Displaced from the border with Israel, Lebanese Christians fight… | news report

Rabih Taleb looked from the pulpit at the 30 nervous believers gathered at Alma al-Shaab Evangelical Presbyterian Church in southern Lebanon, located less than a mile from northwest Israel. A day earlier, Hamas terrorists had killed 1,200 Israelis, mostly civilians, 200 kilometers south of the Gaza border.

That Sunday morning, Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia designated as a terrorist entity by the U.S. government, fired rockets into the disputed enclave of Sheba Farms, occupied by Israel but claimed by Lebanon. And when Israel began its massive bombing campaign against Hamas in Gaza, it also bombed Hezbollah positions 35 miles east of Alma al-Shaab.

Some families fled immediately, including the elder leading the service, forcing the hymns to be written a cappella. The rest of the congregation pressured Taleb to shorten the service, all eager to return home and prepare for the worst. But the theme of the sermon (the second in a series on the distinctive characteristics of the Reformed faith) seemed divinely appointed. Few adjustments were needed to talk about original sin, suffering and pain.

“They ask me: Why do we always face these difficulties?—Taleb said. “We are believers. Why is there always war, war, war?

Sources said this was his seventh displacement in the last 50 years.

Alma al-Shaab, one of about a dozen entirely Christian villages near the Israeli border, has a year-round population of about 700 people, Taleb said. Today only about 20 remain, including the Maronite Catholic priest who leads services (now welcoming all sects) when there is a lull in the fighting.

Taleb and his family left Alma al-Shaab on October 9 when a bomb fell in a field just a three-minute drive from their church, shaking their parish house. Most of his 40 Presbyterian families moved to stay with relatives in Beirut, and others fled into Lebanon to the biblical cities of Sidon or Tyre. The local synod, service Seven Presbyterian churches near the border with Israel opened their retreat center in Zahle in case of further escalation.

So far, only three families have been left behind.

Taleb has returned to his hometown of Minyara, 115 miles north, near the Syrian border. But every day he consults with the elders about the condition of his dispersed flock, and every 7 to 10 days he returns to visit Alma al-Shaab, violence permitting.

As war rages in Gaza, Israel and Hezbollah have maintained a lower-intensity conflict, each conscious of avoiding escalation. The analysis suggests that Israel does not want to open a second front, while Hezbollah distrusts Israel’s prewar. promise “bomb Lebanon back to the stone age” in any confrontation.

Israel has already evacuated 42 northern villages near the Lebanese border, limiting Israeli casualties: seven soldiers and three civilians. Meanwhile, at least 70 Hezbollah fighters have been delicate along with at least 10 Lebanese civilians. Nearly 30,000 Lebanese have been displaced.

“We are in the middle of a fight that we have nothing to do with,” Taleb said. “We can say that Palestinians have the right to live freely, but it is not our role to support them through war.”

The sentiment coincides with that of the majority of Lebanese citizens. A recent survey found that 74 percent reject the claim that “Hamas started the war and attacked civilians, so it is legitimate for Israel to retaliate appropriately,” as many extend the complaint timeline well before October 7. However, 61 percent reject Hezbollah’s involvement in the war, and 74 percent agree that their nation should remain neutral.

The fighting has already caused “significant damage” to local agriculture, fixed the United Nations humanitarian coordinator in Lebanon. Satellite data counted 400 fires in the farmland surrounding Alma al-Shaab, while a Lebanese professor at the University of Balamand fixed About 1.7 square miles of southern forests have burned. the minister of agriculture counted 40,000 olive trees ruined during the height of the harvest season, while the Environment Minister estimated damage of 20 million dollars.

A Presbyterian stays in Alma al-Shaab to help fight the fires.

“I can manage to live, but not to rebuild what was destroyed,” said another Presbyterian, a church elder, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of his Hezbollah-controlled area. “I don’t blame anyone, I’m not a politician, just a victim.”

The old man said his farm was destroyed along with 10 other houses in the village. One of the explosions, he said, was from a Palestinian rocket aligned with Hamas. Now displaced in Beirut, he is not sure how many of his roughly 100 olive trees were damaged, but as an Israeli missile destroyed the village’s water tank, he knows the trees will soon wither along with his 200 avocados. .

Image: Courtesy of Rabih al-Taleb

Alma al-Shaab Presbyterian Church

A professor at the American University of Beirut (AUB) fixed The environmental recovery of the territory could take decades.

A second anonymous Presbyterian elder blames Hezbollah, Israel and, above all, himself for remaining in his generational land. His house was destroyed in the previous border war in 2006, when a Hezbollah fighter fired rockets from the roof, he said, and an Israeli helicopter destroyed both.

