When Arafat protected the Jews
Martina Toti 27 October 2006

When a blogger decides to call himself "a broken heart", one guesses that his digital journal reports nothing but the cries and torments of a contemporary young Werther, the passion of today’s Sturm und Drang. However blogger Aaron’s history is different. Aaron is a Lebanese university student. Although a non-Jew, he decided to devote himself to the cause of the nearly lost Jewish community of Lebanon. In his letter of welcome to the website he explains to the incredulous: "It surprises people that a non-Jew would be so concerned yet I tell my critics if you genuinely believe in Lebanon you believe in all of Lebanese, Jews included."

The fact is that very few Jews are left in Lebanon. Even though there is a dearth of credible information because of the lack of official census records since 1932, estimates assess that around a hundred Jews are left in Lebanon, 40 of which in Beirut. In the Lebanese capital city, the Maghen Abraham synagogue is the ruined temple of a lost people. The roof is almost entirely destroyed, the pavement is uprooted, the inscriptions are erased, only two stars of David still remain. Whoever stayed in Lebanon doesn’t like to talk about the synagogue and its past, and Aaron finds extremely difficult to find someone willing to tell its story. There is Moshe, the fictitious name of a seventy years old Jew who, finally, three years ago, decided to leave Beirut and move to Paris. Aaron reports the interview Moshe released some weeks ago to Ynetnews.com.

When his story became too dense with memories, Moshe asked the journalist to stop, to slacken the pace as remembering was painful. One needs to organize its thoughts. In the ’50 and ’60, Beirut "was a very beautiful city. Jews, Druzes, Shiites, Sunnis, Christians – everyone lived in peace and was neighbourly and friendly. There were very few problems between us. We then had sixteen synagogues in Beirut; they were all full." Historically, Judaism was one the 18 officially recognized religious confessions in Lebanon. Jews were entitled to the same rights as the other minorities, and – as a matter of fact – their number was increasingly growing even after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. By that time, they were approximately 14,000.

Things changed when the civil war broke out. In the Lebanese capital city, no more than 1800 Jews remained. But at times, the Jews who lived in the Jewish neighbourhood were protected by Fatah, Arafat’s group. "Then, they would still differentiate between a Jew and an Israeli." Things got worse when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982. Moshe recalls that he thought peace was coming back, but Hezbollah’s arrogant coming on the stage and the conflicts with Nabih Beri’s Shiites further reduced the Jewish presence. Around 300 Jews left Lebanon in the following three years. The houses of prayer were left abandoned and the synagogues were raided. In 2002, when the Jewish community was fading, Hariri proposed to restore the Maghen Abraham Synagogue. However the restoration never took place and the neighbouring Talmudic school was demolished so that other new buildings, buildings that Hariri himself wanted, kept the view of the beach. Moshe left Lebanon, tired of fear and lack of security. But the forty who stayed, he says with conviction "these, no one will remove."

Aaron himself seems to be sure of it. The intent of his blog is "to re-establish a connection between Lebanese of the Jewish faith around the world with their country of Lebanon. The message of coexistence and genuine national unity is not applicable so long as a fragment from Lebanon’s mosaic of minorities is missing. Our sole intention is to revive the Lebanese Jewish community or at the very least, honour the once vibrant community." "This is my story" writes  Aaron "the Lebanon I believe in is the Lebanon of humanity, of coexistence, love, and tolerance. Morality above all else, above politics, above hate. … Enough ignorance and blind hatred. A broken heart, an optimistic son, Aaron."