Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Who Owns the Shebaa Farms? Chronicle of a Territorial Dispute

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Who Owns the Shebaa Farms? Chronicle of a Territorial Dispute

Article excerpt

The roots of the border controversy in the Shebaa farmland lie in the clumsy manner France delineated the Syrian-Lebanese boundary during the Mandate years. Since 1920, maps located the area within Syria. However, for all practical matters, the area was considered to be part of Lebanon. French officials themselves noted this anomaly but did nothing to rectify it. For different reasons, Syrian and Lebanese governments perpetuated this anomaly. In 1967, with the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights, this controversy entered the orbit of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

On April 16, 2000, after 22 years of direct occupation, Israel officially declared its intention to withdraw unilaterally from South Lebanon in accordance with United Nations Resolutions 425 and 426.1 However, this seemingly unambiguous announcement rapidly evolved into a Lebanese-Israeli controversy over the exact location of the border between the two countries. Following the announcement and the subsequent hasty withdrawal, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan sent a delegation to the region headed by his Special Envoy Terje Roed-Larsen. From April 26 to June 9, 2000, UN surveyors and cartographers were occupied demarcating the line to define territorially Israel's withdrawal. On June 16, Kofi Annan officially declared that Israel had completed its withdrawal.2 The eastern part of the boundary to which Israel withdrew was actually the border between Lebanon and the Syrian Golan Heights, an area Israel had occupied in the June 1967 War. Thus, in fact, the withdrawal was to two contiguous but different international borders: the Israeli-Lebanese, set in the March 1949 armistice agreement that corresponded with the British mandatory border,3 and the Syrian-Lebanese boundary, supposedly fixed in August 1920 by France.

Following the rushed pullout, Hizballah, the radical Shi'i organization, and the Lebanese government challenged Annan's declaration and announced that the withdrawal was in fact not complete.4 They made claims to several sites along the withdrawal line where Israel still held Lebanese land, but the most serious allegation and bone of contention evolved to be an area on the western slopes of Mount Hermon (Jabal al-Shaykh) named the Shebaa [Shib'a] farms. This area, located south of the Lebanese village of Shebaa, is 14 km in length and about 2 km in width, at altitudes ranging from 400 to 2,000 meters. It is composed of plots of some 14 agricultural farmlands that have been used before 1967 by farmers from the village of Shebaa. According to the Lebanese stand, the border between Syria and Lebanon in that area does not correspond with the line demarcated by UN surveyors. Rather, it runs from east of Jabal Hawarta, one of the summits of Mt. Hermon, westward, following the riverbed of Wadi al-`Assal (known in Hebrew as Si'on River) to the `Ayun valley, circling the village of Nkheileh [Nukhayla] from the south and ascending northward to the village of Ghajar, leaving Ghajar on the Syrian side. Hizballah, with the tacit acceptance of the Lebanese and Syrian governments, declared that until Israel secedes from this area the continuation of the muqawama, or resistance, is legitimate.5 From that moment on, Hizballah launched periodical military offensives against the Israeli army in the area of the Shebaa farms, transforming the region into a spark that might ignite the Middle East into yet another war.

The dispute over the area of the farms caused Israelis and Lebanese to revisit their dusty archives and search for maps, deeds, and any other documents that could help prove that their side was the right side in this disagreement. The Lebanese made some contradictory claims as to their sovereignty over the farms. In some cases, they claimed that Lebanon had always exercised sovereignty over the area;6 in others they argued that the area was included within Lebanon in 1920; however, in a slow process Syria annexed it into its territory.7 Some Lebanese claimed that Syria had relinquished this piece of land to Lebanon in the 1950s. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.