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10 Things You Didn't Know About Israel and Lebanon

When most people think of Israel and Lebanon, their minds go straight to conflict. But the reality is far more nuanced and filled with moments of cooperation. Here are ten things you didn't know about the unique and sometimes surprising connections between these two neighboring countries.

IDF soldier rescues a Lebanese elderly woman in November 2010.
IDF soldier rescues a Lebanese elderly woman in November 2010.

1. Ancient Trade Routes

Long before the modern borders were drawn, the lands that are now Israel and Lebanon were connected by ancient trade routes. The Phoenicians, a seafaring people from what is now Lebanon, traded extensively with the ancient Israelites. These routes facilitated the exchange of goods, ideas, and cultures, creating a rich line of shared history. It is documented in the Book of 1 Kings and 2 Kings how Phoenician capitals had relations with King David and King Solomon. Solomon even married women from Sidon.

Port of Beirut in the 19th Century.
Port of Beirut in the 19th Century (Wikimedia).

2. Shared Mediterranean Culture

Both Israel and Lebanon boast a Mediterranean lifestyle characterized by a strong emphasis on family, delicious food, and vibrant traditions. Whether it’s the hummus or the Lebanese tabbouleh, our cuisines are strikingly similar, celebrating fresh ingredients and bold flavors. The markets of Tel Aviv and Beirut could almost be mirror images of each other, filled with the same spices, textiles, and local delicacies. Today, Israel is the most free country in the Middle East, but in the past, Lebanon was probably nearly as free as Israel is today - its former nickname was the Switzerland of the Middle East. We in Israel hope that one day Lebanon will be free once again.

3. Cooperation During the Lebanese Civil War

During the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990), Israel provided support to certain Lebanese factions to stabilize the region and prevent the spread of radical Islamist influences. This cooperation included humanitarian aid and medical assistance. In fact, many wounded Lebanese civilians were treated in Israeli hospitals, showcasing a side of Israel often overlooked by the international media, but I am sure that the Lebanese families whose lives were saved by Israel - remember it to this day.

Lebanese Army, Beirut, Lebanon 1982
Lebanese Army, Beirut, Lebanon 1982 (Wikimedia)

4. South Lebanon Army

The South Lebanon Army (SLA) was formed in 1976 as a Christian-dominated militia primarily composed of Lebanese soldiers who opposed the presence and influence of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and later Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. The SLA's formation was driven by a need to protect their communities from militant attacks and to maintain a degree of autonomy in a region plagued by violence and instability. Over the years, the SLA became a crucial ally of Israel, providing essential ground support and intelligence during the Israel-Lebanon conflict.

One notable story of cooperation between the SLA and Israel occurred in 1982 during the Lebanon War. The SLA and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) jointly undertook Operation Peace for Galilee, aiming to push PLO forces out of southern Lebanon. The SLA's local knowledge and familiarity with the terrain were invaluable to Israeli forces, facilitating key military operations that significantly weakened the PLO's foothold in the region.

Israel Defense Forces meet with South Lebanese Army commander during Litani Operation, 1978
Israel Defense Forces meet with South Lebanese Army commander during Litani Operation, 1978

Following Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, many SLA members and their families faced severe reprisals from Hezbollah and other factions for their collaboration with Israel. To protect these individuals, Israel granted asylum to around 7,000 SLA members and their families. Today, these former SLA fighters and their descendants live in various parts of Israel, integrating into Israeli society while maintaining their distinct cultural identity. This community serves as a living testament to the deep ties forged between Israel and the SLA during years of mutual struggle and cooperation.

5. Rescue Operations

During the Lebanese Civil War, and before that, Israel undertook significant efforts to rescue Jews from Lebanon. One notable example was the covert mission in the 1970s to evacuate Lebanese Jews from Beirut. As the war intensified and anti-Semitic threats grew, the Jewish community in Beirut faced imminent danger. Israel responded with a series of daring operations to extract these individuals.

Israeli intelligence agents and special forces orchestrated complex rescue missions, often conducted under the cover of night. These operations involved moving Jewish families through secret routes and safe houses to evade detection by hostile factions.

Many of the rescued Lebanese Jews and their descendants now live in Israel, contributing to the nation's cultural diversity and preserving their unique heritage.

