Issued by the Catholic Center for Studies and Media - Jordan. Editor-in-chief Fr. Rif'at Bader - موقع أبونا

Published on Saturday, 6 July 2024
Amid International calls for peace, Lebanon’s Christians gird for potential Israeli invasion
Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Béchara Raï stated in a recent homily that the Lebanese faithful feel that their government has abandoned them.

Joe Bukuras/ :

Governments across the world are warning their citizens to evacuate Lebanon immediately in anticipation for what could be a major armed conflict on the country’s shared border with Israel.  


Israel and Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shiite Muslim group, have been trading missile strikes along the border since last October, following the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.  


More than 400 Lebanese have died from the conflict, and approximately 100,000 civilians have been displaced on both the Lebanese and Israeli sides. Hundreds of homes on both sides been damaged. St. George Catholic Church in Yaroun, Lebanon, was reportedly hit by a missile last November and took on severe damage. 


The Israeli military said June 18 that plans for an “attack” on Lebanon were approved and that “decisions were made to continue accelerating the readiness of the forces in the field.” 


On June 21, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called for peace, stressing, “The people of the region and the people of the world cannot afford Lebanon to become another Gaza.” 


“One rash move--one miscalculation--could trigger a catastrophe that goes far beyond the border and, frankly, beyond imagination,” he said. 


At the conclusion of the Synod of Maronite Bishops in Lebanon on June 15, the prelates strongly condemned “what the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and southern Lebanon have been exposed to for more than eight months, in terms of killing, destruction and abuse affecting civilians, children and women before anyone else.” The Eastern Catholic Maronites are the largest Christian denomination in Lebanon.  


The bishops called on “people of conscience in the world” to push for a “final cease-fire” so that a two-state solution may be instituted based on U.N. Security Council Resolution 181. That resolution also calls for Jerusalem to be overseen by a “Special International Regime” administered by the United Nations.  


 ‘Destruction for Lebanon’ 

The last time Israel invaded Lebanon was in 2006, during a 34-day military conflict that was set off by the kidnapping and killing of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah. 


According to the website “How Does Law Protect in War?” more than 1,000 Lebanese died and thousands more injured in that conflict. Almost one million fled from their homes, tens of thousands of which were destroyed, and many who died were children. On the Israeli side, 43 civilians were killed, almost 1,000 injured, 300,000 were displaced, and 6,000 homes were affected, according to the international law organization. 


Israel and certain forces within Lebanon, acting independently of the state, have long been at odds, which has led to several violent conflicts, including a 22-year Israeli occupation of Lebanon from 1978 to 2000. However, the conflict has never been with a nominally Christian group inside Lebanon. 


Christians in the country don’t want another war, according to Charbel Bou Maroun, president of the Lebanese think tank Mechriq Center for Research and Studies, which works closely with the Catholic Church.


“War will mean destruction for Lebanon,” Bou Maroun told the Register June 28.  


The polling organization Statistics Lebanon reports that 70 per cent of the country is Muslim and 30 per cent Christian, reflecting statistics from the U.S. State Department. Maronites make up about half of all Christians, and Greek Orthodox make up 25 per cent, while several other Catholic rites and Protestant denominations make up the rest, according to the polling group. 


The country’s constitution says that the president must be Maronite, the prime minister must be Sunni Muslim, and the National Assembly president must be a Shiite Muslim. The nation has been unable to elect a president since late 2022, adding to the country’s turmoil. 


Bou Maroun, 38, of Beirut, called Lebanon’s current situation a “failed state,” citing the dire financial crisis, which would only be exacerbated by a war. 


The country has been in an economic disaster since 2019, with the inflation rate more than 200 per cent and many citizens losing all their savings and being turned away by the local banks.  


The World Bank called the financial collapse “the most devastating, multi-pronged crisis in its modern history.” That collapse was only worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic and the tragic Beirut explosion that devastated the city and killed more than 200 people in 2020. 


