Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

"Let Sleeping Dogs Lie:" on Ghajar and Other Anomalies in the Syria-Lebanon-Israel Tri-Border Region

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

"Let Sleeping Dogs Lie:" on Ghajar and Other Anomalies in the Syria-Lebanon-Israel Tri-Border Region

Article excerpt

This article argues that the partition of the village of Ghajar between Israel and Lebanon by the Israeli Line of Withdrawal, as determined by the United Nations in 2000, was based on historical and cartographical errors. It demonstrates that the entire village was controlled by Syria until the June 1967 war when Israel occupied it along with the Golan Heights. The article shows that the entire pre-1967 tri-border region of Syria, Lebanon, and Israel suffered from border irregularities that remained dormant until 2000. Finally, the article argues that Ghajar should remain united, pending a Syrian-Israeli peace deal that theoretically would return the Golan Heights to Syria and include Ghajar in its entirety.

There are a few places that encapsulate the essence of the political history of the modern Middle East. The village of Ghajar is one such locale. Situated at the pre-1967 tri-border region of Israel, Syria, and Lebanon, the contemporary fate of Ghajar was shaped by the colonial legacy of the Middle East and inter-Arab state dynamics, as well as those of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Since the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2000 the village has been split by the Blue Line - the Israeli Line of Withdrawal - its southern third under Israeli control while its northern two-thirds remain in Lebanon. In the July 2006 war between Israel and Hizbullah, Israel occupied the northern part of Ghajar, which for six years was the only open section in an otherwise firmly sealed Israeli-Lebanese boundary. Since then, Ghajar in its entirety has been effectively controlled by Israel, despite repeated calls by Lebanon and the international community for an Israeli withdrawal in compliance with UN Resolution 1701, which put an end to the 2006 war. The United Nations has proposed that UNIFIL, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, assume control over the northern part of the village so as to address Israeli security concerns while at the same time bringing this part of Ghajar under Lebanese sovereignty. In May 2009, media reports stated that Israel approved of the UN plan and would soon pull out from the Lebanese part of Ghajar.1 On August 5, Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Lieberman, who was assigned by the Israeli Prime Minister to be in charge of the Ghajar case, made a much-publicized visit to the village. Israeli media reported that Lieberman's plan for resolving the Ghajar problem was to build a separation barrier between the two sides of the village. The residents of the northern part of the village would be evacuated into the Israeli side of Ghajar, and those who wish to stay in their homes would lose their Israeli citizenship.2 All things considered, it seems, Israel makes no claim over the northern part of Ghajar and it is only a question of time before it would withdraw from it, provided that its security concerns are addressed.

In this article I will make three related arguments. First, as in the area of the Sheb'a Farms, there has never been an agreement over the exact location of the boundary in Ghajar and its vicinity. Furthermore, unlike the Sheb'a Farms, which most maps placed within Syrian sovereignty - even if in practice locals perceived the region to be under Lebanese control - in the case of Ghajar even maps produced prior to 1967 have been extremely inconsistent, placing the village occasionally in Syria, at different times in Lebanon, and, less frequently, divided between the two states. Therefore, any attempt to determine where the boundary line lies between Syria and Lebanon in the area of Ghajar is, in essence, arbitrary. Second, Ghajar, under full Syrian control before 1967, extended to include both sections of the village that were divided by the Blue Line in 2000. This is clearly seen in reports of and sketches made by the US Embassy in Beirut, which tried to decipher the problems of sovereignty in the tri-border region during the "Water Wars" between Israel and its Arab neighbors in the early 1960s. …

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