El-Kaa is a small village of 2,500 Christians in the northeast of Lebanon, close to the border with Syria. The local population has swelled by the arrival of some 1,500 Syrian Christians who fled their country’s civil war. A young journalist, based in Beirut, grew up in El-Kaa, most of whose residents are Melkites. She told Aid to the Church in Need about Islamist attacks on the village three years ago and how each anniversary of the killings brings back bitter memories:
“On June 27, 2016, I woke up to many texts on my phone. The first message I read said that they needed blood in all area hospitals, and I immediately knew that something grave had happened. I got out of bed and went into the living room, where the TV was blaring; my mother’s face had paled. I read the headline: hours earlier, at 5 AM, my village of El-Kaa had been attacked by four terrorists. Five people were killed; many were wounded. I followed the statements of officials and politicians who came to our village and encouraged us to stay on our lands.
“It was the worst day of my life. I was frustrated, sad, and desperate. I never expected that the bloody scenes of Fallujah and Afghanistan would unfold at home.
“When the Syrian war started, the region became a hotbed. At the border between Lebanon and Syria, there were clashes involving the Syrian army, the Free Syrian Army, and various Islamic groups. More than 30,000 Syrian refugees came to live in camps on agricultural lands that separate my village from Syria. As the Syrian army grew in strength, the danger intensified. Shells from all sides fell on us, jeopardizing our lives.
“Later that fateful day, despite security precautions, four suicide bombers infiltrated El-Kaa around 10 PM and blew themselves up near St. Elias Church, where people were gathered. There were no casualties, but more than 20 were injured. I can’t describe the sight of Kaa in the days that followed: the streets were empty; no one dared to sit on balconies; some families fled to Beirut.
“At the time, my mother was sick, so I couldn’t return to the village for two weeks. When I finally got there, I was amazed by what I saw. Blood and flesh covered the walls near St. Elias; people barely left their homes. If they did, it was to buy food during the day. So, at night, when everything was silent, I drove my car and loudly played my music. I wanted to challenge both my own fears and the fears of others. I wanted to prove that El-Kaa was still alive.
“Three years have passed, and while time cannot lessen our pain, we have survived, and for that, we must thank the Lord. He gave us life so that we could preserve Christianity here and teach others that perseverance is at the core of our faith. We walk in Christ’s footsteps, believing in him and ourselves.”
Aid to the Church in Need has been helping the Christians of El-Kaa for a number of years in a variety of ways, providing food aid as well as helping people pay for fuel in winter.
Khouloud Tawm writes for Aid to the Church in Need, an international Catholic charity providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted in more than 140 countries.(USA); (UK); (AUS); (IRL); (CAN)