Canadian Pastor Arrested In
Lebanon, Accused of Spying for Israel
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - 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 CNSNews.com.
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 CNSNews.com. "[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