Lebanon’s Maronite Catholic church announced Wednesday that the itinerary of their spiritual leader’s official visit to occupied Palestine would include a visit with veteran Lebanese collaborators with Israeli occupation.
The church stated that Cardinal Beshara al-Rai plans to meet on 28 May with “the Lebanese community whom were forcefully displaced since the year 2000.”
The head of Hizballah’s political council said today that the trip was a mistake. Lebanese paper Al-Akhbar reported Ibrahim Amin al-Sayed saying that Hizballah understood al-Rai’s pastoral intentions but talked with the patriarch “about the risks and drawbacks of the trip in terms of repercussions at the level of Lebanon and of the Israeli entity.”
The church said in its press release that it will be the first time a Maronite Patriarch will “visit the Holy Land” (since the destruction of Palestine in 1948, was the unspoken implication). The visit is timed to coincide with the visit of Francis, the Roman Catholic pope. Al-Rai is set to accompany the pope on his visit to occupied Bethlehem in the West Bank.
This latest announcement is sure to infuriate Lebanese supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel.
Earlier this month, the Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel in Lebanon condemned the visit.
The group said the visit would “flout the call issued by the majority of Palestinian civil society organizations … in the summer of 2005 for a campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel” and undermine the 2009 Kairos Palestine document, in which Palestinian Christian leaders called for BDS.
In Lebanon, even before the BDS movement, a visit to Israel has long been viewed by many as an attempt to normalize relations with the enemy.
Lebanon and Israel consider each other enemy states, and the latter illegally occupied south Lebanon for years, starting with the invasions of 1978 and 1982. Even after 2000, Israel still occupies the 15-square-mile Shebaa Farms on the southern border.
Even in Egypt, which has signed a peace treaty with Israel, such a move would be frowned on. As the Lebanese BDS campaigners noted, the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt has stated their members should not visit Israel at all.
As Al-Akhbar pointed out yesterday, the trip will also coincide with Lebanese Liberation Day on 25 May, marking the end of Israeli occupation over most of the south.
Israel’s occupation of south Lebanon was brought to an abrupt end in 2000, after a long war of liberation led by Hizballah, the most well-armed Lebanese political movement. As Israel’s occupation forces were driven back across the border, many from their Lebanese allies fled with them.
A brutal proxy force, the South Lebanon Army did much of Israel’s dirty work in the south. When Hizballah liberated the south, many of these collaborators fled to Israel along with their families, though others were arrested by Hizballah and handed over to the Lebanese government.
The SLA’s leaders and officers were usually Maronites, and many of them live now in Israel. They often complain about the Israeli racism from which they suffer, and unfulfilled government promises of reward.
“No political dimension”
The church’s statement Wednesday claimed the trip was purely pastoral and religious in nature and there would be “no political dimension.” Yet the fact the trip is even taking place is a highly political act, even if, as claimed today, al-Rai will not be meeting Israeli officials.
The visit comes at a time when Israel is already trying to incite sectarianism in Palestine. Recent Israeli moves to define Palestinian Christians as “not really Arabs” and to recruit them into the Israeli occupation army are being resisted. Such cynical tactics are widely seen by activists as a typical colonial policy of divide and rule.
The Maronite church is an Eastern Catholic Church in communion with the Roman Catholic Church, which traces its origins back to the fifth-century Syriac monk Maron.
Some of the most powerful right-wing Christian militias in the Lebanese civil war very visibly identified themselves as Maronite, and were hostile to Palestinians, Lebanese Muslims and even to rival Christian groups.
Editor’s note: this post originally stated that the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon began in 1982. This has been corrected to state that Israeli occupation, via SLA proxy forces, in fact began in 1978. Thanks to Brenda for pointing this out in the comment section.