Nongovernmental organizations and charitable groups have been helping to keep the country afloat, while its government is in disarray. Many families are relying on relatives outside the country to send money in order to meet their needs. 


“The situation in Lebanon is becoming worse and worse. So any war will cause us more damage. It will cause us more troubles,” he said. “Christians are against the war. They don’t want war. Hezbollah imposed the war. We didn’t want it.” 


Bishops Want Peace 

In January, the country’s Maronite bishops called on the international community to help implement U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 (2006), which calls for peace between Israel and Lebanon and certain “security arrangements” to avoid the resumption of fighting. 


Part of the resolution’s security arrangements includes a demilitarized area between the two countries, with an exception for official forces of the Lebanese government and the United Nations. The resolution also reiterates calls for all Lebanese militias, including Hezbollah, to disarm, as outlined in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559. 


Hezbollah remains armed, and it has said that it will not stop attacking Israel until Israel agrees to a cease-fire in Gaza. 


Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) reported in December that about 90 per cent of those living in southern Lebanon’s Christian villages fled their homes amid the rocket strikes between Israel and Hezbollah. 


However, in the 10 Maronite Catholic parishes near the Israeli border, 70 per cent of parishioners who left have returned, citing a shortage of funds and an inability to be accommodated by family in the north, ACN reported in June. 

Toni Nissi, president of the committee for the U.N. Security Council resolutions for Lebanon, told the Register June 28 that he has a second home in the Maronite border village of Rmaych, where much of his family lives, and added, “The quality of life is very bad.” 


“We don’t have people who have been killed yet,” he said, citing no casualties in Rmaych currently, adding, “But it doesn’t mean that we are not in the middle of the war. We are in the middle of the war.”  


Nissi, who has been lobbying government agencies to support Rmaych, has spent most of his time in his main residence in Beirut, but said that explosions are constantly heard by the residents in Rmaych. 


Last year, Hezbollah attempted to build infrastructure inside Rmaych, but was forced out by the people in the village, Nissi said, which was close to being a “bloody engagement.” Since October 8, Hezbollah has used the outskirts of Rmaych to fire at Israel, but Israel has not responded, he said. 


In December, Xavier Stephen Bisits from Aid to the Church in Need said that “all priests and religious” have stayed in the border villages amid the conflict to minister to the people. He added that Maronite Archeparch Charbel Abdallah of Tyre came to celebrate Mass in Rmaych “under the threat of bombs.”  


Nissi said, as of July, priests and religious still remain in their villages serving the people. And for the churches in Rmaych, its business as usual, with the local St. George Maronite Church still offering daily Mass. Sunday liturgies are offered four times each week between the church and the village cathedral, the Church of Transfiguration, he said. 


“Rmaych is saying publicly that they are against the war, they don’t want the war, and they are sending a message of peace everywhere by the activities they are doing inside the village,” Nissi said.  


Cardinal Raï: ‘It Must Be Stopped’ 

Earlier this year, Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Béchara Raï expressed frustration in a homily with the situation in southern Lebanon. 


“The people of the border villages in the south express to us their pain at the state’s abandonment of them and of its duties and responsibilities towards them,” Cardinal Raï said January 28. 


“They, both old and young, are living through the brunt of the war imposed on them and rejected by them, as they consider that Lebanon and the Lebanese have nothing to do with it,” he said. 


“[Southern residents] add, ‘Allow me to say it loud and clear — not as an abandonment of national or Arab issues, but rather out of my honesty with myself — I refuse to make myself and my family members hostages, human shields and sacrificial lambs for failed Lebanese policies, and for the culture of death that has brought nothing but imaginary victories and shameful defeats to our country.’” 


The outlet also reported that Cardinal Raï spoke against the possible expansion of the Israel Gaza war into Lebanon in December. 


“It must be stopped, and the Lebanese people, their homes and their livelihoods must be protected, as they have not yet emerged from the disastrous results of the Lebanese war,” he said. “We demand the removal of any rocket launcher planted between homes in southern towns that would require a devastating Israeli response.”