people and many of them live in Israel.”
When it comes to Hamas, Fr. Boutros said, our Christian faith ought to inform our outlook.
“The fact of the matter is, from a Christian point of view, even Hamas and Hezbollah and so forth, they are human beings created by God. But we need to change their attitude and their mindset to accept everybody and save them if we can. As Christians, we are supposed to try.”
The brutal attacks by Hamas that killed 1,400 Israelis and took more than 200 captive are “criminal acts” Fr. Boutros said. The cause of the Palestinian people, he said, was just an excuse for terrorists to incite people and commit acts of terrorism.
Archbishop Chacour, who has worked ceaselessly to reconcile Arabs, Christians, Jews and Muslims, famously noted:
“You who live in the United States, if you are pro-Israel, on behalf of Palestinian children, I call unto you: Give further friendship to Israel. They need your friendship. But stop interpreting that friendship as an automatic antipathy against me, the Palestinian who is paying the bill for what others have done against my beloved Jewish brothers and sisters in the Holocaust and elsewhere.”
Archbishop Chacour added that taking the side of Palestinians shouldn’t mean taking a side against his “Jewish brothers and sisters”.
“We do not need such friendship … We do not need one more enemy, for God’s sake.” (Blood Brothers, Baker Books, 2013 edition, page 236)