That certain prominent members of the Maronite community in Lebanon carried on what Professor Kamal Salibi on the back cover of the dust jacket describes as "clandestine flirtations" with the Jewish minority in Palestine (Yishuv) during the 1930s and 1940s is hardly a secret. The Maronite patriarch of Antioch, Antun Arida, spiritual leader of this the largest of Lebanon's Christian communities, his archbishop of Beirut, Ignatius Mubarak, and several prominent businessmen and politicians (including a president under the French Mandate, Emile Edde), were all openly supportive of a Jewish state in Palestine that they hoped would be a political ally against the rising tide of pan-Arab nationalism, which Maronites perceived to be threat number one to their survival. In my own book on Middle Eastern Christian minorities (Christians in the Arab East, Atlanta and London, 1978), reference was made to Patriarch Arida's fondness for Zionism (p. 144). What I also pointed out was that this pro-Zionist stance, as well as other indiscretions, forced the Vatican (the ultimate authority in the Maronite church as a uniate Catholic rite) to depose him in 1954 and directly appoint a successor, Boulos Meouchi, a prelate with a realistic political viewpoint vis-a-vis the Muslim Arab world, something Ms. Eisenberg fails to note in her conclusion. This is but one of several examples of her overall weakness in understanding the subtle mechanisms of political and ecclesiastical interaction in and within the Eastern Christian churches.
To be fair, the author states in her preface that because archival research in Lebanon was not possible for an American, and for that reason "I carefully chose Zionist policy toward Lebanon as my focus and not Zionist-Lebanese relations per se," adding that "Lebanese with close ties to the Jewish Agency left no written record of their Zionist connections and would be even less likely to discuss the subject today" (p. 9). Still, such a one-sided focus should not have prevented her from contacting more than the single Lebanese source among the 27 interviews listed on page 206 (the others all being Jewish, Israeli or both) especially as that one source was the historian Dr. Kamal Salibi of the American University of Beirut, a Protestant of Orthodox antecedents who is hardly a champion of the Maronite view of Lebanon and their role in it. Among the hundreds of thousands of Maronites in the United States, Canada, Mexico and South America, and the tens of thousands of Lebanese Maronites temporarily in exile in the United States during the civil war, including noted academics, were there not a few she could have contacted to at least get a modern perspective on Maronite-Zionist connections before and after the establishment of the state of Israel? Such an obvious oversight weakens her prefatory assertion "that my sources are overwhelmingly Zionist reflects no intentional bias or sloppiness on my part." What she has given us, therefore, is the fruit of research conducted in Jerusalem among the Central Zionist Archives and the files of the political department of the Jewish Agency, interesting but incomplete and even misleading when presented against a tabula rasa from the other tango partner apart from some correspondence (four letters exchanged between Patriarch Arida and his minion, Tewfik Awad, and the Jewish Agency, and the so-called treaty between the Jewish Agency and the Maronite Church of May 30, 1946, which was never implemented) plus the observations of Eliahu Epstein, AUB graduate, Jewish Agency spy in Lebanon and later first Israeli ambassador to the United States.
That the author is unfamiliar with Lebanon becomes apparent midway through the book. On page 79 the town of Jounieh, 15 kilometers north of Beirut, is described with geographical inaccuracy as a "Maronite stronghold in northern Lebanon," when it is very much in the center, while the village of Al-Zoq (Zouk), where the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini was ensconced by the French after he fled to Lebanon to escape incarceration by the British in Palestine (p. 93) is described as "a remote coastal village north of Beirut." It is, in fact, not remote at all, being on the main Beirut-Tripoli highway and even closer to Beirut than Jounieh; the fact that it is also exclusively Maronite in population is an irony that should have been pointed out by the author. Obviously the French thought it was safer to place the mufti among Maronites than among his own Sunnis. On page 112 she states that all the villages on the Lebanese-Palestinian border were Shia or Maronite. At least two principal border villages are not-Alma al-Shaab and Deir Mimas, which are Greek Catholic and Greek Orthodox respectively. On page 49 she states that the areas incorporated into Greater Lebanon in 1920 were "populated almost exclusively by Muslims." This is a serious exaggeration, since Beirut itself had a large Christian population as did the towns of Sidon, Tyre and Tripoli. The populous rural district of Akkar in the north was 40- 50 percent Christian (Orthodox and Maronite), and large areas of the Beqaa Valley were dotted with Christian villages, as were some areas of the far south like Marjoun. Only the rural districts of Tyre, Bint Jubayl and Nabatiya were heavily Muslim (Shia), though even here there were Christian settlements. On page 142 she speaks of the "Maronite historian Matti Moussa," who, although a historian of the Maronites is not himself a member of the sect but of Syrian Orthodox origins. On page 146 she tells us that Archbishop Mubarak faced the threat of "possibly losing his parish as a result" of supporting Zionism. Only priests lose parishes; archbishops lose archdioceses. And surely the ideologue Charles Corm is from the Qurm family (or possibly Karam); in either case a correct Arab spelling should be indicated (the letter "c" is never used in Arabic-English transliterations).
