Lebanon's southern border wall
Lebanon's southern border wall, separating the country from Israel Source: Daniel Hayes

Award-winning Lebanese film director Ziad Doueiri was detained this week and faced a military court due to his 2012 drama The Attack, which he shot partially in Israel using Israeli actors. Although all charges were dropped within a day, the incident threw Lebanon's ban on its citizens visiting Israel or associating with "the enemy" into the spotlight.

While relative peace is the norm, Lebanon officially remains at war with Israel. Some southern Lebanese lands are also still occupied by the Israelis. Under Lebanese law, nationals can be prosecuted and risk jail time if they are found to have contact with Israelis or if they visit Israel. 

Lebanon prohibits any support of Israel, bans films featuring Israeli actors, and officially boycotts Israeli products. The 1955 Boycott Law prohibits Lebanese from having business or commercial ties with Israel. Additionally, Article 278 of the criminal code forbids Lebanese from interacting with or supporting enemy spies and soldiers.

Lebanese are legally forbidden from any contact with Israelis

Just earlier this summer, Miss Lebanon Emigrant 2017 was stripped of her title when it was revealed that she'd previously visited Israel. In 2015, a selfie of Miss Lebanon and Miss Israel began circulating online, drawing angry calls for her crown's removal as well.

When Israeli athletes tried to board a bus with Lebanese athletes at the 2016 Olympics, a coach blocked them from entering, refusing to share the bus. The incident drew international media attention, with many criticizing the Lebanese reaction. But the team was simply following the laws of its country.

Salim El Meouchi, a senior partner and chairman of the Beirut-based law firm Badri and Salim El Meouchi, explained to NOW Lebanon in 2011 that the law goes so far as to make it illegal for Lebanese to interact with Israelis via social media. 

Israel killed more than 1,100 Lebanese in 2006

Considering that the last all-out war between Israel and Lebanon took place just over 10 years ago in 2006, it's understandable that tensions still run high. The month-long conflict left more than 1,100 Lebanese dead, about 4,400 injured and wide-spread infrastructural destruction, according to Human Rights Watch.

Israel's leading newspapers don't shy from publishing editorials calling for the complete destruction of Beirut, and top Israeli officials have recently promised to decimate Lebanon if tensions flare up again.

All things considered, Lebanon's continued opposition to Israel is more than understandable.

And while many Lebanese support their government's stance against the enemy, being the intrepid voyagers they've been ever since the days of their ancient Phoenician ancestors, Lebanese often find themselves bumping into "the enemy" – or Israeli citizens – during their international travels.

We talked to some Lebanese who've found themselves in this often awkward and sometimes truly bizarre situation. For obvious reasons, those we interviewed wish to remain anonymous.

When an Israeli soldier wants to dance ...

One young Lebanese woman was at a club with her friend in Berlin when she accidentally met a group of Israeli men.

"When we made it to the front, the bouncer let us in but gave the guys behind us a hard time ... These guys told the bouncers they were with us, and we went with it, wanting to help them out," she told StepFeed.

"When we got inside, they told us they were our 'neighbors,'" she said. "We asked them if they were from a variety of different countries in the MENA region: 'Jordan?' 'Nope.' 'Syria?' 'Nope.' 'Egypt?' 'Nope. Much closer.' Eventually, 'Israel?'"

"I was taken aback only because of the way they introduced themselves. Neighbors. It brings to mind the friendly people in your community, not national enemies," she said.

While the woman told us she doesn't personally have a problem with someone being an Israeli, as it's not someone's decision where they are born, she quickly found out that these men were actually Israeli soldiers.

"The guys seemed to think that it was funny that I was perturbed about their occupations. One of them would not leave me alone, asked me to dance, and insisted on following me while I tried to walk away through the crowd," she said.

Eventually, she confronted the guy, telling him to leave her alone.

"I don't want to paint this night in a very sensationalist way, but I do remember the way he smiled and seemed to find pleasure in the whole thing. I knew I was feeding into it, him wanting to get a rise out of me, but I couldn't help it," she explained.

"One thing sticks out. I asked how he felt pointing his gun at Palestinian kids. He answered nonchalantly, 'They throw rocks, we throw bullets.'"

His answer left her speechless.

"When you engage in conversation with someone who is doing something you think is wrong, you expect them to be defensive, to make excuses."

Israeli Christians?

A Lebanese man was in Egypt for a Christian youth camp. That's when he discovered there are Israeli Christians. While most Israeli Christians are usually naturalized Palestinians, these were former Jews who had converted to Christianity. 

"When I heard them speak, I kind of suspected so I asked around and was told that they were Israeli Christians, which confused me at the time because back then I thought all Israelis were Jews," he said.

The man explained that he was nervous about being so close to people he always saw painted as "the enemy." He was also worried about what would happen to him if word somehow got back to the Lebanese government.

"My country always scared us of them and painted almost a demonic picture of them. Are they normal people like us? Are they really so evil?" he said.

"I was a little wary of mingling because if word got back to my government that I mingled with 'the enemy,' I might be sent to be a prison and be accused of spying or some crazy thing like that."

In the end, the man ended up having a positive interaction with the Israeli Christians, although they generally avoided discussing the political situation.

"Neither of us really cared. We kinda brushed it off as politics of those in power. We did acknowledge though that it'd probably never end. So why waste our breath on it. Plus, talking about it might muddy what otherwise was a delightful conversation," he said.

He also explained that in the end, the experience wasn't really that awkward.

