Israel and Lebanon have been formally at war since 1948, when Israel was founded. In the year 2000, thousands of Lebanese moved to Israel after it ended its occupation of some regions in southern Lebanon. Many of these Lebanese had links to the South Lebanon Army, a pro-Israeli militia which collapsed when the Israelis withdrew.
The Jerusalem Post reported July 22 that Justice Fadi Akiki, who is in charge of the case, told the Lebanese newspaper Annahar that the funds came from Israeli residents, “the majority of whom work in the interest of the enemy.”
The money is subject to laws regulating everything that enters Lebanon from Israel, he added. According to the judge, the archbishop was not arrested but only subject to the same inspection rules for all those crossing the border.
“I respect the church, but there is a law that is the boycott of Israel and it is my duty as a judge to implement it,” the judge said.
The U.S. bishops’ conference voiced support for the Maronite Church.
“As Lebanon goes through difficult times and crises, we renew our stand in solidarity with Cardinal Rai and the Synod of Bishops,” Bishop Malloy said Aug. 12. “We also pray for the protection of the Church in Lebanon and its charitable work as it comes under increasing pressure. We further support the call of Patriarch Rai for the ‘active neutrality’ of Lebanon, so that it will remain a place of conviviality between Christians and Muslims and a beacon of hope for all Christians of the Middle East. May Lebanon prosper again and enjoy total sovereignty and lasting peace.”
There are two Maronite eparchies in the U.S. Both Maronite bishops, in a July 29 letter to Cardinal Rai, said they were “deeply saddened” to hear of Archbishop El-Hage’s arrest and detention.
Bishop Gregory Mansour of the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn and Bishop A. Elias Zaidan of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles voiced solidarity with the cardinal, the Synod of Bishops, and with “all our brothers and sisters suffering in Lebanon.”
“Lebanon is a beautiful country, where religious beliefs are a bridge, not a hindrance, to conviviality and cooperation,” they said, voicing support for the “active neutrality” of Lebanon.
“If we do not stand united as one people working together for the future of our country, we are liable to fall victim to outside influence,” the two bishops said, voicing prayers for a peaceful, sovereign and prosperous Lebanon.
In a July 31 statement, Cardinals Wilton Gregory of Washington, Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, and Timothy Dolan of New York voiced solidarity with the detained Lebanese archbishop, speaking in their roles as honorary chairs of the religious advisory board for In Defense of Christians.
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“Archbishop El-Hage is the spiritual shepherd of many peoples and he travels between those lands regularly. His recent arrest, detention and interrogation by Lebanese authorities upon his return from his Episcopal See in Haifa — as well as the confiscation of medical and financial aid intended for the needy in Lebanon — are most disturbing,” they said.
“We applaud Cardinal Rai and the Maronite Synod for their firm support of Archbishop El-Hage. In the interest of regional stability and human rights, we further support calls for positive action to protect Church leadership, their charitable work, and lay Christians in the Middle East,” the three cardinals said.