He managed to rebuild on his meager salary and install cameras, so he knows that at least his house is still standing. But after recording two young men trying to break in (presumably to hide from Israeli attention), he briefly returned home and reinforced the locks.

“What benefit does this give to Palestine?” she asked. “We only want peace with the Jews, with the Muslims, with everyone.”

However, expressing the desire for peace with the State of Israel is a controversial position in Lebanon. The Mediterranean nation remains technically at war with what it often calls “the Zionist entity,” which invaded Lebanon in 1978 and 1982 during the civil war. The second elder, also displaced to Beirut, lives in a house he bought at the time to distance his children from Israel’s recruitment of young Christians into its Lebanese-aligned militia.

The Israeli occupation of the southern regions did not end until 2000, when Israel withdrew under pressure from a nascent resistance led by Hezbollah. His Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah praised to border villages for “embracing” their “jihadist fighters” and bearing the burden of displacement and loss.

But besides Presbyterians, other evangelicals are also suffering and helping.

The small Christian village of Deir Mimas, 40 kilometers northeast of Alma al-Shaab, once had a population of around 1,000 people. The 2006 war reduced it to about 350; Now there are only about 100 people left. In the latest conflict, the home of Baptist pastor Maroun Shammas was one of the few affected by Israeli bombing. This time there have been a handful of strikes in the surrounding farmland, but he and 9 of the 12 church families have moved elsewhere.

He said he has no problems with his Muslim neighbors. Shammas, a former teacher in the nearby Shiite village of Kafr Killa, said he and other Christians maintain interfaith friendships and interact freely with all Lebanese sects.

“Shiites are villagers, normal people like us,” Shammas said. “But no one asked us about the war in the south and we blamed Satan.”

Damage to a home in Alma al-Shaab

Image: Courtesy of Rabih al-Taleb

Damage to a home in Alma al-Shaab

Deir Mimas Baptist Church has already partnered with local evangelical ministries to provide food boxes to 40 families in the village and school fees to another 20 families. In coordination with the municipal government, Horizons has now increased its local nutritional support to almost everyone who stays, while Thimar is helping families who have been displaced.

“This is not the first time we have left, and each time we return to continue our ministry,” Shammas said. “God wants us to help people know Him.”

Sources said evangelicals have a good reputation in the Shiite-dominated south, due to the humanitarian response of serving displaced people during the 2006 war. Heart for Lebanon (HFL) was created at that time and continues to help area Christians and Muslims alike.

In October, it distributed boxes of food and detergent to 340 families in eight southern towns, including Alma al-Shaab, Deir Mimas and neighboring Sunni and Shia villages. In November it expanded to 15 locations, including homes with believers in Jesus from Muslim backgrounds.

Lebanon allows freedom of religion and interfaith service avoids undue controversy. But so does HFL’s strict ministry-only messaging.

“We pray for peace and for the glory of God to shine among all peoples,” said Milad Nassar, HFL field director for the south. “We don’t talk about politics.”

But many other Lebanese do, and many suspect that Israel has bad intentions beyond Hezbollah.

Missile attacks now reached almost 30 miles inland. The attacks near Haifa, Acre and other Israeli cities beyond the border have been reclaimed by Hamas units in Lebanon, not by Hezbollah. However, many posit that no unit can act independently of the Shiite militia.

“In the chain of actions and reactions” fixed As an AUB analyst, “it is increasingly difficult to know who initiates the escalation.”

But other analysts wonder whether Israel is seeking to provoke Hezbollah to justify a large-scale attack against it and perhaps draw in the United States. Two US naval carrier groups are positioned in the eastern Mediterranean to deter Iranian-sponsored aggression. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reportedly warned his Israeli counterpart on such a scenario. Israel denies this intention.

For his part, Taleb decides not to blame anyone, but to follow his “role model”, Jesus.

“It’s a cycle, neither party can destroy the other,” he said. “We need them to find a way to live in peace, so we can live in peace.”

He tells his confused parishioners that this suffering is not God’s punishment for their sins. The Cross assures them of the love of God, whose experience they must not keep to themselves. If the Bible writers had done it (most of whom also suffered) we would not have the Bible today.

Now it is their turn to communicate, he said, building bridges of love and service.

But it’s not simple. On each trip to Alma al-Shaab, Taleb questions the wisdom of returning to a dangerous area. However, it is not the provision of food boxes that motivates him; It is the experience of God, which He longs for others to enjoy.

He prays with the Maronite priest and the resistant Christians, drinks tea and, if not for his own family of three young children, might have stayed in the village. After all, his Presbyterian church dates back to 1859.

Instead, he travels north and south through Lebanon, visiting the scattered flock.

“This is living what we believe: an active faith,” Taleb said. “It’s to show people that God loves them, through us, for his glory.”

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