"It was totally normal. Isn't that weird?" 

Some Lebanese globe-trotters routinely bump into Israelis

Some frequent Lebanese travelers seem to run into Israelis wherever they go. One Lebanese woman cited three international trips during which she somehow ended up in close proximity to the southern "neighbors."

"First time I met Israeli people was on Phi Phi island in Thailand. We were taking pictures with a monkey there," she said. 

"They were two or three men I can't remember. Of course, I didn't know that they were Israelis. We were introducing ourselves asking each other where we come from and when they said they come from Israel. The first thing that came to my mind was: 'Oh! You are our enemies.'"

Later, on a trip to the United States, the woman was going to a club in Las Vegas when she ran into another Israeli by chance.

"I was teaching my American friend some bad Lebanese words and we were laughing about it when a guy translated the words to English," she explained.

"I was surprised and I asked him where he comes from, he said Israel and I felt very weird about it ... He was staring at us all the time. For some reason I couldn't wait to get in the club and stay away from him," she said.

On another occasion, the woman was at a guest house in Bali when she found out that an Israeli would be staying in the same place.

"I was a strong supporter for BDS by then, and I felt weird about it. I didn't know whether I should be friendly or not when I meet her. When I saw her the first time, I said "hi" and I tried as much as I can to avoid her," she said.

"They were totally ignorant about the Lebanese and Israeli issue"

Another young Lebanese woman was doing an exchange program in Europe, during which she encountered Israeli students. She was surprised at how little they knew about the tensions between Lebanon and Israel.

"One American-Israeli was talking about how great Israel is as a hiking destination," she explained. "Then she asked me if I ever visited."

"I told her I am not allowed [to visit] Israel. She was very ignorant about the Israeli and Lebanese tensions and history," she said.

During a casual summer trip to Cyprus, a Lebanese man was swimming in his hotel's pool when he realized there was a group of Israelis there as well. Although he had a brief chat with them, his friends were angry and left the pool.

"My friends were super against it," he said. "My friends are from the South [the part of Lebanon hardest hit by Israeli attacks in 2006]."

While the young man believes that the situation between Lebanon and Israel is "f***ed up," he said ideally there would be some kind of peace. At the same time, he doesn't see how that's possible or realistic given the ongoing situation.

He also expressed frustration over Lebanon's law about interacting with Israelis. While he see's legitimate reasons for it to exist, he thinks it unfairly blames Lebanese for accidental encounters.

"If we happen to run into [an Israeli], it's on us. It's our fault to be in the same room with them," he explained.

"If they sneak into a picture with us, then it's on us. And we'll be f***ed for life for it. Which doesn't make sense because there's a lot of us around the world and a lot of them around the world," he said.

Some Lebanese have had an entirely positive experience with Israel

Fabian Maamari
Fabian Maamari with Israeli soldiers Source: Twitter

Fabian Maamari, a gay Lebanese-Swedish photographer, made headlines in 2015 when he posed with Israeli soldiers after he moved to Tel Aviv to be with his Israeli boyfriend.

Since then, Maamari has been an advocate for Israel, arguing that it's a welcoming and open place to Arabs and members of the LGBT community. However, he told StepFeed that he grew up hearing mainly bad things about Israel, due to his Lebanese background, and from what he saw in the media.

But one day, he decided to go and see for himself. He traveled to Tel Aviv – with his Swedish passport – for the city's annual Gay Pride event. This was the first time he came face-to-face with Israelis.

"People were so warm and open minded. I immediately fell in love with everyone I met," Maamari said.  "There is such a diversity of people living in the country."

On the last night of his trip, Maamari met an Israeli guy in a club, and they stayed in touch after he went back to Sweden.

"I then decided to move to Israel for him and we started a new life together with his family as our neighbors," he explained. "Everything happened pretty quickly, but sometimes there are things and circumstances that you simply cannot explain. It can just be felt from the heart."

Now three years later, Maamari and his Israeli boyfriend are getting married this Saturday.

"His mother and brother flew with us from Israel to Sweden to celebrate this special moment with us and with my family as well," Maamari said 

"I am so happy that both our families are so supportive, and it really shows how big the power of love can be. It breaks all the boundaries and political issues that we have today between our countries," he said.

Maamari said that the he has many Lebanese and Israeli friends in each country that wish the situation would change. He also believes Israelis and Lebanese have a lot in common.

"I don’t care where you are from our what background you have. Show me respect and I will respect you," he said.

Are there exceptions to the ban?

Lebanon border wall
The southern border wall separating Lebanon from Israel Source: Daniel Hayes

Although the blanket ban on interaction with Israelis persists, some exceptions are made on occasion.

For instance, although Doueri faced backlash this week for his 2012 film, he was initially granted permission by Lebanon's Interior Ministry to film the project. However, the film was also later banned in Lebanon due to Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) activism.

"We had no problem with the movie," former Lebanese Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said at the time, according to The Daily Star. "But when we received the protest letter ... we could not oppose."

As the occupation of Palestine and some Lebanese territories continues, anti-Israeli sentiments remain high throughout Lebanon and the Arab world. At the same time, Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri told the United Nations in April that his country is ready for a "permanent ceasefire."

"This is long overdue and my government is committed to move this agenda forward," Hariri said, according to Reuters.

Although Lebanon's government may voice its readiness for peace and occasional exceptions to the ban are made, interacting with Israelis or visiting Israel definitely remains unacceptable and prohibited. With the reality being what it is, it seems unlikely this will change anytime soon.