Modern Cana of Galilee looks just like an average Mediterranean town, quiet and clinging to tradition. Wandering its streets might reveal some stage of decay, its crumbling buildings do give an impression of neglect, and first-timers will think the local administration needs to look after their community in a better way. While this is out of doubt, the history behind these walls is more complicated than what it seems at first sight.
Lebanon, is so rich in places evoking paramount moments of history that it gets overwhelming, and Cana, unwillingly with its cargo of tragedy and emotions, is one of the towns that most bears this weight.
“That’s Cana”, said Leila pointing to the small town, after Mohammad drove us 12km further south from Tyre. Considered a holy place by the Christians, Cana of Galilee, or Qana in Arabic, is where Jesus is believed to have performed his first miracle, turning water into wine at the wedding of two of Mary’s friends (John 2:1-11 to read about the wedding at Cana). From the dark and slippery cave where the miracle supposedly took place, the panorama that unfolded before our eyes was of a hostile landscape, where the seldom vegetation gives way to a plateau of barren grey rocks typical of the region. Back on the day when Jesus was on his thirties, just starting revealing himself to the public opinion, this was a place of feast.
Little did they know that almost 2000 years later the legendary Cana of Galilee would have been theater of one of the bloodiest tragedies Lebanese can recall on their land.
Like the rest of South Lebanon, the city’s streets are clothed with memorial sites, as are its country lanes, framed with photos of martyrs who fought during the twenty two years of inhumane Israeli occupation that lasted from 1978 to 2000.
On the 18th of April 1996 more than a hundred between UN workers and Lebanese men, women and children of the beleaguered town of Cana were slaughtered by the umpteenth Israeli shelling on the UN bomb shelter.
Unsurprisingly, the Israeli leaders tried to cover up the massacre, but the overwhelming hard evidence made their cold-blooded PR efforts vain. Journalists of local papers and tv stations still now remember the carnage as the most horrible thing mind can conceive. Many couldn’t manage to report from there due to the unbearable sight of rivers of blood, body parts scattered all over the former shelter and dead people. As a creepy premise, only two years earlier Shimon Peres, who ordered the bloodshed, was granted with the Nobel Peace Prize, but fortunately, due to the event he was never allowed to become General Secretary of the UN.
Only four years later, the historical Cana of Galilee, like the rest of South Lebanon, was almost entirely destroyed by the merciless 33 days of Israeli bombings. Today the town is visibly suffering, slowly but relentlessly trying to face the too vivid memories of their townspeople, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters who died there, of their razed houses and of their mutilated lives to be rebuilt once again from scratch.