Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Relations between the Jews of Eretz Israel and the Christian of Lebanon in the 19th and 20th centuries


When invoking the name Lebanon these days, it tends to conure up images of crazed Jihadi fanatics and Israel haters but that was not always the case. In fact there was once a strong trend toward pro-Zionism within the Maronite Church of Lebanon (once the largest and most powerful religious community in that country) in the late 19th and early 20th centuries up untill the establishment of the state of Israel. The movement was spearheaded by the Maronite Patriarch Antoine Pierre Arrida and Archbishop Ignace Mubarak of Beirut. If anything, this was a marriage of convenience. After all the Christians of Lebanon and the Jews of (then) Palestine were both minorities (in the case of the Maronites this was slowly but surely coming true) surrounded by a hostile Muslim majority. It was only natural to form a sort of alliance.

It began with the church reaching out to the Jewish agency and a pact was formed (it was to remain a secret -lest it further arouse the ire of the Muslims) . The church's stance did not neccesarily reflect a consensus of views among the Christian populace, the secular Phalange party (founded by Pierre Gemayel) did not support the creation of the state of Israel mostly because of economic concerns and other reasons and neither did they support the Church isolationists who wanted to create an independent Christian state in Mount Lebanon and its environs.


FIRST ENCOUNTERS

The first encounter between the Jewish settlers and Lebanese was under unfortunate circumstances. During the Maronite-Druze war of 1860 -when the latter gained the upper hand and were methodically slaughtering the Christians- the Maronites turned in desperation to Europe for help. The first two European personalities to respond were, Sir Moses Montefiore a wealthy Jewish communal leader in London,and Adolph Cremieux a distinguished French Jewish statesman. Montefiore ensured that the plight of the Maronites receive prominent coverage in the London Times and set up a fund to assist the survivors to which he gave generously of his own money. Cremiuex proved instrumental in persuading the French to send troops to Lebanon to save the Christians. French intervention indeed saved the Christians and brought about the creation of the Maronite dominated Mutasarifiya.


JEWISH ASSISTANCE TO CHRISTIANS DURING WWI

Later in the wake of WWI, when Shia-Maronite hostilites flared in the south which resulted in a rout of the Christians. Most of the inhabitants of the hardest hit Christian villages (among them Deir Mimus, Majaryoun, Jedidah and Abel al-Kumh) fled, many ending up in Sidon hungry and penniless. Pinchas Naaman who worked for the Jewish Agency in the Jewish communities of the Levant sent an urgent cable to his superiors in Jerusalem requesting special funds with which to assist the Christian refugees to which the Organization promptly complied. They were clothed and fed and their children were admitted to the Jewish school in Sidon. Naaman went above and beyond in helping out these refugees even exceeding his budget. [1]

These philantropic acts were warmly recalled even years later by the Maronite Church and later strongly impacted its attitude toward the Jewish community and the State of Israel.

Patriarch Arrida in a speech at a Beirut synagogue in 1937 said the following:


"The Jews are not only our ancestors, but our brothers. Our origin is the same, our language is almost common, our father is their father. We are proud to belong to the same race. We owe all to Judaism, our teachings are taken from their sacred law.Our faith is similar. We love the same God. We love Jerusalem as much as they do. We sincerely want that our relation with them will be constant and always fruitful. We assist each other and we hope with all our heart that God will deliver the oppressed Jews from those persecutions of which they are the object. We express our best wishes that all Jews will be assured of peace and tranquility, because we feel how sincere and precious is their love for us". [2]
Arrida was also involved in rescue efforts of German Jews after Hitler's rise to power in that country. Arrida and other Lebanese Christian leaders even floated the idea of admitting these Jews to Lebanon.

Ten Years later when the demand for a Jewish State was gaining steam, the UN formed a special commission to examine the feasibility of establishing a Jewish state. The following is the very interesting testimony of Maronite Archbishop Mubarak in front of the UNSCOP commission.

Archbishop Ignace Moubarac Of Beirut, In 1947, On “The Two Homelands”

“Beirut, 5 August 1947

To Mr. Justice Sandstrom, Chairman, UNSCOP Geneva, Switzerland.

Sir:

I regret that my absence in Europe coincided with the visit of the Special Committee on Palestine to the Lebanon, otherwise I should have had an opportunity to speak and to express my opinion – which is,moreover, that of the majority of the Lebanese people with regard to this question.

This is not the first time I have voiced my opinion on this matter. A lot of ink has already been used and after each of my complaints the world press has seized upon my words and made ample comment on everything I said.

Here in the Middle East, which is for the most part Moslem, if the present Lebanese Government is recognized as having an official right to speak on behalf of the Lebanese nation, we should feel disposed to answer and prove that the present rulers represent only themselves and that their so-called official statements are dictated only by the needs of the moment and by the imposed solidarity binding this preeminently Christian country to the other Islamic countries which surround it on all sides and enclose it, volens nolens, in their politico-economic orbit.

