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ICC Note:

An entirely Christian village in Lebanon, El-Kaa, has faced a number of challenges because of the Syrian Civil War and the threat of ISIS. Many Syrian Christians fleeing the war have fled to El-Kaa, both because of its proximity and because of a shared religious faith. This has caused a tremendous strain on the village. Residents live with the knowledge that ISIS has a history of activity in the area, and the memory of a 2016 bomb attack has left many in fear. Although Lebanon’s population is largely Christian, tensions in the surrounding region has left the country significantly stressed. Consequently, villages such as El-Kaa are left vulnerable to the region’s violence. 

10/10/2017 Lebanon
(The Crux) – Although the fate of Christians is precarious to greater and lesser degrees all over the Middle East, few places embody the full range of challenges quite as much as the small village of El-Kaa in northern Lebanon, just across the border from Syria.

It was founded 450 years, created by a Lebanese prince who wanted a trading center along the main road between Beirut and Aleppo in Syria. An enlightened Druze ruler, he entrusted it to Christians, and it’s remained a Christian settlement ever since.

Those halcyon days are in the past however, and today El-Kaa faces a series of existential threats.

For one thing, it’s an entirely Christian village surrounded by Shi’ite towns and settlements dominated politically by Hezbollah. (The Christians here are almost entirely Greek Melkite Catholics, or, as they say in this part of Lebanon where Greek Melkites are the largest denomination, simply “Catholics.”)

While the Christians of El-Kaa say they’ve always gotten along well with their Shi’ite neighbors and they don’t see Hezbollah as a threat, they also know that if an anti-Christian threat were to arise, they’re basically on their own.

Further, given the border location, they’re in the eye of the storm whenever tensions erupt; the bloody Lebanese civil war started in the area, and when Syrian troops poured across the border to occupy a swath of the country, they rolled through El-Kaa.

Christians here also live with the knowledge that ISIS has been active in this border zone, and could return at any time. In the summer of 2016, an ISIS bombing ripped through the village, leaving four people dead.

(Residents say, however, that a recent joint military operation involving the Lebanese army, Hezbollah and the Syrian army, aimed at driving ISIS out of the area, seems to have provided at least a temporary sense of security.)

As if that wasn’t enough, the village’s resources also have been badly strained by waves of fellow Christians from Syria, refugees who see it as a destination of choice because of its proximity. Antoun Fadel, a lifelong resident who teaches in the village school, said Monday that there are now roughly 1,500 Syrian Christian refugees in El-Kaa, alongside the 2,500 native Lebanese inhabitants.

Finally, the village has felt in keen fashion the effects of Lebanon’s overall economic slump, with a large share of its youth either already gone to Beirut or abroad in search of jobs they can’t find at home. It’s a special source of Christian resentment that they’re forced to watch the economies of their Shi’ite neighbors in nearby towns propped up by foreign assistance, usually Iran, and Sunnis elsewhere also getting large infusions of foreign capital, usually from Saudi Arabia, while the Christians are mostly on their own.

Given all that, one might imagine that the basic desire of the Christians here would be to get out, to make a life somewhere with fewer risks and more opportunities. To that, Amalia Awad has a simple answer: “We’re never leaving, because this is our home.”

She’s paid a high price for that tenacity. Awad’s husband, Boulos Ahmar, a bus driver, was one of the victims in that 2016 bombing. Since his death, she said, she’s developed diabetes and suffers high levels of stress, but generally can’t afford the medications to keep the conditions manageable.

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