Cover Story

Fenced in

Issue: "Casualty of 'peace'," March 24, 2001

When Lebanese streamed by the thousands across the Good Fence into Israel, one foreigner was forced to seek refuge along with them. Beverley Timgren, a Toronto native, was the only expatriate living in south Lebanon at the time of the Israeli withdrawal. For 16 years she ran a dental clinic in Marjayoun with the help of Christian organizations and churches in Canada and the United States.

Marjayoun is a Christian village. Over the years, Ms. Timgren witnessed countless attacks from the militant Islamic group Hizbollah, including a shell that exploded in her own house several years ago. She was at home at the time but not hurt.

Ms. Timgren says she came to appreciate the benefits of Israeli occupation. "When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, the area was devastated by years of civil war and PLO occupation. There was no functioning hospital in south Lebanon," she said.

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The Israeli government saw to the renovation of a 90-bed hospital at Marjayoun and covered nearly all of its operating expenses. With the sustained opening of the Good Fence, Lebanese began to cross to Israel for jobs. Economic development in the immediate area flourished. For the first time in more than a decade, residents in south Lebanon could work and live without the constant threat of terrorist activity. Religious freedom-for Christians, Muslims, and Druze living in the south-expanded. Over time, Ms. Timgren said she came to see, "The security zone became a model of the kind of coexistence Israel wants to have with its neighbors."

When a panicked pullout began last May, Ms. Timgren had only a few hours to wrap up years of ministry. Forced to flee along with thousands of her Lebanese neighbors on May 23, she waited into the night at the Good Fence. Hizbollah snipers took shots at the group, killing one acquaintance of Ms. Timgren, a young married woman with a 5-year-old daughter. Ms. Timgren crossed the border into Israel with her laptop computer and several suitcases. She left behind her car, books, most clothes, and furnishings-things she might have given to local friends or shipped home if there had been a more carefully planned pullout. "It was enough just to get myself across the border," she said.

The leavetaking did not leave her jobless. Almost immediately, Ms. Timgren restarted her work among the Lebanese refugees now scattered across northern Israel. Their numbers have decreased since last year, but not their needs. Most of the 4,000 still living in Israel are without permanent homes or jobs. Each week Ms. Timgren makes a kind of circuit ride, visiting them in hotels, apartments, or camps. Those journeys often take her through tension-filled Palestinian territory. She has set up a new clinic in Tiberias, along the Sea of Galilee, where refugees receive dental care for about $1.50 per visit. The Israeli government is working to house, school, and cover most medical expenses for the group, but will not provide dental care.

She is also part of a loosely organized aid committee to meet other assorted needs. One week that means finding a baby equipment supplier in Jerusalem willing to provide strollers and cribs at discount for newborns among the refugees. Or picking up pencils and other supplies for schools recently set up for the Lebanese children. Help is available to Christian, Druze, and Muslim refugees. Ms. Timgren says that, with the aid coming from Christians, more and more refugees are receptive to biblical teaching.

Ms. Timgren learned this month that the Lebanese government is closing Marjayoun Hospital. It is out of money. The dental clinic, located inside the hospital compound, is holding on with shrinking resources. Ms. Timgren says her support cannot continue to cover both the work in south Lebanon and the work among the refugees. She has applied to several international relief organizations with offices in Beirut to take over the Marjayoun clinic. "I could go back, but now is not a good time. I'm probably known as one helping the south Lebanese," she said.

Sometimes she drives up to the border, where she can glimpse Marjayoun on a distant hill, now emptied of more than half its residents. She remembers coming "with nothing, just myself," and leaving 16 years later much the same way.

"For so much of my life you could go back and forth. And in a day the Good Fence is not the Good Fence anymore."

Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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