6. Jewish Community in Lebanon

Historically, Lebanon was home to a vibrant and thriving Jewish community, with roots tracing back to ancient times. By the mid-20th century, the Jewish population in Lebanon had grown significantly, with an estimated 15,000 Jews living in the country. Most of them resided in Beirut, where they were well-integrated into the social and economic fabric of the city. The Maghen Abraham Synagogue, built in 1925 in the Wadi Abu Jamil neighborhood, stood as a central hub for the community, serving not only as a place of worship but also as a cultural and social center.

Beiruti Jews in the 19th Century
Beiruti Jews in the 19th Century

The Jewish community in Lebanon began to decline rapidly after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent Arab-Israeli conflicts. Many emigrated to Israel, Europe, and the Americas seeking safety and stability. Despite this decline, the Maghen Abraham Synagogue remains a poignant symbol of the once-flourishing Jewish presence in Lebanon. Recent restoration efforts have aimed to preserve this historic site, honoring the legacy and cultural heritage of Lebanese Jewry.

Recent image of the Maghen Abraham Synagogue, in the Wadi Abu Jamil neighborhood (Wikimedia)
Recent image of the Maghen Abraham Synagogue, in the Wadi Abu Jamil neighborhood (Wikimedia)

7. Humanitarian Aid After Beirut Explosions

In a rare act of compassion, Israel offered humanitarian aid to Lebanon following the devastating explosions at the Beirut port on August 4, 2020, which killed dozens and injured thousands. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, along with Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, coordinated the effort through the United Nations and international mediators, offering medical assistance despite the historical animosity between the two countries.

This move highlighted Israel's commitment to humanitarian aid, even to an "enemy state". Although Lebanon had not officially responded, Israel's offer underscored a moment of solidarity and empathy in the face of tragedy.

Tel Aviv City Hall illuminated with the Lebanese flag in solidarity with the people of Beirut
Tel Aviv City Hall illuminated with the Lebanese flag in solidarity with the people of Beirut (Wikimedia)

8. Potential Environmental Collaboration

Israel and Lebanon face significant environmental challenges, particularly concerning water resources. Lebanon, despite its relatively high annual rainfall, struggles with water shortages due to inefficient water management and pollution.

Furthermore, Israeli advancements in water conservation and management, such as drip irrigation and desalination, have been recognized globally and could serve as valuable models for Lebanon (one day I hope). These technologies have enabled Israel to transform arid regions into productive agricultural areas, offering potential solutions for Lebanon’s water management challenges.

9. Cultural Similarities

Lebanese and Israelis share numerous cultural similarities. Both cultures boast rich traditions in music and dance, with folk dances like the Lebanese Dabke and the Israeli Hora - both our peoples love life.

Family plays a central role in both cultures, with a strong emphasis on familial bonds, respect for elders, and hospitality. Additionally, the arts serve as a bridge between the two cultures, with filmmakers, musicians, and artists exploring themes of identity, conflict, and coexistence.

10. Vision for the Future

Despite the political tensions, many Israelis and Lebanese dream of a future where their countries can coexist peacefully. This vision is rooted in a deep recognition of their shared history and cultural similarities. Grassroots movements and peace initiatives have been working tirelessly to foster dialogue and understanding between the two peoples, aiming to build bridges rather than walls.

In the Bible, the prophet Isaiah spoke of a time when "nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore" (Isaiah 2:4). This vision of peace is not just a distant dream; it is a possibility rooted in the commonalities between Israel and Lebanon.

Our peoples are more similar than different. Both Israelis and Lebanese have shown remarkable resilience, ingenuity, and a passion for life. We share a love for family, tradition, and community. Our histories have been intertwined for millennia, and our futures could be just as connected if we choose cooperation over conflict.

I hope that we talk more about paving the way for a future where Israel and Lebanon can stand together in friendship and mutual respect. It is not only possible but necessary for the prosperity and peace of the region.

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Jul 04

I really liked this article and I was happy to know that there is more identification than hatred between Israelis and Lebanese. I think what divides them most are religious fanatics, unfortunately. God bless Lebanon and Israel.


Jul 02

Hilarious to see that you think Lebanese people stand by Israel

Jul 02
Replying to

The Lebanese Christian’s do, not the Moslem they would not even like themselves

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