Crossing Borders – From Beirut to Bethlehem

The sound of the adjacent bulldozers clear the rubble of ruined buildings while I drink strong Turkish coffee on Saifi Street in downtown Beirut. Our walls are peppered with bullet holes and shrapnel scars – a hallmark of Beirut’s restive past. Decades of war have ravaged this ancient city since the bombs dropped in 1975 in the civil war, 1982 invasion of Israel to clean the streets of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the grande finale of the Soviet-built Syrian tanks which ‘ended’ the civil war in the late 1980’s. Foreign powers have battled on the Phoenician and Byzantine land of Lebanon for centuries with colonial intervention dating back to the 1840’s when Maronite Christians consolidated their power by 1862 with French support while the other major factions had their own paymasters at play. The British supported the enigmatic Druze – a tribal-based religion originating from Egypt with their own belief in reincarnation and transmigration of the soul. The Greek and Russian Orthodox gained support from the Russians. Meanwhile, the Sunnis – the adherents of Sunnah (practice of Mohammad) and the sayings (hadith) mustered their power from their alliance with the Mamelukes and then with the Ottoman Turks – an association based on shared faith. Sunnis garnered their commercial power in trade while the Shi’a dwindled in impoverished areas in the Levant region. The Shias have disputed the leadership of Islam from the 8th Century AD since the murder of Ali, the son-in-law of the prophet Mohammad and believe Ali’s descendants are the legitimate successors of Islam. This matrix of religion and ethnicity makes Lebanon diverse and fascinating, but it has allowed political power to wield deadly force, evident in today’s infrastructure. I pass the wreckage of by-gone five-star hotels every morning where the former Prime Minister, Rafik Al Hariri was assassinated in 2005 and the Iranian Embassy stands battered by an incendiary device only two months ago. The land of the Cedar trees emblazoned on the national flag, roughly half the size of Wales, with mountains to ski, beaches to swim as well as deserts to cross – Lebanon has been in a state of flux with massacres in Sabra and Chatila from mass emigration of the Armenians who built their churches juxtaposed against mosques in Mar Mikhail in Beirut. This journey will chronicle a journey from Beirut to Bethlehem by road, a journey fraught with danger and security checks. I will give a balanced and personal view of crossing these borders to reach the final destination of my father’s birthplace in Bethlehem. Jews, Arabs and Christians share the same heritage and it is a shame it is so difficult to travel and live in safety in this region. I hope to throw light on the different people, from the Syrian and Palestinian refugees to the Jewish settlers who may have fled anti-semitism in their ancestral countries and were compelled to settle in their newly-formed Jewish State in the Middle East. Interviews with people from all backgrounds will be recorded with different multimedia and a commentary of events and occurrences will be available on this blog in due course once the itinerary is decided and the travel arrangements and interview dates with governmental officials are made. I hope to receive support from the Press to publicize my blog but it is my audience in the digital age who will share these journalistic features with the wider world. Image

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