Lebanon’s Shebaa Farms

Across the Blue Line from Shebaa Farms, Lebanon.

On July 18, 2001, nearly six years ago to the day, and under intense US pressure, the UN Security Council affixed its imprimatur to the proposition that Israel, after refusing for more than 22 years, finally complied with the provisions of UNSCR 425, and ended its illegal and brutal occupation of Lebanon.

Of course the ‘complete Israeli withdrawal’ language was a fiction, crafted by the new Bush administration to burnish Israel’s image as a reformed international outlaw. In point of fact, Israel to this date has not complied with SCR 425, 1701 or more than 30 other UN Resolutions.

Looking only at UNSCR 425, Israel continues to occupy the roughly 14 square mile water rich area of Shebaa Farms near where Syria’s Golan Heights and the Lebanese border meet. A beautiful area, where on a windless quiet night, dear reader, were you to stand at the eastern cliff edge of the former Israel run Khiam detention camp, facing in the direction of Damascus and Alsheikh Mountain and listen carefully, you could hear the intermittent click and purr of Israeli pumps sucking up hundreds of thousands of liters of Lebanon’s renowned (Bible mentioned) mountain water (the market price in Beirut this afternoon for one liter of bottled water is 1,000 Lebanese pounds or about 68 US cents. In the old days around Avignon, France we could buy a half liter of the annual press of Nouveau Beaujolais for about the same price). The stolen water is channeled to Israel’s illegal colonies/settlements throughout Palestine to help fill the swimming pools and water the plush green lawns of American and European Jewish settlers while the olive groves and farms of those whose lands were stolen become parched. Israel continues to take even more water from Lebanon’s Wazzani River. Why this latter outrage is allowed to continue should be explained to us, the obtuse, by the Bush backed Siniori government and its consigliore, Jeffrey Feltman.

In addition to the occupation of Shebba Farms, unfulfilled UNSCR 425 demands include Israel’s continuing detention of prisoners, the failure of Israel to provide maps to the deminers working to clear nearly one third of Lebanon of landmines and nearly one million remaining cluster bombs despite continual demands for the maps by the UN, including urgent demands by UN Sec-Gen. Moon earlier this month and the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre in Tyre, Lebanon just two days ago( every day the 25 teams of de-miners from 20 countries risk their lives trying to clear nearly 1 million remaining unexploded US cluster bombs inch by inch without any maps or idea where they are located until one explodes. As of July 15, 2007 UNMACC teams have found 921 bomb sites which have caused more than 240 injuries and deaths, one-third of them children over the past nearly 12 months.

In addition, Israel conducts nearly daily over flights with aircraft and drones; cross border incursions such as on May 24, 2007, as well as violations of Lebanon’s territorial waters and its continuing occupation of the Lebanese village of Ghajar. This has led several political parties in Lebanon, and NGO’s such as Americans Concerned for Middle East Peace, to urge the decertification of Israel’s compliance with UNSCR 425. It should be borne in mind that Israel’s continuing UN SCR 425 Lebanese sovereignty violations also constitute noncompliance with UNSCR 170l, which ushered in the current cessation of hostilities on August 14, 2006

Despite the charade of Israeli compliance with UNSCR 425, Israel’s May 24, 2000 ‘withdrawal’ was hailed as an ‘amazingly generous and high minded humanitarian act’ by it’s amen chorus in the US Congress led on this issue by Congressman Tom Lantos, the founder and chair of the notorious House Human Rights Caucus.

The House Human Rights Caucus, active for more than 27 years as a tool of the Israeli lobby has actively sought out and found hundreds of human rights violations around the World but so far they have not found one suspected human rights violation with respect to Israel or any of its occupations and aggressions. The HHRC did manage a declaration that the Shebaa Farms belonged to Syria and that Israel had every right to occupy it until there was a Syria-Israel peace treaty. (Dear reader, if you would like to fact check this statement please call the House Human Rights Caucus at 202-225-3121 and ask for the Staff Director. Perhaps he will supply you with their remarkable list of Human Rights violations.

That the Shebba Farms belonged to Syria was astounding news to the Syrians as well as the more than 100 Lebanese farmers who daily worked the land and whose families had owned the area for generations going back deep into the Ottoman period. They flooded the UN with their land deeds in protest.

