What is the Issue of Shebaa Farms?
The Shebaa Farms & the Hidden Truth
by: Elias Bejjani* 02/02/2004
Under the puppet regime and the hegemony of the Syrian Baathist occupier the Shebaa Farms issue has become like "Osman's shirt", a pretext to pre-empt the rise of a strong central Lebanese state and a justification to maintain tensions along the Israeli-Lebanese borders. Truths have been falsified and a case has been fabricated in order to serve all but the interests of Lebanon. The objective of this piece is to shed some light on the Shebaa Farms fabrication in a chronological overview spanning the period of 1924 to the present.
On May 25, 2000 the Israeli Labor government decided to implement UN Resolution 425 issued by the Security Council on March 19, 1978 and withdrew its troops from the border strip it had. At the same time, it also implemented the clauses concerning Israel of UN Resolution 426 issued by the Security Council on the same date and which is represents a corollary resolution to 425.
As such, the fact of the Israeli withdrawal was not a secret as it was carried out with the full agreement of Israel, Iran, Syria, the Lebanese regime, and Hezbollah under the supervision of the United Nations represented by the Terje Rod-Larsen, the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General. The agreement stipulated, among many other conditions, the dismantling of the South Lebanon Army (SLA), the decommissioning of its weapons, and the closure of all passage points between the Lebanese border strip and Israel proper. But Lebanon was not asked to commit itself to any condition including the clause of Resolution 426 for which it was responsible, and which stipulates the handing over of security to the Lebanese Army from the capital Beirut all the way to the international borders and the return of legitimate sovereignty of the state over the South. Instead, Hezbollah replaced Israel and the South Lebanon Army as a fait accompli on the ground, which prevented the state from shouldering its responsibilities in the region as was agreed upon.
Only one week after the Israeli withdrawal, Syria concocted the problem of the Shebaa Farms and made an issue out of it, cloaking around it a false cause for a new resistance to replace the resistance pretext lost with the Israeli withdrawal. The fact is that the vast majority of the Lebanese people, and first among them the barkers of steadfastness, merchants of liberation, and peddlers of unity of purpose and destiny, and all the Quixotic bearers of swords, butcher's knives, and daggers had never heard of the Farms and had no idea whatsoever if the Farms were in Lebanon or in Timbuktu !!.
The Syrian producer of this tragedy-comedy had decided to hand over the South to the fundamentalist Hezbollah under the pretext of a continued Israeli occupation of the Shebaa Farms. Damascus had from the start tried to play the card of the seven Lebanese villages that were annexed to Palestine in 1924 by mandatory Britain and France when the latter drew the borders between Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine. But Syria did not find that issue to be fertile ground to achieve its goal of maintaining tensions on the Lebanese-Israeli border. It should be noted that the borders between the three countries were confirmed internationally in 1949 after the creation of the state of Israel. And from that time, the Armistice Agreement between Lebanon and Israel became the working modality for the border between the two countries, and the Engineering Corps of the Lebanese Army drew the borderline under the supervision of international observers in the early 1960s.
Beginning in 1924, the Shebaa Farms were considered Lebanese territory. But Syria refused to accept that fact as it refused Lebanon's right to independence. It seized the Farms in the 1950s and maintained its control over them until it lost them with the Golan Heights to Israel in 1967. The Syrian control over the Farms created an anomalous situation in which the residents of the Farms were Lebanese nationals and the land was Lebanese property, but the administration and authority were Syrian.
Lebanon did not agree to the Syrian control over the Farms, but did not raise the issue with the United Nations in order not to amplify the problem with Syria. In fact, Lebanon tried to establish a police station in the Farms, but several Lebanese gendarmes were killed by the Syrians and others were evicted by force, an event that is documented in one of the issues of the Lebanese Army Magazine. Retired Lieutenant Colonel Adnan Shaaban declared in a press panel sponsored by the Arabic daily An-Nahar on December 4, 2000 that the Shebaa Farms are Lebanese territory under Syrian sovereignty, reminding everyone of the document published by the Lebanese Soldier magazine in 1961. In it, it was reported that four Lebanese soldiers of various ranks entered the Farms and were killed by Syrian soldiers because the land was under Syrian sovereignty (in the Syrian interpretation), and photos of these events are available in the files of the Directorate of Information and Orientation.
