Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Between Palestine and Lebanon: Seven Shi'i Villages as a Case Study of Boundaries, Identities, and Conflict

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Between Palestine and Lebanon: Seven Shi'i Villages as a Case Study of Boundaries, Identities, and Conflict

Article excerpt

This article follows the fate of the only seven Shi'i villages in Mandatory Palestine, beginning in the time of the border demarcation between Palestine and Lebanon (1919-1924) and concluding with Hizbullah's demand to retrieve their territories back to Lebanon (2000). The article examines the relations of the villages with the Jewish Yishuv and with the Sunni population in Palestine during the British Mandate; their fate as Palestinian refugees in Lebanon; and their status in Lebanon after the 1994 naturalization law that granted them Lebanese citizenship. The story of the seven villages is examined through three prisms: that of the villages themselves, of the Palestinians, and of the Lebanese. The different narratives enlighten themes such as the colonial legacy in the Middle East, border dynamics, identity formation, and internal Lebanese politics.

Much of the historical research which deals with political and social aspects of the modern Middle East pays a great deal of attention to the macro side of the subject matter. Thus, for example, the primary focus of works on the Arab-Israeli conflict consists of macro themes such as wars, peace talks, the regional system, the struggle for hegemony, and so on. Studies relating to the drawing of the geopolitical map of the modern Middle East after World War I also tend to focus on the macro side, and deal primarily with British-French rivalry, British commitments to the Zionist and Arab national movements, and the material interests of the parties such as water sources and strategic routes. Very little attention has been devoted to the micro level - to the populations and communities who lived through the monumental events which transpired in the modern Middle East. However, often it is the diminutive local story that can shed light in a way that the broader picture cannot. As I will demonstrate in the following article, the story of a single community, even when it stretches over an entire century, can sharpen our understanding of broader issues such as the construction of national identities, the colonial legacy, and the dynamics of the Arab-Israeli conflict, which the research seemingly has exhausted.

In this article I propose to take a micro-level approach and examine one border story, which centers on the only seven Shi'i villages in Mandatory Palestine, whose inhabitants became refugees in Lebanon in 1948, together with over 100,000 Palestinian Arabs.1 In 1994, after an extended public struggle, the residents of these villages attained Lebanese citizenship, owing to a highly controversial naturalization law which was passed in the Lebanese Parliament. In May 2000, after the withdrawal of Israel from Lebanon, the villages once again made headlines when Hizbullah followed by the Lebanese government - utilized the villages to make an additional territorial claim from Israel.2 Since 2000 and, in fact, up until the writing of this article, the seven villages have remained in the headlines, either because of territorial claims, or the question of the villagers' entitlement to Lebanese citizenship.

This article consists of five sections. First, I will describe the mapping project of the border between the British and French Mandates in 1920-1924 and the place of the Shi'i population in the region in the course of this process. Second, I will examine the fate of the seven villages from 1924 to 1948, with an emphasis on the lives of their inhabitants within the British Mandate and their relations with the Jewish Yishuv (the Jewish community in Palestine) as well as with the neighboring Arab population. Third, I will survey their fate as Palestinian refugees in Lebanon from 1948-1994 and will describe their status in the context of the increasing strength of the Shi'i community in the country. The fourth section will examine the status of residents of the villages in Lebanon subsequent to the passage of the naturalization law of 1994 until after the withdrawal of Israel from south Lebanon in May 2000. …

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