BEIRUT: Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt Monday defended Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai’s visit to occupied Jerusalem and Israel, saying regional developments affecting Christians necessitated such a trip.
“Although I did voice my reservation with regards to the visit ... I wonder why all this commotion? And more importantly, why this questionable silence by some politicians who abandoned Rai without defending him,” Jumblatt wrote in his weekly statement.
He said the prelate sought to give hope to Arabs and Palestinians living in dire circumstances in Israel, adding that Rai refrained from saying anything that Israel could have used in its favor or that could be seen as an attempt to normalize ties with the Jewish state.
“The political and security developments in the region from Palestine to Syria and Iraq and the negative repercussions on Christians necessitated this trip, which highlighted the need for people to hold on to their land,” Jumblatt said, praising Rai for his “courageous and brave stances.”
Rai’s trip to the Holy Land sparked controversy in Lebanon even before the patriarch embarked on his journey, with some describing it as a “historical mistake.”
The patriarch has rejected criticisms of his visit and repeatedly said that he went to Jerusalem to both welcome Pope Francis to the region and to visit Maronite parishes there.
Hezbollah has been particularly critical of Rai’s meeting with former South Lebanese Army members who fled into Israel in 2000 after the Israeli army withdrew from south Lebanon ending 22 years of occupation.
“As for the issue of Israeli agents, it is worth noting that they belong to various sects. The agents should be tried, but their families and their children who were forced to deal with the enemy should not be called agents,” Jumblatt said.
“Although I am against normalization ... we must look into new policies that urge Palestinians to commit to their villages and not leave,” he added.