When al-Jazeera reported the suicide attack against the Haifa restaurant, one item went unnoticed by the international media. The reporter said "the restaurant is co-owned by an Arab. A number of Arabs were killed in the explosion." At first sight, there is no striking news in it. It is not the first time Arabs are killed by istishadis (Islamist suicide bombers). Nor would it be impossible that Israeli Arabs would be casualties in jihad operations against the Jews. One-third of Haifa's population is Arab. Moreover, many "scholars" of jihad have long warned that Muslims and Arabs could become collateral damage of martyrdom strikes. That has happened and will happen and al-Jazeera's panels will always find an answer to it. But the south Haifa restaurant was not owned by an "Arab," nor were most of the killed workers "Arabs." And here lies the issue.
The owner of "Maxime," the South Haifa restaurant is a Lebanese Christian. George Matar is not an Arab Muslim; he is a Maronite Catholic from Lebanon whose roots are Aramaic. Many of the workers who got killed or injured are Lebanese Christians, as well. Al-Jazeera and many Arab media outlets missed that point, possibly intentionally, since indicating the real ethnic and religious identities of this owner and some of the workers would open a new file on the jihadists both in Israel and in the Middle East. Why would the Islamist suicide bombers particularly target a Lebanese Christian restaurant in Israel, when they could have attacked an Arab-Muslim culinary establishment anywhere else in the city? Mainstream Jews in Haifa eat at all kinds of restaurants, especially on the Sabbath. So what's behind Hanadi's mission? Was she there to kill Jews or Christians -- or both?
How did "Abu Charbel" (George Matar's acronym) ended up being bombed in Israel by Palestinian Islamic Jihad? Was he part of that war between the Islamists and the Israelis? All law-abiding civilians basically want peace and security, regardless of whether they are Jews, Christians or Muslims. Only fanatical ideologies transform them into "missiles" - such as the bomber Hanadi Jaradat or "shreds" such as the companions of bombed George Matar. But while we know more about the perpetrators of jihad and their views of the world, most around us knows much less about those Christians of Lebanon, crushed in an exploding Middle East .
George Matar, his family and his relatives, including a nephew who died during the blast just days before his wedding, all came from across the border. Up in Lebanon, one million and a half Christians live under Syrian occupation and Hezbollah intimidation. Almost half of the country's population, the Christian ethnic group is the older community of Lebanon. Descendent from the ancient Aramaic, known also as Phoenicians, the Lebanese Maronite and Melkite Catholics and Orthodox Christians have resisted the onslaught of the Arab-Islamic conquests for more than 13 centuries. Defeated after a 15 years long war with the PLO, Syrians and Islamists, the Christian community fell under the fate of occupied nations in 1990. But for a whole decade, a small portion of these Christians, along with a number of Muslims and Druze, chose to ally themselves with their Jewish neighbors. In the most southern part of the country, they formed an enclave, called by the world, Israel's "security zone." In May 2000, the Clinton Administration and the Barak Government abandoned those "last of the Mohicans" to Hezbollah. More than 6,000 Christian Lebanese crossed the borders into Israel, in an unprecedented exodus. Baathist Syria, Khumainist Iran and the Wahabi jihadists claimed victory. The "infidels were driven out of Lebanon today, tomorrow the other infidels will be driven out of Palestine," chanted the butchers. Among the thousands of refugees in the Galilee, were men and women who had no other choice but to restart their lives of "infidels" south of their homeland. Matar opened a restaurant in Haifa.
Hezbollah and the Palestinian radicals wanted to follow the Lebanese Christians into their exile. Out of Beirut, scores of Khumeinist and pro-Syrian propagandists called on the jihadists of the "occupied lands" to strike not only against the Jews, but also against the other Lebanese "agents" who took refuge amongst them. Anti-Maronite hate literature abounded in Syrian-occupied Lebanon, and in the cyberworld. Throughout the 1990s dozens of statements were made by Islamists and their allies across the continents vilifying the Christians of Lebanon, especially those from south Lebanon's security zone. These were among the very few Christians who openly allied themselves with the "Zionists." In jihad logic, they were also Zionists, and hence should be targeted as such.
Although many politicians and leaders in the region warned against further persecution of Christians in the Middle East after September 11 for fear of raining their issue internationally, the Jihadists to the contrary escalated their war against all "people of the book." The worse people of that particular book, in the eyes of the non-tolerant Jihadists are those who stand by each other and take refuge into each others. In this case, those Lebanese Christians who chose to live in Israel as a free people instead of abiding by Hezbollah and Syria's diktat in now-occupied Lebanon. Hence, their fate has merged with Israel's, i.e, annihilation by martyrdom operations. Matar's "Maxime" restaurant was the direct result of that diktat.
In the Middle East, Jihadists were always known to chant "today's Saturday and tomorrow's Sunday," ("al-yom al sabt wa ghadan al-ahad") alluding to their war of annihilation against the Jews first, then followed by the Christians. But in Haifa's operation, the Jihadists seem to be impatient. In fact for the soldiers of Bin Laden around the world there is only one day from now on: Saturday is Sunday. Hopefully moderate Muslims will hasten a long-awaited reform, without which holy wars will continue to engulf civilization.
Walid Phares is a Professor of Middle East Studies and Religious Conflict and a Terrorism expert with MSNBC.