By Franklin Lamb – Northwest of Ghajar Village, South Lebanon
"We, as Lebanese, are here to confirm that we cling to freeing every grain of our soil. We will not abandon the great national cause, which is the continuation of the liberation of our land. The resistance looks forward to hoisting the flags of victory again over the Kfarshuba hills, Shebaa Farms, Ghajar and Abbasieh where 80 percent of the land is still occupied" — Sheik Nabil Qwork, Hezbollah leader addressing villagers at Abbasieh Village, 10/2008
Under pressure from the lame duck Bush Administration to withdraw from territory that the Lebanese Resistance did not liberate during its May 2000 rout of the Israel army and its surrogate SLA militia, Israel to date remains unwilling to budge. One reason is that it claims the Bush Administration reneged on secret pledges to bomb Iran.
As the unseeing eyes everted by five consecutive US administrations from Israel’s 22 year brutal occupation of South Lebanon (1978-2000) make plain, Israel remaining on Lebanese territory normally would not be of much concern to Washington even as it is learning that its own hard-line policy in the region did not succeed.
The reason for the sudden worry about Israel clinging to Lebanese land, such as Ghajar Village and Shebaa Farms, is the fast approaching-and arguably second most important election for the Middle East (the first being the result of the 11/4/08 US vote), the May 2009 Lebanese election. The Bush Administration is widely thought here to believe that the 2009 election may be the last chance for the US to save Lebanon from Iranian suzerainty.
If Israel leaves Ghajar which it occupied in violation of UNSC Resolution 1701 on its way out of Lebanon, with Hezbollah hot on its heels, following the July 2006 war, (and Shebaa Farms which it occupied in 1967) the Bush Administration feels its March 14 Lebanese allies stand to benefit electorally.
Both the US and Israel are trying to prevent Hezbollah from determining Lebanese policy at Cabinet meetings and gaining the allegiance of a majority of the 128 Deputies following the May 2009 election. The Obama victory helps Hezbollah in the coming Lebanese election because, despite groveling and genuflecting to the Israel lobby as all US presidential candidates have historically done, Obama takes a broader view of the Middle East and is perceived in the region as willing to ‘do business and conduct dialogue" with Hezbollah, Syria, Hamas, Iran and Afghanistan.
Sundry, “Nasrallah-Obama! Yes We Can!” (Nam, Nahnou Nastatia! in Arabic) placards have been observed recently in Beirut and around the Middle East.
For these reasons the nearly moribund Bush administration is taking no chances. Charges persist, including those made this week by pro-Hezbollah Marada Movement leader Suleiman Franjieh that Welch Club-Saudi cash (in amounts up to $ 900 per vote according to some electoral organizers where the average monthly income is $75 per family) is being offered in the Tripoli/Akkar/Beirut area where Saad Hariri is deemed by many as not having properly filled his father’s leadership shoes. Cash offers for votes are reported even in areas where a Hezbollah sweep is unlikely. Hariri opponent, Franjieh added that "If Saudi Arabia continues to pump money into the forthcoming elections, this would lead Iran and others to contribute money!" Needy and clever Lebanese voters may not complain much as some desperate citizens calculate how to sell their vote more than once to offset Lebanon’s rising inflation.
The blizzard of cash prompted Hezbollah’s popular leader in South Lebanon, Sheikh Nabil Qwork to comment sarcastically that "it would have been more useful if the cash had been sent to help rebuild Lebanon instead of an attempt to buy the election".
Does Hezbollah Buy Votes?
One can’t be absolutely sure of practically anything in Lebanon these days but not according to residents in the Hezbollah Haret Hreik neighborhood between Shatila and Burj Barajneh Palestinian Refugee Camps.
"That would be so funny! I wish they did!" the scintillating late teen chador-clad cashier at the neighborhood Halifee sandwich restaurant commented to this observer. "Hezbollah is more likely to ask voters for a charity donation at the voting place than to pay people to vote. I want you to know that Hezbollah supporters have the highest voting rate in Lebanon because they are motivated to do their ‘national duty’. I want to vote and I hope that the Parliament will immediately lower the voting age from 21 years to 18 years as Sayeed Hassan Nassrallah proposed during his Martyr’s Day speech last week."
According to an election analyst at Beirut’s, Notre Dame University – Louaize, founded by the Maronite Order of the Holy Virgin Mary, Parliament will likely agree. Voting analysts calculate that dropping the voting age three years should give Hezbollah a majority of the approximately 250,000 newly available votes since young people in Lebanon tend to favor Hassan Nassrallah much as young Americans favored Obama
Fattening the Base with US Pork?
