Beirut (LEB): Jewish Cemetery

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Hidden behind a high wall, cramped in between tall apartment buildings one finds the only Jewish cemetery in Beirut. Who enters the cemetery today is immediately aware of the current position of Jews in Libanon. The cemetery is quite populous and shows a variety of headstones: names and messages written in Hebrew, French and/or Arabic. Although some grave monuments (still) look quite majestic, the neglect and demise are quite overwhelming.

The first burial at the site took place in 1829 and since then some 3300 people have been buried here. In the early 20th century Jews from Italy, Greece, Syria, Iraq, Turkey, and Egypt found their way to Lebanon and Beirut in particular as the constitution (1926) granted religious freedom for all. In 1948 the Jewish community consisted of some 24,000 people. Today there are maybe 30 Jews left in all of Lebanon.

During the 6 Day War (1967) and the war with Israel in 1982, the vast majority of Jews fled the country either to Israel or other Lebanese diaspora countries like France, Brasil, Switzerland and the US. The Lebanese civil war (1975-1990) has caused also many other Lebanese to leave the country. The cemetery holds hardly any graves after the 1975 and even less (to none) after 1985.

During the civil war, the Jewish cemetery held a central place in the crossfire and was seriously scarred by it. Today one can find numerous bullet holes in the grave monuments. In 1999 the cemetery was cleared of all mines, barbed wire, metal rods and sandbags, as well as 20 years of weed. Although the damage caused by bullets, rockets and bombardments war was not really restored, accounts tell that the cemetery had quite a neat and clean appearance in those years. Nowadays, although the place had never been desecrated looks quite run down.

All photos are taken by Claudia Venhorst in November 2018.

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