Christian Arab Israeli University Opened
"It has been a long journey from riding a donkey to school in my childhood to this historic event of establishing a university campus", commented Elias Chacour, Founder and President, on the Opening Day of Mar Elias University Campus (MEUC) in Ibillin, Galilee. After four years of intensive planning and overcoming many obstacles, MEUC opened its doors to the first intake of 71 first year students in three degree programs – Environmental Science, Computer Science, and Communications and Media.
Women as agents for positive social change
MEUC’s humble beginnings in a little known Arab village near Haifa ensure close understanding and insight into local needs and aspirations. The unique role of women as agents for positive social change will be a major focus. Students will be prepared for a wide range of employment opportunities but also for full participation in the decision-making processes of their societies.
Inaugural classes will be held on the existing campus of MEEI in Ibillin, but there is an urgent need to develop a new purpose-built campus in the immediate future. Funding is sought from private and corporate sources in order to provide the minimum requirements for resources and equipment. MEUC, while aiming for financial self-sufficiency, will always remain a non-profit-making institution.
First Christian Arab Israeli university campus in the region
Unity within Diversity is the goal of MEUC. "Diversity is not considered a threat, but rather a challenge and a rich resource," as was announced by the university’s press release. “Citizens of Israel are urged to cooperate across the divides of religion, ideology, ethnicity and nationality in building the social capital of civil society in the Middle Eastern region.”
Elias Chacour, who is a Melkite priest and Bishop-elect of Jerusalem, stressed that the university will never be a political institution, but that MEUC will nurture political awareness. "We belong to no political party but we acknowledge their role in governance and decision-making. We respect all religions but remain non-denominational."
Arab Christian and three-time Nobel Prize nominee
Elias Chacour has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times for his steadfast peace efforts. Chacour’s religion is Christianity; but culturally, the 64 year old considers himself Arabic. He blames politicians first and foremost for the deadlock in the peace process. "Like the majority of Palestinians and Israelis, I wish for peace. But with the politicians currently in office, there will be no peace," he says. "The current political leaders are not charismatically engaged enough in peace efforts. I firmly believe that the Jews in Israel and the Muslims in Palestine will outlive their political leaders. I trust that new personalities will take over responsibility. New politicians who dare to answer outright violence with an honest gesture of peace such that the other side is challenged to enter into a dialog and turn to peace."
The Catholic priest and Palestinian peace activist recalls the old animosity between France and Germany after the Second World War, and the peace dialog initiated by Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer back then. "We need political leaders who do not have a military background. Neither with the army or in the liberation movement. Because such people do not meet at the negotiating table, they continue to fight each other. We need people like the ones you had in Germany and France. Back then it was also a deadly situation. But you had politicians with vision, who knew that your countries depended upon your becoming friends."
A more active mediating role for the European Union
Abuna Elias Chacour would like to see the European Union become an active mediator in the peace process between Israel and Palestine. He thinks the United States is not an honest broker, and they have failed. "I would like to ask the European Union: Have you really done everything in your power to help us? We believe in Europe. We believe in the people of Europe. You represent culture and tradition, and not weapons and feelings of omnipotence. You have learned from your own wars that one does not return from the battle field with victory. One can only win at the negotiating table."
Chacour, a peace activist from the devastated Palestinian village of Biram in Galilee, no longer believes that there will one day be two states in the Holy Land existing side by side as equals, because he no longer believes that the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories will be dismantled.
"I always wanted to have two equal states dependent upon each other for their well-being. But it is becoming less and less likely that it will come to that. Perhaps we have to consider other solutions. Perhaps it would be possible to have a state with independent Cantons, like in Switzerland."
Not just coexistence but also cooperation
Although the situation in the Middle East is still tense, concrete projects such as Mar Elias University are taking an important part in building up the structures of a civil society. They serve as an example that not only coexistence but also cooperation is possible.
Dr Raed Muallem, Vice President of MEUC, stated, "It is our firm conviction that we have the responsibility to strengthen the existing bridges between Israelis and Palestinians and to build new connections through mutual respect for the positive values of East and West."
© DEUTSCHE WELLE / DW-WORLD 2003