By reason of its geographical position, history, culture and traditions, the nature of its inhabitants and their attachment to their faith and ideals, the Lebanon has always, even under the Ottoman yoke, kept itself out of the clutches of the other nations surrounding it and has succeeded in maintaining its tradition intact.

Palestine, on the other hand, the ideological centre of all Old and New Testament,has always been the victim of all the troubles and persecutions. From time immemorial, anything with any historical significance has always been ransacked, plundered and mutilated. Temples and churches have been turned into mosques and the role of that eastern part of the Mediterranean has, not without reason, been reduced to nothing.

It is an incontestable historical fact that Palestine was the home of the Jew and of the first Christians. None of them was of Arab origin. By the brutal force of conquest they were forced to become converts to the Moslem religion, That is the origin of the Arabs in that country. Can one deduce from that that Palestine is Arab or that it ever was Arab?

Historical vestiges, monuments and sacred mementos of the two religions remain alive there as evidence of the fact that this country was not involved in the internal war between the princes and monarchs of Iraq and Arabia. The Holy Places, the temples, the Wailing Wall, the churches and the tombs of the prophets and saints, in short, all the relics of the two religions, are living symbols, which alone invalidate the statements now made by those who have little interest in making Palestine an Arab country. To include Palestine and the Lebanon within the group of Arab countries is to deny history and to destroy the social balance in the Near East.

These two countries, these two homelands[Lebanon and the Jewish National Home as a successor to Mandatory Palestine] have proved up till now that it is both useful and necessary for them to exist as separate and independent entities.

The Lebanon, first of all, has always been and will remain a sanctuary for all the persecuted Christians of the Middle East. It was there that the Armenians who escaped extermination in Turkey found refuge. It was there that the Chaldeans of Iraq found a place of safety when driven from their country. It was there that the Poles, in plight from a blazing Europe, took refuge. it was there that the French, forced out of Syria, found protection. It was there that the British families of Palestine, fleeing from terrorism, found refuge and protection.

The Lebanon and Palestine must continue to be the permanent home of minorities.

What has the role of the Jews been in Palestine? Considered from this angle, the Palestine of 1918 appears to us a barren country, poor, denuded of all resources, the least developed of all the Turkish vilayets. The Moslem-Arab colony there lived an the borderline of poverty. Jewish immigration began, colonies were formed and established, and in less than twenty years the country was transformed: agriculture flourished, large industries were established, wealth came to the country. The presence of such a well-developed and industrious nation, next to the Lebanon could not but contribute to the welfare of all – the Jew is a man of practical executive ability, the Lebanese is highly adaptable and, for that reason, their proximity could only servo to better the living conditions of the inhabitants.

From the cultural point of view these two nations may boast that they have as many cultured and intellectual people as all the other countries of the Near East put together. It is not fair that the LAW should be imposed by an ignorant majority desirous of imposing its will.

It would not be fair to allow a million advanced and educated human beings to be the plaything of a few interested persons who happen to be at the head of affairs, who lead several million backward and unprogressive people and dictate the LAW as they please. There is an order in the world, an order which establishes the proper balance. if the United Nations are really desirous of maintaining this order, it must do everything possible to consolidate it.

Major reasons of a social, humanitarian and religious nature require the creation, in these two countries, of two homelands for minorities: a Christian home in the Lebanon, as there has always been~ a Jewish home in Palestine. These two centres connected with each other geographically, and supporting and assisting each other economically, will form the necessary bridge between West and East, from the viewpoint of Culture and Civilization. The neighborly relations between these two nations will contribute to the maintenance of peace in the Near East, which is so divided by rivalries, and will lessen the persecution of minorities, which will always find refuge it these two countries.,

That is the opinion of the Lebanese whom I represent; it is the opinion of this people whom your Committee of Enquiry was unable to hear.

Behind the closed doors of the Sofar Hotel you were able to listen only to the words dictated to our so-called legal representatives by the lords and masters of the neighboring Arab countries. The real voice of the Lebanese was smothered by the group who falsified the elections of 25 May.

THE LEBANON DEMANDS FREEDOM FOR THE JEWS IN PALESTINE AS IT DESIRES ITS OWN FREEDOM AND INDEPENDENCE.

I have the honour to be, etc.,

(Signed) Ignace Mobarac (Mubarak)
Maronite Archbishop of Beirut

See original French version



Notes:

[1] See Laura Zittrain Eisenberg, My Enemy's Enemy ; Lebanon in the Early Zionist Imagination,1900-1948

[2] "Le voyage de mgr. Arida, patriarche maronite"
Paix et Droit 17, no. 5(1937): 8-9

See also Mordechai Nisan,The Conscience of Lebanon: A Political Biography of Etienne Sakr (Abu-Arz)

1 Comments:

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