Lebanon

In ancient times the parts of the modern country of Lebanon were under the control of Israelite Kingdoms. In Roman times several large Jewish communities were established in Lebanon and following the Arab invasion of 642CE Jewish communities were founded in Tripoli, Sidon and later, Tyre. 

Throughout 19th century, the Jewish community in Lebanon predominantly grew by migration of Jews from other Ottoman cities who were attracted by the relative safety and stability of the country. By the end of WWI, the Jewish community in Lebanon numbered around 3,500. In 1923 Lebanon became a French Mandate and by 1926 the Constitution of Lebanon guaranteed equal constitutional protection to all its citizens, including Jewish ones. 

The Jewish community at this time flourished, establishing synagogues, schools and newspapers. Whilst it did not overtly exert itself, politically it was broadly supportive of Lebanese Nationalism and played an instrumental role in establishing Lebanese independence in 1943. In addition to this, whilst the community in Beirut had close ties to Jerusalem due to its geographical proximity, it was generally uninterested in Zionism and distanced itself from the growing conflict in British Mandated Palestine. By the 1940s, the situation for Jewish communities in Lebanon outside of Beirut had deteriorated and several riots had broken out. In 1945 fourteen Jews were killed in riots in Tripoli and by 1948 the majority of the Jews in Lebanon had moved to Beirut. Despite this, the Jewish population of Lebanon at this time had reached at least 9000 people. 

Following the War of Israeli Independence, anti-Zionist demonstrations intensified, especially amongst the Muslim population. In the 1950s Jewish officers were expelled from the Lebanese Army and a synagogue was bombed. In 1958 Lebanon’s first civil war, broadly fought between Muslim and Christian factions, broke out. Many members of the Jewish community, afraid of being caught in the cross-fire, left the country and by 1969 only 2000 Jews remained. Despite this, the community persisted until 1975, when a longer and far more bitter civil war meant conditions in Lebanon significantly deteriorated, and the vast majority of the community decided to flee. 

After Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 eleven Jewish leaders in the country were captured and killed by Islamic radicals. By the 1990’s it was difficult for Jews to practice their Judaism freely. 

It is estimated that a maximum of forty Jews currently live in Lebanon.

Interviewees

SVUK is grateful for the support of The Exilarch's Foundation, The KC Shasha Charitable Foundation & The Shoresh Charitable Trust

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