Palestine As A Weapon … Inside Lebanon

LebanonPalestinians | MEMRI Daily Brief No. 580

The Gaza war between Hamas and Israel has had an effect on public opinion worldwide. But the effect has not been the same in all countries. In Spain and Latin America, for example, full-throated advocacy for Palestinian causes is most marked among the political left; the farther left the party, the more extreme the advocacy. In the Middle East, the war has exacerbated existing friction between regimes, such as between Morocco and Algeria. In some places the war has fed into internal conflict, being used as a weapon or club in domestic political situations. In Jordan, the war is heightening friction between the country’s Palestinian majority and its minority “East Bank” Jordanian elite. Internal tensions also spiked in Lebanon, a country where the cause of Palestine has been used at least three times in the past 50 years – by the PLO, by Syria and by Iran – as an excuse for foreign interference and oppression.

Public opinion in Lebanon is not uniform according to sect. There are “pro-Resistance” Christians, some of them vociferously so, and there are non-Christians – Shi’a and Sunni and Druze – who are against Lebanon being part of a wider war and opposed to being dragged by Hizbullah into another conflict. Those types of individuals often have to keep a lower profile given the threat of assassination, as befell Hizbullah critic Lokman Slim in 2021.[1] But if one was to generalize, opposition to war is much more likely – certain more open – among the country’s Christian population, which is much more likely to embrace the concept that the war in Gaza has nothing to do with Lebanon and that Lebanon should concern itself with its own business and be neutral in all regional conflicts, including wars with Israel. To want to be neutral and at peace in Lebanon, to put the country’s interests first over some foreign conflict, is interpreted by the so-called “Axis of Resistance” as being pro-Israel even if one never mentions that state.

Since the war began on October 7, 2023, the Resistance Axis – Hizbullah and its puppets – have concentrated much of their ire, their propaganda networks, and street action against the country’s Christians, particularly against the Maronites, their leaders, and their symbols. In this way, an external conflict has been transformed into a tool of coercion and intimidation in an already existing internal struggle for power, pitting the country’s Shi’a duopoly (Hizbullah + Amal) against anyone else, but especially against that part of the Maronite leadership most opposed to Hizbullah hegemony.

This could be seen from the beginning of the war in October. A reporter for Lebanon’s MTV channel was interfered with by a pro-Hizbullah minder in South Lebanon because he claimed that the channel “supported the Zionist enemy.” At the same time, noisy crowds carrying Palestinian and Hizbullah flags invaded Christian urban areas – Awkar, where the U.S. Embassy is located, and Achrafieh/Gemmayze. These outsiders’ chants included “Shi’a, Shi’a, Shi’a,” “At Your Service, Oh Nasrallah,” and “Let’s Go, Sayyed, for the Sake of Allah.” Strangely enough, such provocative acts were deemed to be not sectarian – but Christians advocating for a federal Lebanon are often derided as irredeemably sectarian.

While images of Hamas spokesman Abu Obeidah – as “the spokesman of the nation” – marked Beirut’s airport road, Hizbullah’s extensive electronic media proxy army (which also includes leftist and pan-Arab nationalist allies) kept up a steady diet of anti-Maronite content, from political and religious mockery to crude, often obscene images against prominent figures – Kataeb Party parliamentarians Nadim and Samy Gemayel (portrayed as babies or women), Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea (pictured as Judas), and even the late Bashir Gemayel.

Other images at Christmastide showed Jesus Christ as crucified for Palestine or as a Palestinian militant, “the first Palestinian revolutionary.” The Maronite Patriarchate, which has called for neutrality, was another focus of criticism. The mostly Christian proponents of neutrality were now dubbed by the critics as “isolationists.” While much of this ferment over the past months was war-related, some was not, and focused rather on Maronites as Maronites, a type of eternal “Maroniphobia,” inspired by social resentment or envy as much as by political disagreement or religious hatred. That the Christian population of Lebanon was declining and that Christians were emigrating was a topic of particular glee.

