Christians in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley have begun arming themselves in preparation for an ISIS (now known as the Islamic State) offensive as it seeks to expand its territorial control outside of Syria. For Christians, who comprise 20% of Lebanon’s population, it will be fight or flight.
IB Times Up to 3,000 militants from the Islamic State and other jihadists occupy the mountain range between Lebanon and Syria near the Sunni town of Arsal.
A woman reacts during a sit-in organized by families of the Lebanese soldiers who were captured by Islamist militants in Arsal, demanding their release in the Lebanese town of Baalbek in the Bekaa Valley
As ISIS seeks to grab land outside of the mountain caves and farms they currently control, Christian volunteers have now created village defence forces to protect against the Sunni militants who have taken up to 21 Lebanese soldiers and policemen hostage.
“We are a minority and we are under threat by the jihadists,” Rifaat Nasrallah, a commander of the volunteer guards in the Greek Catholic town of Ras Baalbek, said. “It wasn’t the idea of anyone in particular,” Nasrallah says of the formation of defence units. “The whole village felt in danger so we all agreed it was necessary.”
“We don’t shoot if we see someone or something moving in the mountains,” said one of the watchmen. “We just call the Army and they investigate.” Ras Baalbek has a population of 15,000 and is separated from the flashpoint town of Arsal by a range of hills.
“Imagine if Islamic State makes it into Ras Baalbek and they crucify a Christian. It will set Lebanon alight,” a western diplomat in the Lebanese capital of Beirut, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Times. There are approximately 2.4m Chrisitans in Lebanon, 20% of the total population.
The terror group has continued to crack down on religious freedom since the announcement of its Islamic “caliphate”, straddling the Iraqi-Syrian border. The Sunni jihadists have taken over Iraq’s largest Christian town of Qaraqosh causing thousands of residents to flee towards Kurdistan region.
They also issued an ultimatum to Christians in the city of Mosul to convert to their radical form of Islam or be forced to either pay a tax, leave the city or be harmed for refusal to convert.
The city is now reportedly empty of Christians as hundreds of families fled following the ultimatum of death or a historic contract ‒ known as “dhimma”‒ where non-Muslims can receive protection if they pay a fee known as a “jizya.”
ISIS has now beheaded it’s second of the nineteen hostages taken during the brief occupation of the North Lebanon border town of Arsal.
ISIS beheading of Lebanese soldier:
Is Barack Hussein Obama allowing these persecuted Christians refugees to immigrate to America? NO, but France is, Australia is. Obama continues to import a never-ending flood of Muslim refugees from terrorist states like like Somalia and Yemen. Not to worry, he says the “Islamic State has nothing to with Islam.”
The lightning advances of the Islamic State across Syria and Iraq in June shocked the world. But it’s not just the group’s military victories that have garnered attention — it’s also the pace with which its members have begun to carve out a viable sharia state. As the soldiers of the Islamic State continue in their effort to build up institutions in the north central Syrian city of Raqqa, the Hisbah, or religious police, are tasked with enforcing a particularly harsh form of Sharia law.
VICE News visits the Sharia courts where those accused of infractions are sentenced to harsh penalties, including death by crucifixion. But the courts don’t just handle crime. Citizens can bring all manners of complaints, including family disputes, and see the Islamic State’s form of justice doled out. A section of the court specifically set up for Christians, where the Islamic State discusses its treatment of minorities, and sees a former Armenian Catholic Church that has been converted into an Islamic center.
Seven years of harassment and attacks by Muslims have finally forced a Palestinian church in East Jerusalem out of their building, church leaders said. The congregation of Calvary Baptist Church, under Holy Land Missions, moved out of their building in the Shofat area of Jerusalem in July after Islamists threatened their landlord. They are looking for a safe, permanent place to meet.
Morning Star News (h/t Susan K) Pastor Steven Khoury said he was emotionally torn when he handed over the keys. The persecution was difficult but had also been a catalyst for spiritual development, he said. “It was very emotional, because a lot of our people really started to grow there,” he said. “Most of the growth happened in Shofat because of the persecution.”
The persecution started almost immediately after the congregation moved into the building in a predominantly Muslim area in 2007. Within 10 days of starting meetings and worship services, a Muslim who lived close to the church building attacked a member with a knife. Then someone tried to set the building on fire, likely with a Molotov cocktail, Khoury said. “It only burned a few of our playground sets and didn’t reach the building,” he said.
This sign in Bethlehem greets Christian worshippers coming to visit their Christian holy sites.
Next came the vandalism – first cars parked at the church building were damaged, then the property, and finally there were physical attacks on children coming to church gatherings. “These were all spread out over a two- or three-year period, to let us know that we were not welcome there,” Khoury said.
When the local government accepted a request in late 2008 to put up a road sign identifying the location of the church building, things “really escalated,” Khoury said. “When we did that, it took everything to the next level. The landlords were now being threatened. The landlords were being told, ‘How dare you do this, this is a disgrace to Islam. If you don’t do anything about this, we will.’”
Eventually the landlord succumbed to the pressure, and the 110-member congregation had to leave the building. The departure last month was not the first time Muslims angry about their activities have forced the Jerusalem congregation to leave a building they were using for ministry. It has happened twice before.
In 2006, Holy Land Missions had to leave a building in the Beit Hanina area of East Jerusalem, which, like Shofat, is a Muslim-majority area. In 2004, when the group rented the building, church vehicles were vandalized, a sign identifying the church was torn down twice and the building was subjected to repeated vandalism and break-ins, Khoury said. By comparison, Khoury doesn’t remember any other building near the church property being vandalized.
Church administrator Hany Khayo said persecution has been constant “I have been here since 2004, and every day we have a story,” Khayo said. “[They persecute us] because we believe in one God, because we believe that Jesus is our Lord and we ask everyone to have God’s love,” Khayo said.
Eventually the landlord of the Beit Hanina building began receiving threats from his fellow Muslims, and the church had to leave after only two years.
Iraqi Christians are desperate to leave Iraq, where they are being threatened with death if they refuse to convert to Islam. France and Australia have opened their doors to these Christians. America has not.
More than half of Iraq’s Christians have fled their country since the start of the war. Many of them are still not returning home because of sectarian violence targeting Christians. The last official Iraqi census in 1987 showed almost 1.5 million Christians in Iraq. Now, a U.S. State Department report says that number may have dropped to close to one third of that at 500,000. Many Iraqi Christians have now settled in Jordan.