The scene of tension is not new to the villages of Lebanon’s southern border, especially the Christian ones. The towns that experienced clashes throughout the period of the Israeli presence in Lebanon, and then during the July 2006 war, are teetering today on the brink of the same scene.
For more than two weeks, the Lebanese Christian villages along the border with the Holy Land have experienced a state of anxiety accompanied by massive population displacement. Parallel to the destruction in the Gaza Strip and its environs, the outskirts of the towns are witnessing intermittent clashes in response from the Israeli side to the launching of missiles from Lebanese territory, or as a deterrent to an infiltration attempt.
This is happening in light of increasing talk that Lebanon could turn into a second, open front, which instills a deep fear in the hearts of the people of the Christian border region.
Attention is drawn to the towns of Rmeish, Ain Ebel, Dibal, and Al-Quzah, which are the four Christian border villages that form what is known as the “Christian Square” in the Bint Jbeil District, southern Lebanon. The eyes of its remaining residents have not known sleep for more than two weeks, while signs of suffering have begun to appear sharply and affect their daily living.
“The fear today is greater than at any previous stage,” said the mayor of the Christian border municipality of Rmeish, Milad al-Alam, who confirmed in an exclusive interview with ACI MENA, CNA’s Arabic-language news partner, that “more than 60% of the town’s population left it for fear of the bombing on the outskirts.”
“There are 10,000 Maronites in Rmeish, whose number decreases in the winter to approximately 7,000,” he said. “Today, the town barely counts 3,000 people who refused to abandon their homes and livelihoods and remained here guarding it.”
Regarding the scene of daily life and the components of steadfastness in the town, Al-Alam said: “As we enter the third week since the outskirts of our town began being bombed, we are suffering from a severe shortage of food supplies and resources that enable us to buy our needs. Everyone who remains makes a living from their free jobs and professions, and these have been completely disrupted. How will we survive while we are searching for a loaf of bread, water, and electricity?”
He added: “Our situation is catastrophic. Today we are left to our fate. No one has asked about us until now, neither political officials nor representatives of the region, nor even the Church. Twenty-five thousand Christians along the Blue Line border, no one has reassured them. Thousands of Christian students in our regions do not go to school like other students throughout the country, and no one asks about them.”
Regarding whether there is a fear among the residents of the border region that Lebanon will be plunged into a war similar to the one they experienced in 2006, Al-Alam answered: “The only evidence of this is the rapid pace of population displacement due to the bitterness of war they experienced in 2006.”
Regarding the reality of the neighboring Christian towns, Al-Alam confirmed that the same scene prevails over the villages of the Christian Square, which are emptied of their residents after they left for fear of any possible war. He stressed that the bells of the churches of Rmeish and al-Muhit continue to ring, and Masses are still being said amid the bombings, which are escalating at a daily rate.
“This is the result of our geographical location and our steadfastness in this land,” Al-Alam said.
A priest raises his voice
The towns of the Christian Square are not alone in the arena of suffering and anxiety, as they were joined by another Christian border town, Qalaia in the Marjayoun district. As the exchange of rocket fire continued between the Lebanese and Israeli sides, the outskirts of the town had a share of it.
This incident prompted a comment from the assistant priest in the parish of Qalaia, Rabih Choueiri, who said in a statement: “I denounce this act of sabotage that some of them are using by forcefully bringing some villages into the war and using unarmed civilians as a human shield to launch rockets.”
“As if the economic and social conditions we are going through today and the displacement of our families and children and their exodus to safe areas are not enough...” he continued. “The south is wide, with plains, mountains, and sea, but not among the houses.”
Choueiri added: “I appeal to those concerned about the security and military services to preserve the remaining security and stability in our town of Qalaia and not to drag the entire region into a war that we do not want because war is destruction, sadness, pain, and death… and we are advocates of peace.”
Counting resilient families
In light of the intermittent clashes that do not spare any border town, the roads leading to the capital, Beirut, have witnessed in recent days unusual traffic movement, indicating that many people have left their villages for fear of escalation. In this context, the Christian border municipality of Dibal launched a campaign to count the people remaining in the town.
The municipality said in a statement: “In light of the difficult conditions that the region is going through and the forced displacement of many families toward Beirut for fear of the development of the situation, and with the aim of developing a practical and realistic vision, we place in your hands an electronic emergency form and ask that it be filled out with the required information in order to update the census conducted by the municipality of Dibal. Finally, about the families who remained in Dibal and those who were displaced to Beirut.”
For those remaining in these areas either out of self-conviction or lack of an alternative, there are many questions and concerns. Will this "border volcano" explode and Lebanon turn into a second front for a merciless war? If this happens, what would be the fate of the Christians of the villages of the southern outskirts?
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This story was first published by ACI MENA, CNA’s Arabic-language news partner, and has been translated and adapted by CNA.