Arab Institute Brings Hope, Opportunity to Mideast

Founded by Melkite Catholic Archbishop Elias Chacour

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NAZARETH, Israel, NOV. 2, 2010 ( Israel’s first fully accredited Arab-Christian college, the Nazareth Academic Institute, opened its doors Monday, offering a «new model» for higher education in Israel that offers both equal opportunity education and peace studies.
Formerly located in Ibillin, near Haifa, the Nazareth Academic Institute (NAI) served as branch campus of the University of Indianapolis. Then, in March 2009, after years of working to adapt to the Israeli academic system, both the Council of Higher Education, as well as the Israeli government, recognized and accepted the school as an Israeli private college, the institute reported in a press statement.  

During his May 2009 visit to the Holy Land, Benedict XVI blessed the cornerstone of the new college after celebrating Mass for Arab Christians.

As of Nov. 1, the curriculum for both the Department of Chemistry and the Department of Social Communications has been approved. Other departments that are being considered for approval by the Council of Higher education are computer science and occupational therapy; the latter is working in conjunction with the French Hospital in Nazareth. In the planning stages are programs for environmental studies, food and nutrition science, tourism and theology.

Students in each field of study will be required to take a course in the Peace Studies and Leadership Program, focusing on such issues as «how to advance and secure the peaceful coexistence and cooperation in a multiethnic and multireligious region, such as the Middle East.»

«NAI believes peace is possible and that it can begin in the classroom,» the institute wrote. «For that to happen, students must learn how to function in society, not just in the workplace, so NAI builds its education around a core curriculum in peace studies.

«Required of all students, this peace core encourages students to evaluate regional issues from multiple perspectives and conflicting cultural narratives. It also fosters the skills in critical thinking, negotiation and conflict resolution students need to identify solutions and build consensus in a diverse society.»

«Students discover not only why coexistence matters but how they can create it in their personal and professional lives,» the statement added.


The founder of NAI is Melkite Catholic Archbishop Elias Chacour of Akka, Haifa, Nazareth and All of Galilee. The three-time Nobel Peace prize nominee was born and raised in Baram, an Arab village just north of Galilee, near the Lebanon border. As a child, he and his family were exiled during the Israeli-Palestinian War. Years later, after being ordained in the Melkite (Greek-Catholic) Church, Father Elias established a kindergarten in his parish in Ibillin, for his predominantly Christian-Arab community.

Later, he opened an elementary school, a secondary school and eventually, in 2003, he founded University College, with the help of the University of Indianapolis. The facilities Father Elias created became known collectively as the Mar Elias Educational Institutions (MEEI).

Kurt Hengl, vice president of the International Board of Trustees of the NAI, and former Austrian Ambassador to Israel, recognizes the importance of Father Elias’ work and the MEEI. «These institutions fulfill an important regional function, supporting Arab Israelis in reaching professional and academic levels and enabling them to integrate better into the Israeli society and economy.» He also adds that the organization plays a vital role in helping Muslim Arab girls slowly free themselves from the «patriarchical structures» of the culture.

The Nazareth Academic Institute has received great political support from a variety of groups. Israeli president and Nobel Prize winner, Shimon Peres, sees the «realization of the College in Nazareth as an important contribution to the peaceful coexistence of Jews and Arabs in Israel.» Other supporters are the European Union, and the U.S. administration, as well as prominent Catholic Church leaders, including Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna.

While Hengl is a great supporter of the NAI, he acknowledges the immense challenges the new university faces in terms of financing. «The fees for the students, mostly from families with modest income, do not cover the [operating] costs,» he said. He also adds that the college does not receive funding from the government.

«There will be the need for enormous efforts in order to realize and secure the visions of [Archbishop] Chacour of a Christian-inspired academic Institution for the youth of Galilee — Christians and Muslims, Jews and Druzes,» said Hengl. «Any help, political and financial support, voluntary work and prayer, is welcome.»

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