Whose Water Is It Anyways? Resentment Pools on Israel-Lebanon Border

By Blanford, Nicholas | The Christian Science Monitor, May 6, 2014 | Go to article overview

Whose Water Is It Anyways? Resentment Pools on Israel-Lebanon Border


Blanford, Nicholas, The Christian Science Monitor


The Israeli-Lebanese border has enjoyed a rare, eight-year spell of calm, but worsening water shortages threaten to spark tensions once again.

A sealed well used for more than a century by residents of Blida, a small village in southern Lebanon, has found itself on the wrong side of the border as water shortages entice local farmers to tap it. A few miles east along the border, another territorial dispute looms at a Lebanese tourist site beside the Hasbani river, which flows into Israel.

The 24-foot deep well, known as Nabi Sheaib, skirts the course of the Blue Line, the United Nations term for a boundary created in 2000 which corresponds to Lebanon's southern border. Israeli troops were required by the UN to pull out of south Lebanon, to behind the blue line, to end its 1978-2000 occupation of south Lebanon.

Cartographers often struggle with such boundaries because Global Positioning Systems are not precise enough. In 2000, when the blue line was first delineated, the disputed tomb of a Jewish rabbi or an Arab sheikh (depending on the Israeli and Lebanese points of view) was found to lie within the GPS margin of error. Both Lebanon and Israel insisted the tomb remain on their respective sides. UNIFIL instead offered a compromise worthy of Solomon, drawing the line down the length of the tomb.

But such compromises depend on goodwill between neighbors, and that commodity seems to be in short supply between Israel and Lebanon.

The blue line is only a stopgap until there is a formal frontier agreement between the neighbors. In 2009, the UNIFIL peacekeeping force in south Lebanon began physically marking the blue line on the ground in coordination with the Lebanese and Israeli armies. Blida's problem began when UNFIL realized that the Nabi Sheaib well actually lay about three feet on the Israeli side, and therefore was technically out of bounds to Lebanese citizens.

"That well is part of our history and we will never let it go," says Hussein Daher, the mayor of Blida.

The well is covered by a concrete roof and has four metal hatches providing access to the water below. Showing the well to the Monitor, Mr. Daher lifted one of the hatches open, breaching the blue line by a few feet. For now, it is useless - the bottom of the well is full of sand and rock, which need to be cleaned out to access the water below.

Riverside resortA few miles to the northeast, near Wazzani village, the line follows the middle of the Hasbani river, which separates Lebanon from Israeli-occupied Syria. Little more than a shallow creek, the Hasbani is flanked by dense thickets of oleander and rhododendron bushes and winds through a narrow gorge. In 2010, Khalil Abdullah, a local businessman, and his sister, Zahra, began constructing a tourist complex of swimming pools, chalets, and restaurants on the river bank. …

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