Maronite patriarch to meet Lebanese collaborators, defying Israel boycott

The Maronite church in Haifa announced details of the partriarch’s forthcoming official visit. A photo handed out with the press release.

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.

BDS Lebanon

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.

But Palestine Liberation Organization officials have welcomed the patriarch’s visit, according to Al-Akhbar, and al-Rai will meet with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas.


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.




Context of Israeli de facto occupation of UNGA 181 Palestine & UNGA 181 Jerusalem cannot be ignored.

Every human event is an opportunity to define that context of Israel war criminal occupation vis-a-vis Cultural norms, International Law, Laws of Armed Conflict, Respective nation-state Strategic Posture Defense Policy components of Foreign Policy, Military Strategy, & Economic Policy

Going to Jerusalem is NOT going to State of Israel: Jerusalem is UN Sovereignty

Jerusalem is UN Sovereignty as defined in UN Charter, Chapter XII., Article 80 Terms of UN Trusteeship UNGA 181 Part III Jerusalem:

1 Contesting Israeli occupation of UNGA 181 Jerusalem should be to establish a presence that pursues this object

2 Boycotting Jerusalem creates the false context of re-enforcing the delusional State of Israel leadership that their de facto occupation is legitimate

3 This should be viewed of context to the comparable International Solidarity observers in occupied UNGA 181 Palestine West Bank

This is also a opportunity for former Lebanese Christians to acknowledge the Sabra & Shatilla Massacres; & call for the State of Israel leadership to enter into UNSC 242 Compliance with the object of establishing Comprehensive Middle East Peace

Hezbollah is a component of the State of Lebanon Government: State of Lebanon has the same opportunity that all other UN Members; Including Vatican City, UNGA 181 Palestine, & State of Israel of filing a UN Charter, Chapter XII, Article 87(b) Petition to determine the future Trusteeship political administration of Jerusalem through a Article 87 (d) UNGA Resolute Act

In this spirit, Palestinian Resistance believes it is in the best interests of the People of UNGA 181 Palestine & Semitic peoples of the Middle East that Christian denominations of Catholic Church, Orthodox Church, & Maronite Church in communion with the other religions of our Semitic Prophets- Judaism & Islam- to establish a unified presence in Jerusalem.


Just to clarify the occupation era: although the Israeli occupation of Lebanon was clearly intensified in 1982, it began with the 1978 invasion. Not only did Israel employ the Lebanese proxy militia 78--82, but it also maintained a direct presence itself (albeit limited) during this period, as documented in UNIFIL reports. Note also UN Security Council Report S/2000/460 (22 May 2000) on the implementation of SCR 425 and 426 (calling for Israeli withdrawal), which specifices the manner in which Israel had until 2000 "remained in Lebanon in contravention of resolution 425 (1978)."


I would disagree with the short sighted objections to the Patriarch's visit to former SLA members. I just hope that his visit to them would make these people less likely serve in the Israeli Army, and keep the option open for them to return to Lebanon. The question is would he be encouraging them to serve or not to serve in the IDF. If he is encouraging them to serve then that is objectionable, but until we know that, we should wish his visit well and hope it leads to their reintegration into Lebanon. A refusal to meet with them would play into the Zionist agenda of separating them permanently from their country to be used as IDF cannon fodder.

Asa Winstanley's picture

Thanks to Emmanuel and Brenda for the wider historical context.

Asa Winstanley

Asa Winstanley's picture

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London. He is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada and co-host of our podcast.

He is author of the bestselling book Weaponising Anti-Semitism: How the Israel Lobby Brought Down Jeremy Corbyn (OR Books, 2023).