Lebanon Brief – June 2019

A New Earth and a New Heaven on Earth through Christ

By Chaden Hani

 

News

Amidst a “war of words” over the identity of the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms, Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) chief and former Member of the Lebanese Parliament, Walid Jumblatt, proclaimed in an interview to Russia’s state-owned English-language channel RT last April, that the maps of the territory have been “manipulated” and that the Farms are not in-fact Lebanese but Syrian, since Lebanon failed to submit the necessary documentation to the United Nations regarding their status.

In response, Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah declared,

“As for the issue of the Shebaa Farms, the (Lebanese) state says that they’re Lebanese and this was mentioned in the governmental policy statements. This is a settled and finalized issue… As long as the state, the government and the parliament consider the Shebaa Farms Lebanese territory, we do not have a problem and the issue is settled.”

Background

Shebaa Farms is a small area of 10 square miles on the border between Israel, Lebanon and Syria. Overlooking the Lebanese Beqaa Valley, this area is located on a mountain some 5,000 feet above sea level. Since the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, Israel has been holding this relatively high area, which provides it with certain advantages from an intelligence and strategic point of view.

Shebaa Farms was recognized by the United Nations in 1974 as part of the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights. In May 2000, Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon after 18 years of occupation. Lebanon’s Hezbollah claimed that the withdrawal was not complete because Shebaa Farms were actually on Lebanese – not Syrian – territory. This claim gave Hezbollah either legitimacy and/or an excuse, depending upon who you ask, to continue its fight against the Israeli occupier.

There has been much talk in the international community, and within Syria and Lebanon in particular, about the status of the disputed Shebaa Farms. The small area has been occupied by Israel since 1967. The governments of both Syria and Lebanon insist that Shebaa is Lebanese, while Israel and the U.N. claim that it belongs to Syria, since it was under the jurisdiction of Syria at the time of its occupation during the War of 1967.

Some contend that the intense dispute over Shebaa was raised by former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad when it became clear to him that the Israelis were about to leave South Lebanon. Supporters of this argument claim that al-Assad created the idea of Shebaa belonging to Lebanon to justify the continuation of a militant Hezbollah in Lebanon. If all Lebanese territories had been liberated from Israeli occupation, after all, it would have been very difficult for Hezbollah to retain its support from the Lebanese public for maintaining an armed presence in the country. For al-Assad, Hezbollah’s arms were important because they were the main instrument of his own proxy war with Israel.

Theological Reflections

Some politicians are driven by the interests of their personal and political ideologies. They present the truth from their own perspective in order to maintain power over and against their political adversaries. They present different interpretations so as to maintain their presence and ruling position. For politicians, land is often therefore an excuse rather than a legitimate argument, while our hope as Christians is not a political fight for the pursuit of land but a struggle toward the eventual unification of heaven and earth in Christ. Our eschatological hope is related to “a brand-new land.” As the revelation of John informs us:

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[b] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:1-5).

The Church in the Middle East can begin to cultivate an alternative culture and different perspectives than those applied by those in power. Land and borders should never be a cause for conflict but rather a celebration of closeness and the pursuit of common interests leading to peace. Borders are very important for maintaining the security and protecting the existence of nations and peoples. But, they have also been the catalyst for so many atrocities committed under the idolatrous banner of “nationalism.”

Missiological Implications

As followers of Christ, we are commanded to seek justice. In ambiguous situations, like in the case of the Shebaa Farms where truth can be misleading, we should seek justice for the people of the land who are suffering from wars and other disputes. While politicians may use land as an excuse to maintain their power and position, we ought to be advocates for those suffering the consequences of injustice resulting from political tyranny and greed. Our responsibilities are not materialistic in nature, but we must pursue a justice focused on immigrants, orphans, widows and all those in need because “the religion that God our father accepts as pure and faultless is to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). Our role is to deliver a message of hope and enable them to see the “perfect new land” wherein Jesus reigns over a Kingdom of love, peace and justice.