The residents and land owners of the Farms themselves repeatedly appealed to successive Lebanese governments (from President Beshara El-Khoury to President Fuad Shihab), and they also raised their complaints a number of times directly to the Syrian governments through petitions, sit-ins, and dispatching envoys and mediators, but to no avail. Syria insisted on maintaining its authority over the Farms.
The former Prime Minister of Lebanon, the late Sami El-Solh, mentioned the Shebaa Farms in his book, Lebanon: Political Absurdity and Unknown Fate (Dar An-Nahar Lil-Nashr, First Edition, pp. 293-294). He said,
"Syrian-Lebanese relations continued to deteriorate between 1956 and 1958, which resulted in serious border problems when Syrian authorities established a police station and a post for the Mujahideen in the Shebaa Farms according to Lebanese security sources. The residents of the Farms were warned in September 1957 by Syrian authorities that they should submit family and personal data that included their acceptance of the Syrian nationality instead of the Lebanese. With the recurring incidents against Lebanese civilians, a delegation of notables from Shebaa led by the Mayor went to Damascus to discuss the issue with high officials in the Syrian leadership including Prime Minister Sabri Al-Assali and Speaker Akram Al-Hourani, but achieved nothing. And when the same delegation from the south visited me and informed me of the details of the developments, I emphasized to the delegation the need for them to hold on and keep to their Lebanese identity. I promised them to work at resolving the problem, supporting their efforts, preventing the attacks against them, and reducing the pressure placed on them. I immediately contacted the Egyptian ambassador in Damascus, Mahmoud Riyad, and explained the situation to him and the harassment suffered by the Lebanese citizens of the Farms. I told him that this behavior was not in the interests of Egypt, and neither was it in the interests of Lebanon and Syria. It does in fact harm the relations and basic interests of the concerned countries and their peoples, and I emphatically informed him that the issue will have a negative impact on both the Arab and international arenas because it is no longer a simple issue of sending troops and weapons across the border, but has now become an attempt at annexing land and people. At the same time, I issued Decree N_ 493 dated December 12, 1957 to the Lebanese authorities in the Shebaa Farms to record all incidents and violations and to exert all possible efforts at maintaining the Lebanese identity of the Farms (which include: Kfardouma, Marah Al-Mouloul, Qafoua, Ramta, Khallet Ghazaleh, Fashkoul, Jouret Al-Aqareb, Al-Roubaa, Beit El-Dhimmi, Aardata, etc.)"
During the 6-day war of June 6, 1967, Israel occupied the Golan and with it the Shebaa Farms. UN Security Council Resolution 242 issued on November 22, 1967 after the cessation of hostilities did not mention the Shebaa Farms as Lebanese land, whereas it clearly specified that all the territories occupied by Israel on the Syrian-Israeli front were Syrian territories. It should be noted here that Lebanon was not a part of this war, and at the time never said, officially or otherwise, that Israel had occupied any Lebanese territory. In 1972 Israel did enter certain areas on the Lebanese side of the border but this was a brief act that did not go beyond the town of Houla.
Lebanon again did not take part in the second Israeli-Arab war of 1973, and again did not consider any of its territory to have been occupied by Israel. UN Resolution 338 issued on November 22, 1973 makes no mention at all of any occupied Lebanese territory. Official Lebanon never said that Israel occupied a single inch of its land and remained bound by the Armistice Agreement of 1949.
In 1978 Israel invaded the Lebanese South under the banner of "Operation Litani", and on March 9, 1978 the UN Security Council voted Resolution 425 along with its mechanism of execution in the accompanying Resolution 426. Neither resolution mentioned the Shebaa Farms, and nowhere does the record show that Lebanon stated in Lebanese, Arab, or international venues that Israel occupies the Lebanese Shebaa Farms. Yet at the same time, the concerned countries, i.e Lebanon and Syria, the Arab countries and Israel did not consider resolutions 242 and 338 to have anything to do with Lebanon or its territory. Similarly resolutions 425 and 426 did not mention the Shebaa Farms, and did not consider them Israeli-occupied Lebanese land.
