While many Lebanese rejected Israeli gestures of solidarity and dismissed offers of Israeli aid after this week’s deadly blast at Beirut port, thousands of citizens from the disaster-stricken country actually welcomed Israel’s outreach, the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem said Friday.
The blast, which was apparently caused by the ignition of 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate, has claimed at least 150 lives and left over 5,000 injured and 300,000 homeless.
Jerusalem received thousands of positive responses to Israel’s overtures, according to Yonatan Gonen, who heads the ministry’s Arabic-language new media department.
“Thank you from the bottom of my heart for the mighty and humanitarian Israeli people. We love you from Lebanon, and all of Lebanon is with you,” one person from Lebanon wrote, he said.
“Thank you very much to the Israeli people for these blessed and humanitarian initiatives. God bless you,” wrote another.
A third user called Israel “our sister state,” Gonen said.
“It was very exciting to receive the messages of thanks and appreciation from the residents of Lebanon for the solidarity initiatives on the part of the residents of Israel and the Tel Aviv Municipality,” Gonen told The Times of Israel.
“We received such messages on both Facebook and Instagram. In addition, we also received many positive responses from residents in other Arab countries, especially from Iraq, Egypt and even Syria. One of the respondents to our posts wrote that she was educated to hate Israel and now she is impressed by the Israeli gestures.”
The Foreign Ministry’s various social media accounts receive thousands of messages every day, and the diplomats running them haven’t been able to read all of them, Gonen said.
On Wednesday many Lebanese took to social media to express their anger at the Tel Aviv municipality projecting a Lebanese flag on the side of its building, and Israeli medical aid offers have been ignored by Lebanese authorities.
“Sure, they’re raising our flag now, but soon enough they’ll destroy our country and violate our country’s sovereignty,” wrote one Twitter user.
Using the hashtag “We don’t want it,” some also shared remarks by politician Moshe Feiglin, leader of the Zehut party, who had said that the Beirut port blast was a “wonderful celebration.”
“As a Lebanese citizen, it disgraces me for Tel Aviv to show Lebanon solidarity. Anyone who circulates those photos I will consider a collaborator,” another user wrote of the brightly lit municipality building.
ٍSome users — especially those supportive of Hezbollah — said that they hoped for violence. “We will be the ones to light up Tel Aviv — with our rockets. Tel Aviv is already lit by the ghost of Imad and Jihad [Mughniyeh],” wrote Mohammad Ali Sakr, referring to two leaders in the terror group — a father and his son — allegedly killed by Israel.
“We don’t want anything from you, you are our enemies… you who killed the children of Qana,” wrote Saad Dai’ri. Around 106 Lebanese civilians died in the 1996 incident in the village of Qana, when Israel shelled a United Nations position in an attempt to strike back at Hezbollah fire. The prime minister at the time, Shimon Peres, expressed “bitter surprise” that civilians were in the area.
Others posted photos of Ramallah, where the Palestinian Authority’s central broadcasting station had also been lit by a projection of the Lebanese flag.
Israel has fought two major wars against Lebanese forces, which many in the country recall painfully. In 1982, Israel invaded after repeated cross-border attacks by the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and ended up occupying a strip of southern Lebanon until 2000. In 2006, Israeli forces entered Lebanon again following the abduction of two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid by Hezbollah.
“Israel is the largest source of martyrs and wounded in all of Lebanon…it is absolute evil. Working with it is forbidden,” wrote Jamal Chaiito, posting photos of First Lebanon War destruction and the Qana incident.
Some appeared to disagree, saying that they welcomed Israeli aid.
“But we do want it — peace, that is. Screw Iranian ideas,” wrote Hussein Nasr, who described himself as a resident of south Lebanon.
Tel Aviv has in the past lit up its City Hall with the colors of other countries going through disasters. The municipality’s tribute to Egypt’s flag after an attack on Christian Copts in May 2017 was the first time the gesture was made toward an Arab country, although unlike Lebanon, Egypt has a peace accord and ties with Israel.
Israel announced Tuesday night that it had reached out to offer humanitarian aid to Lebanon after the massive blast rocked Beirut. The disaster has pushed Lebanon, already laboring under an unprecedented economic crisis, to the brink, and hospitals have struggled to cope with the influx of injured.
“This evening we will light up City Hall with the flag of Lebanon. Humanity comes before any conflict, and our heart is with the Lebanese people following the terrible disaster that befell them,” Tel Aviv Mayor Huldai wrote on Twitter.
Yair Netanyahu, the son of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, tweeted that he was opposed to displaying the colors, falsely claiming that it was illegal. The Prime Minister’s office, however, sent out a photo of the Lebanese flag, accompanied by a statement affirming “support [for] the Lebanese people.”
Many other countries, including Jordan, Iran, and the United Arab Emirates, also lit up major public buildings to express solidarity with the victims of the blasts.