Lebanon and Israel classify each other as enemy states, but that doesn't stop hundreds of Palestinian Christians with an Israeli citizenship from visiting their northern neighbor each year.

Naturalized Palestinian Christians, or as Haaretz put it, Christian Israelis routinely travel to Lebanon via Jordan using their Palestinian IDs, to visit religious pilgrimage sites in the neighboring country. Sometimes as many as 50 individuals will even travel in one tour group.

Such trips are often organized by Christian clergy members. One organizer told Haaretz that the trips are in no way "underground" or some kind of "infiltration."

"But due to the sensitivity, we try to keep a low profile. It’s a purely religious visit, a pilgrimage. Just as Muslims go to Mecca and Medina, we go to the holy Christian sites in Lebanon," the organizer said, insisting its a "very orderly process."

Harissa is a significant Christian holy site in Lebanon Source: YouTube

Lebanon remains at war with Israel

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 doing business or having commercial ties with Israel. Additionally, Article 278 of the criminal code forbids Lebanese from interacting with or supporting enemy spies and soldiers.

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. 

Qadisha Valley Lebanon
The Qadisha Valley is an important Christian pilgrimage site in Lebanon Source: Jason Lemon

Trips move forward without a hitch

Despite the legal opposition to Israel and Israelis, the visits by naturalized Palestinian Christians move forward. 

"Clearly there’s an understanding here on all sides. The fact that there have been no hitches and that nobody has been taken in for questioning or arrested by any side – as long as the group members stick to the plan – attests to it," one Israeli Christian priest told Haaretz, explaining that the powerful Maronite influence in Lebanon makes the trips possible.

Essentially, an unofficial agreement exists between Jordan, Israel, Palestine and Lebanon. Israeli Christians, who are generally of Palestinian origin, apply for a Palestinian ID. They then are allowed to leave Israel to Jordan, with minimal questions being asked.

From Jordan, these individuals can then travel onward to Lebanon, using their Palestinian documents.

A woman who participated in one of the organized trips explained that a detailed itinerary is given to each individual. Participants are forbidden from leaving the group or visiting additional sites without first coordinating with the group leader.

"For me it was a dream come true," she said. "We in the Galilee are always hearing about miracles that took place in the [Saint] Charbel monastery, and visiting his burial site and monastery is very exciting. Lebanon in general is an amazing state with wonderful scenery."

She also explained that she doesn't see the trips as particularly unusual.

"Some Muslims go to Saudi Arabia and there are Jews who go to Tunis and Morocco, even though Israel has no diplomatic relations with those countries," she pointed out.

Notable figures have traveled between Lebanon and Israel

Of course, while Lebanon technically remains opposed to its citizens visiting Israel and visa versa, many prominent artists and religious figures have made such trips. 

In 2014, Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, the Lebanese Patriarch of the Maronite Catholic church, toured Israel and Palestine with the Roman Catholic Pope to visit Christians in the region. While Rai received some backlash in Lebanon, the trip moved forward without significant problems.

Similarly, a group of Druze religious leaders from Israel traveled to Lebanon in 2010 to visit holy sites and attend a conference in the country.

Other Arab Israeli artists, musicians and academics have also visited Lebanon with special invitations. Lebanese filmmaker Ziad Doueiri also famously filmed his 2012 drama "The Attack" in Israel with Israeli actors. 

The film was banned from cinemas in Lebanon and Doueiri was detained earlier this year by Lebanese security forces in connection with the film. However, he was released and all charges were dropped.