Al-Rahi Says Lebanese who Fled to Israel are Not 'Criminals', Urges 'Reconciliation'إقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi on Friday said the Lebanese state must not deal with its citizens who fled to Israel in 2000 as “criminals,” noting that they are not the ones who have “impeded the presidential election.”
During a visit to the Druze village of Isfiya near the northern Israeli city of Haifa, al-Rahi said he was “profoundly hurt” by those who have criticized his historic visit to Israel and the Holy Land.
“Can't we perform our duties? Has compassion died? Have social duties died?” the patriarch asked.
“We have several times repeated that this visit is purely religious. I did not come here to make political deals … I did not come here to make commercial, economic, military or security deals. I came here to see our loving people,” al-Rahi underlined.
Commenting on the issue of the Lebanese who had fled to Israel after its forces withdrew from south Lebanon, al-Rahi said: “The solution is reconciliation.”
“We are not collaborators. I did not see any Lebanese collaborating against Lebanon,” he added.
According to LBCI TV, al-Rahi rejected in his speech that their possible return to Lebanon be tied to “an amnesty or international resolutions.”
“Had they fought against Lebanon? Had they fought against the Lebanese state? Had they fought against Lebanese institutions?” al-Rahi asked rhetorically.
“Have they paralyzed the presidency? Have they displaced and impoverished the Lebanese? Have they created an economic and social crisis in Lebanon? I want to know what their crime is,” the patriarch added.
Mentioning the undermining of state institutions in Lebanon and the closure of the presidential palace, al-Rahi went on to say: “Who is committing crimes against Lebanon? You? You who love Lebanon and carry its flags in your hearts?”
Israel has invaded Lebanon several times, occupying part of the country's territory for 18 years until it withdrew in 2000 following armed resistance. In 2006, a 34-day war between Israel and Hizbullah left 1,200 Lebanese and 160 Israelis dead.
Lebanon bars its citizens from visiting Israel or having business dealings with Israelis. However, Maronite clergy are exempt from the ban to enable them to stay in touch with the faithful in the Holy Land.
On Wednesday, al-Rahi celebrated mass with exiled Lebanese as part of his controversial trip to Israel.
Hundreds of Lebanese Maronites came to Saint Peter's church in the village of Capernaum on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
Trained, financed and armed by Israel, the South Lebanon Army (SLA) militia battled Palestinians and Hizbullah fighters during the occupation of southern Lebanon.
Many SLA veterans feel they have been abandoned by Israeli authorities in their adopted home, often working in low-paying factory, restaurant or cleaning jobs, but unable to return home for fear of retribution from Hizbullah and others who consider them traitors.
Al-Rahi arrived in Israel earlier in the week to join a brief visit by Pope Francis.
The Maronite Patriarch was condemned by media close to Hizbullah, which said traveling to arch-enemy Israel would be a "sin." His critics have also said the pilgrimage implies normalization with Israel at a time when the two countries remain formally at war.
Al-Rahi's speech marked the end of a weeklong visit to the Holy Land. He spent the first two days in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, lands Israel occupied in the 1967 war, but on Monday ventured into Israel for the first time.