Written by: The Prophet



Edited by: The Metallian







Lebanon, a nation that once proudly called itself the Switzerland of the



Middle East, is today a country in name only. Its government controls



little more than half of the nation\'s capital, Beirut. Its once-vibrant



economy is a shambles. And its society is fragmented - so fragmented, some



believe, that it may be impossible to re-create a unified state responsive



to the needs of all its varied peoples.







Lebanon lies on the eastern shore of the Mediterranea n Sea, in that part



of southwestern Asia known as the Middle East. Because of its location -



at the crossroads of Asia, Europe, and Africa - Lebanon has been the center



of commerce and trade for thousands of years. It has also been on the



route of numerous conquering armies.







With an area of 4,015 square miles, Lebanon is one of the smallest



countries in the Middle East. It is smaller than every state in the United



States except Delaware, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. Lebanon is



sandwiched between Syria in the north and east and Israel in the south.



The maximum distance from the nation\'s northern border to the southern one



is only 130 miles. And the maximum distance from the Mediterranean Sea to



the Lebanon-Syria border is 50 miles. In the south, along the border with



Israel, Lebanon\'s eastern border is only 20 miles from the sea.







Although a tiny land, Lebanon boasts a great diversity in its landscape



which makes it one of the most picturesque countries in the world. The



coast line is br oken by many bays and inlets of varying size. At some



points, the mountains wade silently right into the sea - then climb



suddenly tier on tier away from the Mediterranean to the sky. Because of



the limitation of flat agricultural land, all but the steepest hillsides



have been patiently and neatly terraced and planted with garlands of



twisted grapevines. The mountains lend a great variety of hues - pale



pink, rosy red, forest green or deep purple - to the landscape. Depending



on the time of day, they never appear the same twice, and from time to time



whipped white clouds hide all except their snow-capped peaks. Even on the



darkest night, the lights of the villages perched on the mountains shine in



small clusters as a reminder of their presence. On c loser view, the



mountains become a jumble of giant gorges, many of them over a thousand



feet deep, with rocky cliffs, steep ravines and awesome valleys. These



unassailable bastions have offered a secure hideaway, throughout history,



for hermits and persecuted groups seeking refuge.







Lebanon has four distinct geographical regions: a narrow - but fertile -



coastal plain; two roughly parallel mountain ranges that run the full



length of the country - the Lebanon, which rises in the west to an alpine



hei ght of 11,000 feet while the eastern range, the anti-Lebanon, is



crowned magestically by the snow-capped Mount Hermon at 9,232 feet. The



two chains of mountains shelter between them a well-cultivated plateau



extending seventy miles in length and fifteen miles in width. This



tableland is called the Bekaa. This is a fertile strip of land 110 miles



long and six to ten miles wide. Zahle, the third largest city in the



country, is in the valley. The country\'s two most important rivers, the



Litani and the Orontes, rise in the northern Bekaa near Baalbek, a city



that dates to Roman times. The Litani flows southwest through the Bekaa



Valley and then empties into the Mediterranean Sea north of Tyre. Its



waters are used for irrigation, so it becomes a mere tr ickle by the time



it gets to the sea. The Orontes rises not far from the Litani, but it



flows northward between the two mountain ranges, wending its way into



Syria. Beyond the Bekaa and the anti-Lebanon mountains, the Syrian desert



only stretches east f or about 800 miles to the valley of the Tigris and



Euphrates rivers. This geography has been a determining factor for



millenia in keeping Lebanon turned toward the West.







The landscape cannot be described without mentioning the most celebrated



tree o f Lebanon, the cedar. Called by the Lebanese "Cedar of the Lord,"



this famed tree retains somewhat of a sacred aura this day. It has become



the symbol of Lebanon and appears in the center of the flag, on the coins,



and often on postage stamps. Since an cient times the cedar constituted a



valuable export which provided King Solomon with timber for the



construction of his Temple, the Phoenicians with wood for their seafaring



galleys , the Egyptians with