The author is also somewhat in the dark when it comes to Lebanese politics. This becomes apparent early on when, in the final sentence of her preface she states (p. 10) that "Maronite interests are best described as simply Christian as most non-Maronite Christians with Christian political priorities generally followed the Maronite line." Try telling that to a Lebanese Greek Orthodox like George Hakim, whom she quotes on page 33 as telling Eliahu Epstein that "no Lebanese Christian government could afford to do anything but seek the closest cooperation with the Muslims" (hardly the Maronite line), or the Armenian Orthodox Lebanese, or even Lebanese Greek Catholics like Michel Chiba, who on page 34 is described as "the most articulate and eloquent" anti-Zionist Christian journalist. Or for that matter try telling that to a member of any one of the many divisions within the Maronite community itself that did not agree with the patriarch. Of the latter divisions the author is not unaware, concluding on page 153 that "two presidents of the republic, the Maronite patriarch and the archbishop of Beirut, a leading industrialist and a prominent poet were actually aberrations, who could not persuade their constituents and colleagues to share their pro-Zionist views." Up to this point, however, we had been led to believe that the Maronite community and most Christians generally welcomed the prospect of a Jewish state in Palestine when in fact most were either opposed or uninterested. The whole focus of Jewish activity in Lebanon was centered on a senile patriarch, a raving lunatic of an archbishop, a politically isolated and out-of-touch president and several greedy businessmen whom the spy Epstein tried to convince himself and others had the power to bring Lebanon into the Zionist political sphere of influence. In actual fact these Lebanese characters were totally peripheral to what was going on around them in the Middle East, and the whole project was a waste of time.
Much of what Ms. Eisenberg concerns herself with is not worth a footnote in a regional study of the period, let alone a book. That a handful of Maronites should be singled out as worthy of close study, when what they were advocating was so clearly opposed to political trends in the region, in Lebanon and even within their own religious community, is scarcely worth the effort. Much of what the author has to say is repetitious. The Maronite fear of being submerged in a sea of Islam and the inability of pro-Zionists among the Maronites to deliver on promises of alliance and support are too-often repeated themes. That the Zionists believed, or even half-believed, that these Maronites would prove to be of any use to them is yet another confirmation of Archie Roosevelt's observation that Israeli Intelligence is highly overrated and seeks to confirm what their own national prejudices tell them about the Arabs. Thus they believed, as (former Israeli prime minister David) Ben-Gurion is quoted on page 99 as "confirming" to his son, that "the Christians in Lebanon can barely survive without a Jewish state beside them." Most Lebanese thought otherwise and thus it was a moderate Maronite with strong Muslim and Druze ties, Bishara al-Khoury, who became independent Lebanon's first president, not the ridiculous Edde, whose final humiliation was in accepting the presidency as a French puppet for 12 days in 1943 before the French, under pressure from the British, accepted Lebanese independence on November 22, 1943. And as Eisenberg correctly points out, it was another Maronite, Charles Helou (later president of Lebanon, 1964-70) who, as Lebanese ambassador to the Vatican "was instrumental in persuading the pope to withhold diplomatic recognition of the new state of Israel" (p. 144). It was also another Lebanese Maronite (and also later president of Lebanon, 1952-58), Camille Chamoun, who worked with other Arab League states at the United Nations to try and check passage of the Palestine partition resolution, while the Greek Orthodox Lebanese statesman Charles Malik most strongly advocated the Arab position against the establishment of the state of Israel. It is curious that the author chooses to describe this Christian opposition to the idea of a Jewish state in Palestine as "Lebanese enmity" (p. 144). Enmity is another word for hatred and reflects a typical Zionist overreaction to anyone or anything that opposes, however logically and reasonably, their aims and goals and should not have been used to describe what were worthy political opponents.
