The Shebaa Farms -- Fighting for a Vision?

Posted in Broader Middle East | 16-Apr-05 | Author: Manuela Paraipan

The few villages in the South of Lebanon better known as the Shebaa Farms are being disputed on the one hand by Israel and Lebanon, and on the other by the international community through the voice of the UN that sustains the land is Syrian, not Lebanese. The Shebaa Farms is at a point where three countries meet: Palestine, now known as Israel, Syria and Lebanon. The ownership problem of the Shebaa Farms reflects the conflict between the newcomer in the region, Israel, and the Arab world. WSN's Middle East Correspondent, Manuela Paraipan, interviewed Youssef Dib, Head of the Studies and Documentations Department of the Lebanese Parliament:

WSN: Is the land called Shebaa Farms, Lebanese, Syrian or Israeli?

Youssef Dib: The truth can be found in history. Before 1948, in the Middle East there was no such country as Israel, only Palestine. Palestine was under British mandate and Lebanon was under the French mandate until 1920, when it became a sovereign country. In the region there were always tensions and conflicts, and there was also a clash of interests between the British and the French. The British wanted the South of Lebanon as part of Palestine, mainly because of its rich hydraulic resources. In a specific way, the South of Lebanon has always been very attractive to the Israelis because of its rivers.

Shebaa Farms, a strip of land tucked in the western foothills of Mount Hermon between Lebanon and the Golan Heights, remains a disputed territory in a region struggling to redefine borders. The region remains under Israeli control after the withdrawal of Israeli forces from southern Lebanon. Hezbollah leaders and the Lebanese government demand the return of the land to Syria.

Israel took control of Shebaa Farms from Syria during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and says the area is not covered by U.N. Security Council Resolution 425 that governs its withdrawal from southern Lebanon. The United Nations says that the area was Syrian territory occupied by Israel during the war and considers the strip part of the Golan Heights rather than of south Lebanon.

The fertile farm land, strategically situated at the corner where Syria, Lebanon and Israel meet, produces barley, fruits and vegetables. According to Lebanese reports, the land consists of 13 farms and is about 15 miles long and five miles wide.

Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah asserts Shebaa Farms is Lebanese land and says the guerrillas will not rest until Israel returns it.

WSN: How important is the water for Israel, or Palestine, as you prefer to call it?

Youssef Dib: More than 60% of the water in Palestine comes from areas outside the country. In this context, it is not surprising that the Israelis refused to withdraw from the Shebaa Farms in 2000 when they were forced by Hezbollah's resistance to leave Lebanon. The Zionist plan could not have worked without securing the necessary water resources for the new state of Israel.

WSN: Are there any documents at your disposal regarding the official borders between Lebanon and Syria and Lebanon and Palestine?

Youssef Dib: Between 1920-1922, there was an agreement from the New Camp on tracing the borders between Palestine, Syria and Lebanon. If the borders between Palestine and Lebanon are clear, the borders between Lebanon and Syria are still blurry not for the Lebanese or the Syrians, but rather for the international community.

After the creation of Israel in 1948, there were so many attacks on us that we did not have enough time to sit at a table and solve the issue of the Shebaa Farms in an official way. However, we have documents registered in Sidon stating that the land of the villages is Lebanese, because the owners were Lebanese and all their documents were registered in Lebanon, not in Syria.

After the Israeli military withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, we sent all the documents to the UN, but so far there has been no feedback from them. On the other hand, the UN decision to ignore the documents is certainly a political decision. When the UN came to Lebanon and drew the so-called blue line, it drew a practical line; it did not respect the official line of the borders.

WSN: Would you give up the Shebaa Farms in order to avoid the continuous attacks by the Israeli army on the South?

Youssef Dib: We, the Lebanese, have been asked this question by many people. The land is ours, and we have documents to prove this, plus we also need the water and since it is a strategic military point, we cannot just give it up. Israel is in its essence a strong, military country with advanced equipment. As a small country with a weak army and outdated military equipment, we cannot compete with them -- that is why we cannot allow them to take any more of our land and gain even more power than they already have in the region. They have more than 20 nuclear warheads -- what is the purpose? Who is attacking them? Not the Arabs, as everyone can easily observe. Without the Shebaa Farms, Israel would no longer have direct access to the Golan Heights from the ground and would have to make a detour or land with helicopters directly on the mountain.

WSN: Who is protecting the South of Lebanon?

Youssef Dib: Presently, South Lebanon only receives protection from Hezbollah's movement. Before the Taef Agreement we did not have an organized army, and we mostly relied on the Syrian army and its weaponry. Then, the resistance was born and they succeeded to secure the South to a certain extent. When fighting with an enemy that has both superior military training and modern, powerful weapons, Lebanon can only protect itself through the use of guerilla troops. France had resistance fighters in the Second World War and even Israel used the resistance. Israel had the Lahad army and its organized army. If Israel was allowed to use guerilla fighters, why is the rule different for Lebanon?

WSN: If UN Resolution 1559 is implemented, will Hezbollah disarm and if so, would Lebanon be safe?

Youssef Dib: As long as we have Israel at our borders, Lebanon will not be safe because of the long-term projects and visions that the Israelis have regarding Lebanon and the entire Arab region. One only needs to read Israeli authors like Ben Gurion, Hertzl or Moshe Dayan and the vision of the Israelis for the region is revealed. The Zionist policy may be old, but it is still very much alive. Nothing that the Israelis have written was forgotten, or put in a drawer. On the contrary. They have softened their voice and moderated the policy, but the final goal is to see the Zionist policy implemented.

The Israeli Foreign Minister, Silvan Shalam, said not long ago that Israel's short-term goals are to normalize their relations with at least ten Arab countries. First, they considered us ignorant, even terrorists, and now they are trying hard to establish friendly relations with us. When Dayan was asked in the 1970s why Israel has kept the same policy since its beginning - just slightly adjusted - he replied that as the Arabs do not read and do not follow events, it is so easy for Israel to implement its dream. But, we do read and we do follow the events, and we are aware that the branch of olive tree being handed over to us by the Israelis will soon be followed by a new military aggression.

WSN: Can President Bush bring democracy to the region, bring peace between the Arabs and Israel?

Youssef Dib: There will never be peace in the region, unless the Palestinians get their rights, the Lebanese get the Shebaa Farms and the Syrians get the Golan Heights. We are ready to have normal, neighborly relations with Israel, but this time the initiative of peace has to come from them. They took our land, thus they should be the ones to invite us to have a civilized dialog.

WSN: Thank you.