Before the Nakba in 1948, Palestinians and Lebanese enjoyed strong economic, social, and cultural ties. They traded with one another, took holidays in each other’s lands, worked and studied in each other’s cities.
Trade relations between the south of Lebanon and the north of Palestine were particularly abundant, especially in the weekly markets held in both countries.
Palestinian merchants would visit the souks of Khamis in Bint Jbeil and Khan near the Wazzani spring in Wadi Al Taym, while Lebanese merchants would cross into Palestine to buy and sell products at the Tuesday market in Khalsa and the weekly souk of Safed.
Friends over the border
In the summer, wealthy Palestinians would holiday in the villages of Mount Lebanon, often comprising the bulk of the Arab vacationers there, while Lebanese southerners worked and lived in Palestine’s coastal cities during the days of the British Mandate, since the Palestinian lira was equal to about 10 Lebanese liras at the time.
Some Lebanese families, including the Sursock and Salam clans, owned vast tracts of Palestine, while others visited Palestine for tourism, religious or otherwise.
Since the 1920s, wealthy and intellectual Palestinian families went to study at the American University of Beirut (AUB), where they played a significant cultural and political role in the university’s clubs and associations.
The Main Gate of the #American University of #Beirut, #AUB, in 1920s pic.twitter.com/jteysvGB— Charbel Antoun (@Charbelantoun) January 9, 2013
Alumni included poet Ibrahim Tuqan, whose ‘Mawtini’ [‘My Homeland’] served as the national anthem of Palestine, then Iraq; rebel Fuad Hejazi, who was executed by the British; legendary fighter and military commander Abd al-Qadir al-Husseini; socialist politician Hisham Sharabi; and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine co-founders Georges Habash and Wadih Haddad.
The cultural proximity between some Lebanese and Palestinian communities was in evidence. Lebanese poets who practised zajal, a traditional form of oral poetry, often attended events in Palestine.
Many Lebanese authors and poets at the time, including Bechara El Khoury and Khalil Taqieddine, appeared on the Near East Broadcasting Station, an Arabic-speaking British-Palestinian radio station that played a crucial role in bridging the two cultures.
The station helped launched several Palestinian artists, musicians, and radio figures who cooperated with their Lebanese peers before migrating to Lebanon.
Kinship between wealthy families in both countries was also common, such as between the Sarhan family in Galilee and the Khalil family in Tyr.
In virtually every sphere, bridges between Lebanon and Palestine were in-place to foster close ties between the two peoples, so it was no surprise in 1948, when the Nakba occured and the state of Israel was created, that most Palestinians who took refuge in Lebanon came from Galilee.
Sympathy and worries
The Lebanese were quick to show sympathy to the Palestinians for the tragedy that struck them, but social tensions soon grew as fears emerged among the Lebanese of the Palestinian diaspora’s impact on Lebanon’s delicate sectarian balance.
Before that, the Jewish Agency had capitalised on Lebanese fears and tensions to sign a secret agreement with Lebanon’s then-President Emile Edde and religious leaders.
Gouverner c’est prévoir.
Emile Eddé لقد كان يعلم pic.twitter.com/40BND7Y9Ye— Naji Emile Hayek (@Naji_Hayek) November 5, 2022
Similar efforts were made in Syria but to no avail, despite the Agency’s meetings with Syrian leaders and its attempts to stir up “the minority scare” and propose “an alliance of minorities”, according to author Kais Firro.