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Bitter Wine

A Reflection on Lebanon after the 2006 War

By Dr. Antonios Kireopoulos
Associate General Secretary for International Affairs and Peace

It is believed that Jesus performed his first miracle – turning water into wine – at a wedding in Cana.  Some say this Cana is present-day Qana, a village in Southern Lebanon, and so it was with particular sadness that Christians around the world witnessed the bombing of Qana, and the killing of several men, women and children in targeted Israeli rocket attacks as they tried to escape from the carnage around them.  Their bodies now lie together in a burial ground in one of the village squares. 

The National Council of Churches USA led a delegation of church leaders to Lebanon in October, 2006, just weeks after the fighting stopped (as did Church World Service to Israel / Palestine), to assess the devastation, and to be in solidarity with those who had suffered.  We were struck by the evidence of the violence perpetrated against the Lebanese nation:  the physical violence, which rendered parts of Beirut and the rest of the country to rubble; and the psychological violence, which left the Lebanese with a fatalistic anticipation of more instability, destruction and death.   

This summer’s war between Hezbollah and Israel began when Hezbollah, taking advantage of minor hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza, and on the pretext of Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails, fired missiles into Northern Israel and kidnapped two Israeli soldiers.  While Israel had the right to defend itself, the response was not only swift, but surprisingly brutal.  It is not surprising, however, that, despite some anger directed at Hezbollah for starting this war, its stature within Lebanese society has increased due to its ability to pierce the myth of Israel’s military might, and that most of the anger is directed at Israel, and at the US for enabling Israel’s brutality. 

Certainly there were justified military targets among the sites hit by Israeli missiles.  Two which we saw that come to mind are the Hezbollah headquarters in South Beirut, and parts of a village in Southern Lebanon from where Hezbollah rockets were fired against Israel.  But the response by Israel was just as certainly disproportionate.  The Hezbollah headquarters occupied two square blocks; dozens of square blocks that were home to tens of thousands of civilians were intentionally destroyed.  Similar incidents of violence in the hills of Southern Lebanon and Northern Israel have taken place on a regular basis over the years; did this episode require the bombing of nearly every bridge in Lebanon, the Beirut Airport, the oil tanks perched above the Mediterranean, and whole villages? 

The people of Lebanon are resilient, having overcome invasion after invasion for some thirty years.  But the hope that comes from this resilience is faint after this recent war.  One clear message that our delegation was asked to bring back to America was this:  that the people in that part of the world, whether they be Muslims or Christians or Jews, deserve a decent life, a future, and an expectation to be treated with dignity and justice.  Can we deliver on their expectations? 

The following points for advocacy will help in this effort: 

Cluster Bomb Clean-Up:  There are some 1,000,000 cluster bomblets remaining in Southern Lebanon.  Most of this ordnance was fired in the last 72 hours of the war, when a ceasefire was already being formulated at the United Nations.  Designed only to kill and maim indiscriminately, there is absolutely no justification – morally or militarily – for the use of cluster bombs, especially in civilian areas.  The United States, as an ally of Israel, and as producer of these reprehensible weapons, bears a significant responsibility in cleaning them up.  Until this is accomplished, villagers cannot pick their olives or cultivate their crops and children cannot play safely; until this is accomplished, hunger is all but assured and death and mutilation is a daily occurrence.  At the current rate, it will likely take 1-to-2 years for this clean-up to be finished. 

Development Assistance:  The policy of the United States in Lebanon is to strengthen what is generally recognized as a weak government and to uphold the country’s fragile democracy.  This policy was most certainly undermined by the US’ policy of uncritical support, and even encouragement, of Israel’s bombardment.  The US Agency for International Development is providing increased direct aid to Lebanon in the wake of the war.  This level of aid must be sustained, and tangible development projects must begin with US assistance, so that the Lebanese government can be seen by its citizens as a viable partner in creating social stability.  This will also weaken Hezbollah’s current and now-bolstered position as the only perceived viable partner able to provide such stability. 

Implementation of UN Resolution 1701:  The resolution ending the conflict is seen by the Lebanese as a real commitment by international community to bringing peace to their country.  The US has an obligation to ensure the implementation of this resolution. 

Resolution of the Israeli – Palestinian Conflict:  The Occupation of the Palestinian territories beyond the 1967 borders is the central issue in the region.  As we were reminded by all of our interlocutors, Christian and Muslim alike, it is the core of all problems in the Middle East; it is the key to their solution.  The current US Administration attempts to de-link this issue from others in the region; this is plainly a wrong policy, since it ignores the implications of the Occupation for all of Israel’s neighbors.  While not all terrorism and related violence in today’s world can trace its roots to the Occupation, much of it can be.  Might this war lead to a resumption of the peace process?  It is clear to us that all roads to justice in the Middle East go through Jerusalem.   

Tactics in the “War on Terror”:  We have long advocated for a change from a military response to police/intelligence action in the “war on terror.”  We have also advocated for addressing the injustices that breed terrorism.  This position was strengthened by this visit to Lebanon.  It is clear that Hezbollah is ingrained in Lebanese society – given societal appreciation for its development work and its reputation as a legitimate resistance force – and that a military attack by Israel to “take out” a few terrorists was a misguided approach.  Thus it is incumbent upon the US and its allies to change the current futile policy and instead foster justice and economic opportunity, which will undermine the widespread appeal of terrorist groups, whether they be Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, or Iraqi insurgencies.   

Status of the Christian Communities:  We were told by Muslims that our visit to Lebanon has strengthened the local Christians, since it shows how all Christians aren’t on a crusade against Islam.  This gives our Christian brothers and sisters more of a leg to stand on in relation to the Islamic communities, something which not incidentally helps with Christian-Muslim relations.  As we were told, an ugly face of the West has been revealed, especially in Iraq.  If this face isn’t changed sometime soon, through an overall change of policy, it will be Christians who pay the greatest price, either through violence or emigration, because of their identification with the “Christian West.”   

Today a certain sadness hangs over Lebanon.  Also palpable is the feeling that hostilities could erupt again – between Hezbollah and Israel, among the various religious communities within Lebanon, between Syrian interests and Lebanese citizens – at a moment’s notice.  The Notre Dame du Liban –the statue of the Virgin Mary – looks down upon all of this from her perch high above Beirut.  In truth, she seems tense with worry and ready to weep, reflecting the anxieties and fears of her people, and aware that there is nothing so elusive as peace. 

NCC News contact:  Dan Webster, 212.870.2252,


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