I have just read-through the Marjeyoun website- your long and fascinating piece about Jdeida. Like other members of the Marjeyoun family I was very happy to see our town 'put on the map' of American journalism by one who comes from the town, and who still has emotional- and perhaps more - ties to the town. We are very proud of you, and hopeful that you will help all of us who believe that Jdeida has a future to spread that message far and wide.
Your own belief in that future seems to be a little ambiguous. On the one hand you say that Marjeyoun is withering away and dying, and at the end you say that it is still alive. Perhaps this ambiguity is a reflection of the disparity between what you heard from some people in the town and your own evident affection for it.During your recent visit you told me that you intended to restore part of your grandmother's house, with its vaulted ceiling, so that you could bring your family to spend time in the town, and I was very happy to feel that you were so enthusiastic about the beauty of the area which you so well and eloquently describe.
There is no doubt that some of the inhabitants of Jdeida feel pessimistic. There are two main reasons for this: in the first place the transition from being 'occupied' to becoming 'liberated' has not been a happy one, as governments in Beirut have continued to regard the south as being marginal , and to neglect the needs and hopes of the inhabitants. This is true not only of the inhabitants of Jdeida but of all the towns and villages occupied by Israel and now 'liberated'. The second reason for the pessimism of some-and especially the older- members of the town is that they have not been able to come to terms with the fact that the historic role of Jdeida has changed, but not disappeared.
As you explained the post-1918 division of frontiers and the creation of Israel in 1948 cut off Jdeida from its natural and historical 'lebensraum' in Palestine,Syria and Jordan . In the years since those events the demographic changes in the area and the growth of other and larger towns such as Khiam, Hasbaya, and the towns of Jabal Amel, reduced Jdeida's former commercial importance to its present state of morosity. At the same time the revenues which used to come to the town from lands and properties in Palestine and Syria dried up. The people of Jdeida had to react to these changes : some did, others were unable to for material or psychological reasons. Nostalgia for the past, or reliance on support from outside, or simply the process of aging with its ever-narrowing horizons, fostered the pessimism which your contacts in the town communicated to you.
There are positive reasons for my own optimism for the future of Jdeida. The loss of the revenues from lands and commerce with Palestine Jordan and Syria has been more than compensated by the incomes earned by the younger generation in the Gulf, the USA, Canada and Australia. This generation did not emigrate, as had their forefathers, with the intention of remaining abroad for ever, but to react positively to the new situation of the town which resulted from the political changes in the region. The family, emotional and material links between these new 'emigrants' and the town are still strong: they continue to return for vacations with their children, they are restoring their family houses and building new ones, they are supporting projects in the town and area which generate new sources of incomes- such as hotels, restaurants , small businesses. And above all they are supporting the main source of Jdeida's educational and cultural pre-eminence in the past, and the main hope for its future- namely the schools and institutes which give Jdeida not just the 800 inhabitants which you ascribe to it, but several thousands of students who come into the town every day from the surrounding towns and villages during the school year.
During your recent visit to Jdeida you must have seen the new Municipal building and perhaps also the vast 'chantier' of the cultural and sports center being built at the Marjeyoun National College, both projects financed by one of the post-1948 generation of young men who reacted positively to the loss of the town's former source of wealth - Amal Hourani. You may have seen the Red Cross building financed by gifts from the Gulf community. You may have seen the new constructions and the restoration of old houses now going on in the town where last summer there were at least 60 'chantiers' in the town. You may be aware that there is now a Marjeyoun Development Fund which has begun to support projects to develop skills and enterprises which will increase revenues and create work opportunities in the town and area You may also have tasted the chickens, dairy products and organic vegetables.produced by private and cooperative projects managed from the town, and you certainly drank the araq and perhaps tasted the honey produced by people of the town, and sold extensively outside it.
No, Jdeida is not 'withering away' and certainly not 'dying'. You are indeed one of the proofs that the town is still very much alive, can still attract the support and encouragement of its sons and daughters living abroad, even after three generations have passed ! When you came to visit me in Jdeida last month it gave me a great feeling of optimism: I had come back to the town for the first time fifty years after my father had left for Manchester: you were returning seventy years after your grandparents left for Oklahoma- as you say at the end- ' Marjeyoun is still alive'!
With my very best wishes to you and your family