In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon and reached the capital Beirut. It then withdrew to the South and remained there until May 2000. On September 17, 1982, the Security Council issued UN Resolution 520 that reaffirmed "Lebanon's determination to ensure the withdrawal of all non-Lebanese forces from Lebanon" and called "again for the strict respect for Lebanon's sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and political independence under the sole and exclusive authority of the Lebanese Government through the Lebanese Army throughout Lebanon". This resolution did not mention the Shebaa Farms because they were part of the Syrian territories addressed by Resolutions 242 and 338 pertaining to the Syrian Golan Heights.
In October 1991, and with the end of the Gulf War, all the Arab countries, as well as Lebanon and Israel participated in the Madrid Conference under American-Russian sponsorship. Lebanon, by then entirely occupied by Syria under the Taef umbrella, stated that it was not concerned with Resolutions 242 and 338, focusing instead on Resolutions 425 and 426 and demanding a return to a commitment to the Armistice Agreement signed with Israel in 1949. At that time, neither Israel nor Syria, nor any Arab country for that matter mentioned the Shebaa Farms as occupied Lebanese territory. Both Syria and Lebanon adopted the same position in their negotiations with Israel that were held in the United States between 1994 and 1996 during President Clinton's reign and under his administration's sponsorship. Nowhere do the proceedings, reports, and minutes from these negotiations mention the Shebaa Farms, and again Lebanon demanded the implementation of the Armistice Agreement between Lebanon and Israel.
As it turns out and since Israel occupied the Golan in 1967 and later annexed it, and since the international observers assumed their mission of watching over the border between Israel and Syria, the Shebaa Farms were consistently considered by the international community as Syrian land. All international maps showed the Farms inside Syrian territory now occupied by Israel.
The former Syrian president Amin Hafez mentioned in his memoirs that the regime of Hafez Assad had sold the Golan to Israel in exchange for keeping him and all his cohort in power (memoirs are available on aljazeera web site)
It therefore becomes evident that the issue of the Shebaa Farms landed from the sky over the heads of the Lebanese people with a Syrian parachute. A poisoned and booby-trapped gift like all other Syrian gifts to Lebanon. The Farms issue is a pure fabrication specifically concocted by Syria to maintain its occupation of Lebanon and to create an anomalous situation along the Lebanese-Israeli border that will prevent the rise of a strong central government in Beirut. It also gives Syria the alibi to keep its military presence in the Lebanese arena directly via its troops and intelligence apparatus, and indirectly via Hezbollah, Amal, and the Palestinian and Lebanese organizations affiliated with her.
In the aftermath of the Israeli withdrawal in May 2000, the UN sent two of its delegates, along with Israeli and Lebanese participation, to map out the borders between the two countries. The outcome was the so-called Blue Line that dictated that the Shebaa Farms should be inside Syrian territory. Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and all the Arab countries recognized this line as the official border. However, Lebanon's recognition of the border came in two contradicting positions. On one hand, General Emile Lahoud sent a secret letter, which he did not share with his own Prime Minister Salim Hoss, to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in which he recognized and agreed to the Blue Line as the official border line between Lebanon and Israel. However, to the media Lahoud presented the position that Lebanon refuses to acquiesce to the Blue Line before Israel withdrew from the Shebaa Farms. With this, the Syrian-controlled Lebanese media began their campaign to mobilize public opinion in favor of keeping Hezbollah armed, preventing the Lebanese Army from deploying along the border with Israel, and denying the state its obligation to assume security on its own territory with its own armed forces.
Yet another opportunity was lost, like so many others in the past three decades, to extricate the Lebanese South from the cycle of Arab-Israeli violence. Instead, the South was to remain a hostage to the Syrian blackmail, and Syria which had strictly abided by its own cease-fire agreement on the Golan with Israel since 1974, was clearly determined to recover the Golan Heights with Lebanese blood and at the expense of Lebanon's stability and wellbeing. It is painfully surprising to the majority of the Lebanese people that the Shiite community of Lebanon – represented by Hezbollah and Amal – has fallen into the trap of sacrificing its own people and bringing ruin upon itself and on all the other communities of the South of Lebanon to help Syria recover its own Golan Heights, when the Syrian-Israeli border itself has been quiet for over three decades. Since 1974 when the cease-fire agreement between Israel and Syria was signed, not one bullet was ever fired from inside Syria against the Israeli forces in the Golan Heights, These Heights that are not only occupied, but also annexed by Israel.
