Salaam to you and Shalom from me. We are neighbors but most regrettably we are not friends. Once, in 1956, I heard a lecture given by Charles Malik, Lebanon’s ambassador to the United Nations and a gifted speaker. At the question and answer period I told him that I hoped that Lebanon would be the first Arab country to make peace with Israel. I felt that our cultures were similar and that our past friendship dated from the time when King Solomon hired the king of Tyre, Hiram, to provide the famous cedars that were necessary for building the Jewish holy Temple in Jerusalem.
I added that Beirut’s luxury hotel Phoenicia had once been a favorite vacation spot for wealthy Palestinian Jews. At the same time I assured Ambassador Malik that Israel had no territorial claims on Lebanon.
Politely and briefly his reply was simply “Israel must first return to their homes the Arabs of Palestine who they drove out in 1947-1948”.
I never met another Lebanese until the 1970’s when I sat at a kibbutz lunch table with six Lebanese soldiers of a group of 30, all members of a South Lebanon brigade, who had voluntarily crossed the border into Israel and whose families may well be residing in the north of our country to this day, protected by Israel.
In their conversation with me, I learned much from them. They were particularly proud of Lebanon when a majority of the Christian population governed and legislated in the country. Things changed for the worst, they said, when Islamic fundamental ideology brought havoc to a once peaceful nation.
My only connection with Lebanon was through the works of one of its most famous and prolific authors and painters, Khalil Gibran. He was born in Lebanon’s mountains in 1883 and died in Boston, USA in 1931 at the young age of 48.
Born to a Maronite Catholic family , Gibran loved and respected all religions and creeds and was faithful to the ideals of love and peace expressed in the Baha’I faith.
Prior to 1918, all of his literary works were written in the Arabic language. Living in the Syrian-Lebanese large community in Boston, he then began writing in English.
I came to know him, and through his writings, the people of Lebanon whom he loved, especially in his magnificent volume, “The Prophet”, composed of twenty-five poetic essays on how man should live life with love and respect for his fellow-man. It was and it remains forever my most beloved book of poetry.
It is no wonder and does not surprise me that “The Prophet” is the second most popular book in English in the USA, second only next to the Bible.
I cannot know how many people in Lebanon have ever read Gibran’s poetry. I can hope that if many Lebanese had read carefully the dreams and wishes he expressed in “The Prophet”, there would be a warm peace between our two countries and peoples.
If “The Prophet” is available in Arabic in Beirut’s many bookshops, it would be a best-seller. Why?
Because I believe that the good people of Lebanon dream the same dreams of Khalil Gibran.
There is no place in Lebanon for a Hezbullah nor a Nasrallah. They are alien to the mentality and character of normal Lebanese people. And although Khalil Gibran loved all peoples of good-will, I am certain that he would despise the Iranian-imposed elements upon the imprisoned captives in Lebanon.
We in Israel no longer need cedars of Lebanon to build temples or shrines. What we do need and pray for is the renewed friendship that once existed between Hiram and Solomon.
There is no hatred in all of Israel against Lebanon. Our hands are not upon the rifles but are extended to the hands of decent Lebanese who dream and yearn for the same peace as we do and as Khalil Gibran did, in true peace and in genuine friendship.
Insh’Allah and Im Yirtzeh HaShem. So may it be by God’s Will.