Israel On the border with Lebanon a Christian village adapts

Israel: On the border with Lebanon, a Christian village adapts to the conflict

Children run out of class to get into their parents' cars: the scene might seem harmless if this school in Jish, an Israeli village on the border with Lebanon, were not a bomb shelter.

Since October 7th, there has been a daily newspaper marked by war in this predominantly Christian town in northern Israel on the border with Lebanon.

In this region, there are daily clashes between the Israeli army and armed groups in southern Lebanon, including the Shiite Hezbollah, an ally of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas.

According to the authorities, fifteen people have now been killed in Hezbollah's attacks, including six civilians.

Israel responded by bombing border villages and, according to an AFP count based on official figures, more than 190 people have died in Lebanon, including at least 141 fighters from Hezbollah, which has a strong base in the south of the country.

The border area has largely been cleared of its residents, but Jish lies just beyond the border set by the authorities.

“We are not going anywhere,” “the residents will not leave their cities because Hezbollah has decided to attack Israel or our cities in northern Israel,” says 48-year-old resident Shadi Khalloul.

They got used to everyday war life, interrupted by the hum of drones, the wailing of warning sirens and artillery fire from the border five kilometers away. At Christmas, a rocket hit a church a few kilometers from Jish.

Since schools are closed, classes are taking place online or in the few public bunkers whose size allows.

“It's really very difficult for the children to follow classes in this shelter,” notes Margaret Ashur, 75, as she waits for her grandson to leave class.

Fear of attacks

The majority of Christians in Jish, a town of around 3,000 people, are Maronites; these Eastern Catholics settled mainly in Lebanon, although a few thousand of them live in Israel.

“Everything is affected,” says Mr. Khalloul, who advocates for the recognition of the Maronite minority in Israel and promotes the teaching of Aramaic, the language of Jesus.

Mr. Khalloul notes that the hamlets surrounding the village, located on a hillside covered with olive trees, have been emptied, affecting shops and jish workshops that can no longer operate.

Gatherings are banned, although the main church, the largest building in the village, remains open. “Since the war began, we stopped praying in the big church,” says Father Sandy Habib. Masses are held in a meeting room in the basement.

Like Mr. Khalloul, many of the village's Maronites are descended from Palestinians who were forced to abandon their small villages around Jish after the founding of the State of Israel in 1948.

But Mr. Khalloul, who served in the Israeli army, also encourages young Maronites to get involved.

In his eyes, the entire region is threatened by Islamist movements.

“We saw what Hamas did in southern Israel,” “and they are allies of Iran,” like Hezbollah, Mr. Khalloul notes. “At the border there is fear of an invasion by elite Hezbollah units against us, as was the case against the Jews in the south,” he said.

According to an AFP count based on Israeli figures, Hamas attacks from the Gaza Strip have resulted in the deaths of around 1,140 people, mostly civilians, in the south of the country, unprecedented since Israel's founding.

According to the Hamas Health Ministry, Israel's retaliatory war in the Gaza Strip has killed 24,762 people, mostly women and minors.