The Axis of Resistance also benefited from the presence of domesticated Court Christians – mocked by critics as dhimmis or as “Nasara Al-Manar” (Christians of the Hizbullah television channel Al-Manar) – who would amplify the Iranian-sponsored Resistance’s talking points. This phrase is a likely response to the “Shi’a Al-Safara” term developed by Hizbullah online trolls and aimed against members of that community opposed to the terrorist group.

Some prominent Christians, of course, are immune to Resistance trolling. Suleiman Frangieh (grandson of President Suleiman Frangieh, 1970-1976) and Gibran Bassil, son-in-law of former President Michel Aoun, are Hizbullah allies who still aspire to become the next Lebanese president with the support of Nasrallah and Amal’s Nabih Berri.

The latest point of internal friction in this mostly online campaign was generated by, of all things, a Catholic nun when video surfaced in early March 2024 of Sister May Ziadeh praising “the Resistance” while speaking at the Ghabala parochial school in the mostly Maronite Christian region of Keserwan. Ziadeh said:

“In the south there are students of your age who say they have no dreams other than liberating their land. Today we pray for the south, for the children of the south, for the people of the south, for the mothers of the south, and for the men of the resistance, because they are men from Lebanon and they are working hard to protect this homeland. If we don’t reach out to them, and we don’t love them no matter what we think, then we will be traitors to our land, our homeland and every book we read.”[2]

The resulting media firestorm was predictable, even though positions were scrambled. The politicians and trolls of the Resistance (Hizbullah and friends) who had mocked and threatened priests and bishops, now found a nun they could embrace and cheer. The same online voices who only recently dripped venom against the Maronite Patriarch now launched a hashtag – “Solidarity with Sister Maya.” Defenders of the Church were placed on the defensive but contrasted this nun who defended the persecutors of Christians with nuns and others who defended their own community.

The Federal Lebanon website responded noting that “the problem is not praying for the south. The problem is asking to pray for the men of the resistance. We don’t send young children to schools to receive ideological indoctrination, The Hitler Youth has no place in our schools.”[3] Not surprisingly, Hizbullah’s Maronite allies like Bassil, and so-called “patriotic Christian” supporters of Hizbullah and Palestinian terrorists, used the nun incident to score political points.[4] The Hizbullah mouthpiece Al-Akhbar sarcastically declared that Geagea’s Lebanese Forces, the largest Christian opposition party, had declared takfir on the nun.[5]

It is worth adding that Sister Maya was not only asking for prayers for the Resistance, but also implied that not supporting Hizbullah is treason, which is very much in sync with the Resistance narrative in Lebanon. Those who want neutrality, who are in favor of peace, and who are “isolationists” or federalists are to be considered as “traitors.” That is why Lebanese journalists and others seen as having had any sort of contact with Israelis risked being brought before a military court.[6]

The deterioration in communal relations inside Lebanon, driven especially by Hizbullah and by the decline in both Christian and Sunni Muslim political power, predates the current Gaza war, but the conflict is deepening these tensions. Hizbullah knows that many and probably most Lebanese may have no love for Israel but are against another war in general, as the country is already enduring an unprecedented economic crisis.

But with about 300 Hizbullah fighters already killed since the conflict began, and Israeli airstrikes slowly creeping deeper north the longer the war continues, the terrorist group may be trapped in an iron cage of its own making. A wider war in Lebanon may become inevitable, despite the efforts of the Biden administration to prevent this.[7] If a longer, more intense war does come, the current campaign of intimidation and coercion launched against the Christian “isolationists” in Lebanon may get much worse very soon.


Amb. Alberto M. Fernandez

Ambassador Alberto M. Fernandez is Vice President of MEMRI.


[1], March 14, 2023.

[2], March 11, 2024.

[3], March, 11, 2024.

[4], March 11, 2024.

[5], March 12, 2024.

[6] MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 11187, UAE-Based Lebanese Journalist Layal Alekhtiar, Wanted By Lebanese Military Court For Interviewing Israeli Military Official: The ‘Culture Of Death’ Has Destroyed Half Of Lebanon And Other Arab Countries – I Have Chosen The ‘Culture Of Life’, March 8, 2024.

[7], March 12, 2024.

EDITORS NOTE: This MEMRI column is republished with permission. ©All rights reserved.

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