Apart from the body of material that the author has gleaned from the Zionist archives relating to the Maronites, she has provided us with some interesting insights into Zionist territorial ambitions. (Israel's first president,) Chaim Weizmann, for example, considered southern Lebanon an excellent prospective site for Jewish settlers. Sidon, he said, "is a good place in every respect. The raw materials are available, there is a harbor, it is favorably situated, capable of development, and has a Jewish population" (p. 39). That it had a much larger population of Muslims and Christians (my 1906 Baedecker gives the population as 8,000 and 2,700 respectively with only 800 Jews), obviously did not deter the great Zionist. Eventually, however, reality sank in and despite claims by Jewish scriptural geographers "that the tribe of Asher had settled in the area of Sidon," Zionist political goals in Lebanon were reduced to the land south of the Litani River, which was proposed by Zionists in 1918 as the northern line of demarcation of the Palestine Mandate. According to them, the Litani "was of no value to the territory to the north" and "was essential for the irrigation and cultivation of the Galilee" (p. 41). It is hardly surprising that the Lebanese are suspicious of long-term Israeli intentions with regard to their so-called Security Zone in South Lebanon that controls much of the course of the Litani and the water resources of the Hasbani and other Jordan tributaries. With this in mind, a letter sent by the Lebanese government to the U.S. secretary of state in 1945 in opposition to the proposed partition of Palestine stated that Lebanon "being contiguous with the proposed Zionist state is particularly apprehensive...since Zionism is so dynamic as to be liable always to overflow its frontier" (p. 125) shows admirable political foresight.
Other interesting sidelights were Zionist attempts to buy favorable coverage in the Lebanese press during the 1930s and 1940s and to put pressure on the Lebanese tourist industry. In both cases they failed, but not without serious expenditure and effort. Unlike Syria, where, according to Eisenberg, "papers adhered to fairly strict standards...and often refused to publish pro-Zionist pieces even for a high price. The Beirut papers' print-for-pay policy reinforced the Zionist image of Lebanon as a place where everyone and everything was for sale" (p. 74). By 1939, the Zionist Agency's political "department claimed to have placed over 280 articles in both the Muslim and Christian press, primarily in Lebanon" (p. 74), notably in the French language Beirut daily l'Orient, edited by the Maronite George Naccache, but the overall long-term effect was negligible. The accepted Jewish assumption "that the route to the heart of a Lebanese led through his wallet" (p. 104) did not help their boycott of summer resorts, mainly owned by Maronites, in the summer of 1938 to protest the harboring of the exiled Palestinian Muslim nationalist, Hajj Amin al-Husseini. Not only did the Jewish attempt to blackmail Lebanon's tourist industry fail, it backfired. "The fall found Epstein reporting gloomily that an influx of tourists from Egypt and Iraq outweighed the absence of the Palestinian Jews. The hotels had been full" (p. 105).
What would have been of particular interest had she pursued it further was the author's occasional mention of early Zionist contacts with the Lebanese Droze. Since in fact it was not, as the author wrongly concludes in her book on page 160, the Maronites "from among all their [the Zionists'] enemies...who offered the most willing candidates for friendship," but the Druze of Palestine who after incorporation in the state of Israel in 1948 cooperated fully with the Zionist government to the extent of voluntarily serving in the Israeli Defense Forces and in minor government posts. On page 42 we learn of an unnamed "Droze leader" who "reportedly urged the Zionists to aim for the Awali River, beyond Sidon [which flows for much of its short course through the Droze Shuf heartland] for the northern border of the Jewish national home." The author further tells us that the Zionist "agency maintained regular contacts with Droze leaders like Nejib Shukeir, Sultan al-Atrash and Sitt Nazirah," (pp. 65-6), the latter being the mother of Kamal Jumblatt, but nothing is given in the way of support for this statement or anything reported as to the fruit of such contacts. This is, as I stated earlier, symptomatic of the major weakness of Eisenberg's book-not what it says, but what it fails to say. The author had an opportunity to write a definitive study but fell short either because of an inability or an unwillingness to pursue many unanswered questions to their conclusion and put her concentration instead on persons and ideas that had no lasting import.
The book itself is neatly divided into six chapters, the last one being a conclusion. But the first five also end with a section subtitled "Conclusion," which I found unnecessary and repetitious. The author's style is readable and happily lacking in jargon, though at times banal: "the global emergency created by World War II did not spare Lebanon and Palestine" (p. 117); "Zionist-Lebanese relations did not take place in a vacuum" (p. 88).
This is not an essential book for anyone's library, but for those interested in the periphery of Middle Eastern po1itical history or in the background to the further, more dangerous collusion between fanatical Maronite elements in Lebanon and politically naive Israelis in 1982 will find it interesting, if annoyingly incomplete, reading.