The fact is that the Lebanese South was to remain a time-bomb in the hands of the Syrians and the Iranians through the farce that says not to deploy the Lebanese Army to the Lebanese border so as not to be seen as protecting the Israeli border! A sick and tragic logic that makes Lebanon the laughing stock of the international community.
The UN tried to peacefully dismantle the booby-trap of the Shebaa Farms through the mechanisms of international law, by asking the Lebanese and Syrian governments to submit official documents signed by both countries and clearly specifying Syria's recognition of the Shebaa Farms as Lebanese. However, Syria refused to meet this demand and instead had its Foreign Minister Farouq Sharaa place an unofficial telephone call to the UN Secretary General Annan.
Annan reiterated his demand several times, but Syria ignored the request while the puppets of the Lebanese regime submitted to the Syrian game and persisted in their lies to their own people with the Baathist slogans of "one-path, one-destiny".
In a recent interview, the Maronite Patriarch Sfeir stated,
"Some tell us that Shebaa is Lebanese, and some tell us it is Syrian, and to this date we have not seen any official Syrian document presented to the UN that certifies Syria's recognition of the Lebanese identity of the Shebaa Farms. The Farms cannot be liberated by throwing stones across the Blue Line drawn between Israel and Lebanon, but by negotiating about them through the UN, especially since the Secretary General, Washington, and the European countries have confirmed that Israel has implemented Resolution 425. The Farms, which were under Syrian control when Israel occupied the Golan in 1967, are covered under Resolution 242, and not Resolution 425."
In sum, the Shebaa Farms are indeed Lebanese land, but Syria seized them by force and took control of them administratively and militarily from the early 1960s. In the process, it killed Lebanese gendarmes and shut down the Lebanese police station there, which was tantamount to evicting the Lebanese authorities from the Farms.
If the Syrian regime indeed wanted to help recover the Shebaa Farms and rid it of the Israeli occupation, it would have presented official documentation to the UN in which it recognized Lebanon's sovereignty over the Farms. The UN in turn would guarantee the return of the Farms to Lebanon without firing a single bullet. Israel has in fact expressed its readiness to withdraw from the Farms the moment Syria formally recognizes Lebanon's sovereignty over the Farms and the Lebanese Army deploys on the border.
Syria never recognized Lebanon's right to exist as an independent country. When the State of Greater Lebanon was defined in its present borders in 1920, Syria did not even exist as a country. Later when the Syrian State was created by the artificial coalescence of the disparate sanjaqs of Damascus, Aleppo, Hama, Homs, the Jabal Druze, and the Alaouite territory, successive Syrian governments categorically rejected the idea of establishing diplomatic relations with Lebanon. They also refrained from undertaking an official assessment of the borders between the two countries. Instead Syria maintained a policy of hostility towards Lebanon, continuously emphasizing the slogans of "brotherly" relations, "one people in two states", "the unity of geography and history", Lebanon as the "soft flank" of Syria, "the unity of path and destiny", and others.
If the Lebanese regime really wanted to liberate the Farms, it would have asked Syria for the official recognition in the document requested by the UN, and if Hezbollah genuinely wanted to liberate the Farms as it claims, it would have surrendered its weapons to the Lebanese State after Israel implemented Resolution 425 by withdrawing from the border strip, and would have allowed the Lebanese Army to deploy along the border and establish the State's authority over all Lebanese land. It also would have facilitated the implementation by the State of its obligations under Resolution 426.
And if Syria was truly in Lebanon to defend it against Israeli attacks, it would have fired at least one bullet against Israel for the length of its presence in Lebanon since 1976. And if Syria really wanted to protect Lebanon, it should have begun by protecting itself and its own occupied and annexed Golan.
On January 22, 2004 the An-Nahar daily reported the following: "Patriarch Sfeir lastly discussed with the visiting delegation from Hezbollah the subject of the ownership of the Shebaa Farms". We hope that the Patriarch explained to his visitors the whole truth about the Farms, and we also wish that the delegation remembered the following saying as it was leaving Bkerki, "You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all the people all the time."
- Human Rights activist, journalist & political commentator.
- Spokesman for the Canadian Lebanese Human Rights Federation (CLHRF)
- Media Chairman for the Canadian Lebanese Coordinating Council (LCCC)