The Lebanese View

During the 1967 War Israeli forces seized the Shebaa Farms, area consisting of 14 farms located south of Shebaa, a Lebanese village. Since Lebanon was not a participant in the 1967 War, they had no voice and UN representatives were pressured by Israel, who falsely claimed that the 1923 Anglo-French demarcation and the 1949 Armistice line designated the area as Syrian territory. Charges of threats and bribes of UN Staff have still not yet been investigated according to UN sources based in Beirut.

Lebanese army maps published in 1961 and 1966 specifically pinpoint several of the Shebaa Farms, including Zebdine, Fashkoul, Mougr Shebaa and Ramta, all of which are designated as being Lebanese. Lebanese Ministry of Tourism maps also show the Lebanese-Syrian border running west of the Shebaa Farms. Lebanese and Syrian officials insist that Syria had officially given the territory to Lebanon in 1951.

Syria has repeatedly officially acknowledged the Farms are Lebanese with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad recently telling a Paris new conference during a State visit that Shebaa Farms belong to Lebanon. Lebanese and Syrian officials also point to the fact that many residents in the area have land deeds stamped by the Lebanese government.

The UN was largely moot on Shebaa Farms as Israel withdrew on May 24, 2000, and under pressure from the While House, which was under pressure from the Congress, which was under control by Israel lobby, finally declared that the Shabba farms was in fact Syrian. This meant Hezbollah could not liberate it and impliedly should disarm.

Unsaid on the House or Senate floors, following Israel’s complete withdrawal from Lebanon, as members nearly tripped over each other, such was their rush to pay homage, was the fact that Israel withdraw for Lebanon for only one reason, that it could not sustain the loses from the Lebanese resistance.

This week Bibi Netanyahu wasted no time attacking his once, and likely future, opponent, Ehud Barak, “for cutting and running” in 2,000 and in Bibi’s view causing the 2006 July war and Israel’s current humiliation. The truth, of little concern to Bibi, but which might be recalled by Israeli voters, is that in 2000 the Israeli public was no longer willing to accept the average of 25 Israel soldiers killed every year of its nearly quarter century ( 1978-2000) of occupation of Lebanon. Once Israel was forced out on May 24, 2000, according to statistics supplied by Israeli Justice Minister Haim Ramon, the Israeli military suffered only 17 dead soldiers, and 25 wounded between the 2000 withdrawal and the July 2006 War. Nine of the killed were in the Shebaa Farms area and the eight others were killed when they violated the Blue Line or in retaliation for Israeli caused deaths in Lebanon.

To help put Israel’s military position as of May 24, 2000 into perspective, it should be noted that Israel sustained 6,145 militant operations by the Islamic Resistance during it occupation of Lebanon. Between early January 1999 and its withdrawal 16 months later, no fewer than 2,441 operations by Hezbollah and five other resistant groups targeted Israeli forces. The Lebanese Resistance Brigades, set up by Hezbollah, accounted for 167 of these operations or 7%. Congressional kudos to Israel, notwithstanding, the Lebanese Resistance is the only reason Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2,000.
The UN effort to take Shebaa off Hezbollah’s list of unfinished business

Against this backdrop and rising tension over Israel’s garrison at Shebaa, Farms, there was some welcomed, if short lived news the other day.

According to the July 11, 2007 edition of the Israeli journal Haaretz, and confirmed by the UN ESCWA (Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia) office here in Beirut, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon transmitted messages to the Israeli government late last month informing them that UN mapping experts have now conclusively determined that the Sheba Farms is indeed Lebanese territory and that international law required Israel’s immediate withdrawal.

Ban Ki-Moon transmitted the UN’s conclusions to PM Olmert during their meeting in New York last month, while the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East, Michael Williams discussed the decision with Israel foreign minister Tzipi Livni at about the same time.

The Secretary-General’s office also notified Olmert and Livni that Israel was to coordinate its expedited departure with UNIFIL, some of whose 13,000 troops received orders to secure Shebaa farms on the tail of the Israel’s withdrawal.

