While the world's attention is focused on westerners fleeing to Cyprus and the many Hezbollah civilians fleeing to Syria, another group of Lebanese people worldwide are counting the days until they will be going back to their homes in Lebanon and reunite with their families. These are the thousands of Lebanese Christian refugees who fled Lebanon before, during and after the civil war.
The most recent wave of refugees fearing slaughter by Hezbollah came in 2000 with the Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon. With Israel's help, many moved on throughout the world while over one thousand remained in Israel. Most are ready to go back to their homes, which many left with only the shirts on their backs.
These Lebanese originally came under attack from radical Islamic and PLO elements in Lebanon in 1975 and asked Israel for help. Living in what became "the Israeli security zone" in 1978, they and Israel held off the Palestinians, radical Islamists, and later Hezbollah for 18 years from attacking Christians and shelling northern Israel.
In June 2000, under daily causalities and mounting popular pressure, the IDF set a withdrawal date. As the date drew near, the security of IDF forces began to be compromised as the loyalty of allied Lebanese began to waver as they wondered about their fate after the Israelis left. The IDF departed suddenly with its closest Christian allies right behind them.
For the Christians in Israel who tell me of their hearts' desire, I can only use fictitious names for fear of their relatives living in Lebanon being killed by Hezbollah. Everyone knows everyone in South Lebanon. George, a Christian Lebanese refugee in Haifa, says, "I can't wait for Israel to go in. I want to go back to my home." Alexander and Mouna in Nahariya say, "We can't wait to be reunited with our family. The kids miss seeing their aunts and uncles." Butros and Georgette, an older couple in Kiriat Shemona, say, "We want to go back home and die in Lebanon." Sam in Florida says: "Finally I am going to be able to raise my two children. I have seen them once in six years."
These Christians who fled to Israel joined thousands worldwide who already fled from the destabilization and destruction of the only Christian country in the Middle East. From being a majority to becoming a minority, Christians who could leave left for less intimidating and secure countries. After the 2000 Israeli withdrawal, Christians remaining in south Lebanon live under the subjugation of Hezbollah's domination and a poor economy.
Those who remained in the Christian Beirut found themselves politically isolated by their Syrian/Islamic dominated government. As they helped rebuild Lebanon, they kept to themselves, letting Hezbollah propagate and domineer over south Lebanon and increase its influence in the national government. The terror group's unrestricted growth has given us the problem erupting today.
Now there are two groups of Christian Lebanese. The refugees wanting to go back and those in Lebanon who don't know if they should stay or leave. For the refugee Lebanese, the war looks painful from a distance but their desire to overcome the evil that forced them to leave makes them agree that something ever so violent must be endured to rid the influence of Hezbollah.
Through the anonymity of the Internet, Christians are speaking up. Response to my media appearances as a Lebanese voicing support for Israel's war with Hezbollah is running strong.
"Thank you for finally bringing to light the facts of this war that most people refuse to speak about."
"I was so glad to hear you on CNN. You said what so many of us Lebanese Christians want to say. We need a strong voice like yours to represent us." Lina
"People in our beloved Lebanon are too afraid to state this painful truth from fear of retaliation and us, "Westerners", are too afraid to be labeled as politically incorrect." Nayla
"I watched your interview on CNN today. Thank you for your honesty and courage." Hanna
"Most Christians like us in Lebanon feel the same but are unable to air their opinion. I still have family in Lebanon, therefore I won't disclose my identity by fear of reprisal." Johnny
I see the result of this latest conflict greatly determining the future of the Christian make-up of Lebanon. To what extent the influence of Hezbollah may be diminished will determine if Christians refugees return, or Christians in Lebanon leave for more secure pastures as Christian minorities in the Middle East have done since the creation of Islam.
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