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Lebanese Christian Villages Fear War

by | Thu, Nov 9 2023

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Residents of Christian villages in southern Lebanon near Israel’s border are praying that war can be avoided in their region. Half of the population of the village of Rmeish have already fled north following sporadic exchanges of rocket fire between the Iran-backed Hezbollah and Israeli forces.

Many Christians in the area remember the catastrophe of the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel and fear the current conflict could be even worse. Some have abandoned their olive groves and orchards to seek refuge with family and friends far from the border. Virtually everyone from the village of Alma al-Shaab has fled.

The exodus has disrupted, and perhaps ruined, the annual olive harvest and tobacco cultivation which has impacted on livelihoods in the villages. In the 2006 war tobacco plants dried out in the fields when no one was able to harvest them and no one compensated the farmers. The only solace for Rmeish residents is the 18th Century Maronite Christian church which holds mass three times a day.

Residents told the Reuters news agency that the situation is currently “stable.” That normality includes hearing an Israeli military drone patrolling above the area every day. Locals get nervous when they don’t hear the drone overhead.

They’ve already set up a makeshift hospital in case clashes erupt which could impact around a dozen other ancient villages of Maronite, Melkite and Orthodox Christians in the predominantly Hezbollah- controlled border area.

During the 2006 war, around 25,000 people from surrounding Muslim and Christian communities sought shelter in Rmeish for 17 days. “We won’t use it unless there is a war and roads get closed, and God willing, this won’t happen,” said Dr. Georges Madi, noting the town has no shelter or official evacuation plan for its 4,500 remaining residents if current hostilities escalate.

Despite being strongly anti-Israel, many Lebanese who live near the border speak perfect Hebrew after being occupied from 1982 to 2000. The Jesuit America magazine reports that residents believe the liberation of the south was achieved by Hezbollah, and most remain grateful for that. In 2006 Christian villages were hit by Israeli artillery fire and missile strikes, despite promises from Israel that they would not be attacked.

The Christians in the south feel caught in the crossfire. They are not against Hezbollah, but they do not support its attacks on Israel. “We don’t mind Hezbollah, they protect us in a way, but we stay cordial with them and we each stay within our villages,” one long-time resident told America. “In Alma al-Shaab, we are apolitical. We are not affiliated with any party; we have decided that it would be better this way, and things work much better. We are much better off without sectarian]politics,” he explained.

Image: YouTube screenshot of Rmeish