In their discussions, the UN officials also advised Israel that Syria and Lebanon agreed that the Shebaa Farms is Lebanese. This point is very important because by securing it, the UN shrewdly anticipated and precluded Israeli waffling and endless delays. This is because Israel had been objecting that its own recently retained cartographers needed to open the whole border dispute question from the beginning and examine all the work and findings of the impliedly less qualified and trustworthy UN map experts. Such a revised map review process could take several years “to do right” according to Alan Dershowitz’s April 14, 2007 legal memorandum to Israel’s Foreign Ministry. However the amicable Syria-Lebanon agreement confirming Lebanese ownership of Shebaa Farms effectively thwarted Dershowitz and the US Israeli lobby, plan. Or so it appeared for at least a few hours on July 11, 2007.

UN Sec-Gen Ki-Moon’s ‘clarification’

It is not known to what extent UN Sec-Gen. Moon felt last week that he had adjusted to the realities and pressures of his new job, but he was about to be tested. No sooner had his Shebaa Farms news item hit the air waves on the morning of July 11, 2007 than Israel’s Foreign Minister Livni contacted the White House which had already heard from Tom Lantos, founder and chair of the above mentioned US Congressional House Human Rights Caucus.

Following White House intervention, the UN acted with unusual alacrity and clarified (read: gutted) its announcement. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, following a meeting with the UK’s new Prime Minister Gordon Brown, told a news conference that in point of fact the discussion of ownership of the disputed Farms was, well, ah. er..premature. “I have submitted my Report on this issue. My senior cartographer has made some good progress but this report is not mentioning anything about ownership or sovereignty yetThe UN’s cartographer continues his work and will be visiting the area shortly.”

Minutes later a UN official explained from New York: “The secretary-general remains engaged on the issue”.

According to the Country Chief of a UN recognized NGO which is very familiar with this issue and works in the UN’s Beirut Headquarters (ESCWA): “That’s total bullshit! This was the final Report not an interim progress Report. Somebody got to Ban Ki-Moon! The map work on Sheeba has been completed for weeks. Any second year Cartography student could have done that job is less than a month. It’s not complicated”.

In the words of perhaps America’s preeminent student of the workings of the Israel lobby, San Francisco’s Jeffrey Blankfort, when he heard about the switch:

“Is this a surprise to anyone? Israel and its international lobby control the UN as much as they do Washington and the US. When there will be an international movement that will have the guts to stand up to Israel and its supporters and tell them their days of running the show are over?”

The apparent UN throwing in the town, hopefully will be reversed, but its puts pressure on Hezbollah because as Lebanon’s only deterrence to Israeli aggression and the Lebanese resistance’s pledge to liberate Lebanon from Israeli occupation, critics are using Shebaa as evidence that Hezbollah has not completed the job the Lebanese people has entrusted to it.

What particularly alarms Israel is the fact that if the UN decides that the Shebaa Farms belong to Lebanon, this clearly implies that the UN cartographer’s findings bestowed international legitimacy on Hezbollah’s continued resistance to Israel’s occupation Sheba Farms. This would also give the Lebanese resistance led by Hezbollah and supported by a clear majority of Lebanese Sunni and Christians, the moral, political, legal, and if Hezbollah chooses to exercise it, the military resistance high ground.

While the Congressional Israel lobby feels it ‘won’ against the UN on this issue the White House is decidedly conflicted. The reason is that if Israel withdraws from Shebaa Farms the Bush Administration believes the withdrawal will strengthen the government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora which it needs to keep its regional policies at least on life support.

Shebaa Farms will likely be discussed by Rice at her just rescheduled meeting for the end of this month with Livni. Rice’s concern is that Israel’s failure to withdraw from Shebaa Farms gives Hezbollah more credibility and legitimacy.

Livni thinks if Israel does withdraw it gives Hezbollah yet another victory and even more credibility and legitimacy.

Could both ladies be right or will there be a cat fight in the Holy Land?

FRANKLIN LAMB’s just released book, The Price We Pay: A Quarter Century of Israel’s Use of American Weapons in Lebanon is available at Amazon.com.uk. His volume, Hezbollah: a Brief Guide for Beginners is due out in early summer, 2007. He can be reached at fplamb@gmail.com


Franklin Lamb volunteers with the Lebanon, France, and USA based Meals for Syrian Refugee Children Lebanon (MSRCL) which seeks to provide hot nutritional meals to Syrian and other refugee children in Lebanon. http://mealsforsyrianrefugeechildrenlebanon.com. He is reachable c/o fplamb@gmail.com.