Canadian Pastor Arrested In Lebanon, Accused of Spying for Israel
Jerusalem ( - A Canadian pastor, arrested in Lebanon accused of spying for Israel, was working on a project to raise funds for reforesting Lebanon, and probably fell victim to some Iranian-backed influence, his associate, who is also accused in the case told
Bruce Balfour, 52, was arrested July 10 when he entered Lebanon, accused of "collaboration with the enemy", i.e. Israel. It took days for the Lebanese authorities to notify Canadian officials of Balfour's incarceration. "Mr. Balfour is visited by a Canadian counsel. He is in good health and good spirits," said Canadian spokeswoman Helene Lafortune. Lafortune said more would be known after Balfour appears before a judge next Monday to explain his case. She said he had been arrested at the airport upon his arrival for having visited Israel previously, to which he admitted. According to reports from Beirut, Balfour will appear before a military court on Aug. 11 and could face three to 15 years imprisonment at hard labor if found guilty on the charges laid against him.
But an earlier statement from Ottawa said the Canadian government saw no reason to "overdramatize" the charges against Balfour. Israel was not immediately commenting on the reports. Grant Livingstone, 81, also a Canadian clergyman and associate of Balfour, is accused with him and will be tried in absentia on the same day, reports have said. Livingstone, who has lived in Israel as a journalist for 27 years, described the charges against him as "far-fetched." "They have nothing, because I'm guilty of nothing," Livingstone told "[We are] trying to help the Lebanese morale," he said. "The cedars are a beloved symbol of Lebanon."
The famed cedar tree is featured prominently on the Lebanese flag. Cedars from Lebanon were also used to build King Solomon's palace and the first Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, the Bible records. But years of exploitation, without replanting, have grossly depleted the cedar tree population. The Cedars of Lebanon Reforestation Project was started by Balfour, the current field director, and Livingstone in January 2002. But they hit a snag in raising the funds necessary to plant the trees. In the meantime, Balfour met up and joined forces with a Lebanese group, which was also working on a cedar reforestation project, and received the backing of the Lebanese government.
The Lebanese group has some 7,000 seedlings about four years old that need to be planted but lacked the resources to fund the planting, which was costly. According to Livingstone, their target sum was $50,000 U.S. "In today's foreign project [market] that is an enormous sum of money," he said, and they raised a mere fraction toward their goal. "Bruce had a warning ahead of time that he had better come back with a suitcase of money or he would be taken [into custody]," Livingstone said. "The Lebanese government had been cooperating with us. Evidently, they bowed to Iranian pressure." Despite the warning, Balfour, who is from the western Canadian province of Alberta, had returned to get video footage, which he believed would help him raise the funds, Livingstone said. According to the group's website, Balfour first became involved with Lebanon through Lebanon Aid and the Voice of Hope radio station.
Voice of Hope, started by George Otis, was a Christian radio station in what was known then as the Israeli security zone, controlled jointly by the Israeli army and the now defunct South Lebanese Army. Israel unilaterally withdrew its forces from southern Lebanon three years ago, forcing members of the SLA to flee to Israel or risk being arrested as traitors to their own country. Although the area was supposed to have come under Lebanese security control, the area was instead overrun by the Iranian-backed Hizballah, which claimed it their victory for having driven Israel out of the sector Israel. Balfour, who lived in Lebanon for four years beginning in 1982, has visited at least twice in the last couple of years, in connection with the cedar project. "The planting of hope with truth in the hearts of the war ravaged people of Lebanon will bring joy back into their hearts," Balfour was quoted as saying in an article about the mission of the group on its website.