It must have been pure coincidence last week (11/12/08) that U.S. Ambassador Michele Sisson, and USAID/Lebanon Mission Director Denise Herbal, announced that the U.S. embassy has launched a six million dollar humanitarian assistance program "to help 21 villages adjacent to the northern Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared who were affected by the war"." ( Nahr al-Bared is the camp near Tripoli/Akkar that was destroyed during 12 weeks of fighting between salafist Fateh al-Islam and the Lebanese Army during the summer of 2007 and where serious reconstruction is yet to begin partly because donors pledges have not been honored).
The Embassy did not explain to some Lebanese who were astonished by this widely perceived interference and electoral ploy how these 21 villages, at least two from which this observer witnessed snipers firing down into the sealed Palestinian Camp, during the May of 2007 siege, were themselves affected—since most of the villages were far removed from any fighting. Also unexplained is the coincidence that the 21 selected villages just happen to be those where US allied candidates are facing possible defeat at the polls.
The new US Ambassador did note that "A revolving fund will be established for micro-finance loans to boost income generation (read: quick cash payouts) and job creation as well as job-market-oriented vocational training for youth, women and the unemployed."
A reporters’ question: "What about Nahr al Bared, where they lost everything and desperately need help?" was ignored.
Inquires to the Embassy were answered as is oft stated; "The Government of the United States of America respects the sovereignty and independence of Lebanon, does not interfere in its internal affairs, and will accept the results of the coming election".
A Hamas organizer from Jenin, Palestine, currently being hunted and laying low in Lebanon, quipped: "Don’t hold your breath. That’s what they said in 2006 before Hamas won our election"
A Brotherly Swap: Lebanese Territory for Georgian?
The election is causing some tension between the US and its March 14 allies for the reason that many Lebanese want Ghajar and Shebaa Farms returned, and since the Embassy has not delivered on its whispers to force Israel to withdraw so the March 14 team could claim credit, their leader Saad Hariri may be negotiating with the Russians not only for help with getting Shebba Farms back before the voting, but also, to the consternation of the Bush Administration and Israel, asking Russia to deliver heavy weapons to Lebanon.
Following a meeting last week between Hariri and Russian leaders, Hariri was quoted by the Vremia Novosti newspaper as saying, "Lebanon needs heavy weapons such as tanks and artillery. American military aid only consists of light arms".
Further upsetting the US administration is speculation that Hariri will obtain Lebanon’s recognition of the breakaway Georgian districts of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in exchange for Russia picking up the ball regarding forcing Israel to return Lebanese territory. According to one staffer on the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the White House is wondering what went on during the Nasrallah-Hariri (Hezbollah-Future Movement) meeting last month that Hariri may be reinventing himself as a pro Resistance Lebanese patriot.
Where Does the Israeli Occupation End?
Lebanese voters are aware that Hezbollah may add the expected Israel withdrawal of Ghajar to its chain of claimed victories over Israel, and then ratchet up for complete Israeli withdrawal from Shebaa Farms and, as some insist, other border areas claimed by Lebanon.
The Bush Administration hope is that if Israel withdraws from the north side of Ghajar and a long predicted UN deal can be done regarding the 14 Shebaa Farms, the now emptying White House could claim some success with its Middle East ‘peace processes’ before handing over the keys. Furthermore, its local Lebanese allies would have an argument why the Lebanese Resistance no longer needs arms to force the return of Lebanese territory.
However, many Lebanese along the southern Lebanese ‘border’ insist there is more to Israel’s ongoing occupation of Lebanese territory than the village of Ghajar, and Shebaa Farms.
Hezbollah: "Excuse us please but the ‘Blue Line’ is not the Border!"
As recently as last week, but not for the first time, Hezbollah has reminded the international community that the U.N.-Demarcated Blue Line is "not a border line" between Lebanon and Israel.
Hezbollah’s international relations official Nawaf Mousawi explained to visiting journalists and Parliamentarians that the Blue Line is only a "line setting withdrawal limits by the Israeli army from south Lebanon in the year 2000". He added that the "Zionist terrorist organizations moved the border line from what was established in 1920 to a new line in 1923 which stripped Lebanon of seven villages and 20 farms. We should be attentive to attempts to consider the Blue Line a border line, which cuts from Lebanon millions of square meters from its national soil."
Hasan Nasrallah has also asserted that Lebanon’s territorial integrity includes not only the disputed Shebaa Farms but also the disputed Seven Villages. Not good news for Tel Aviv or the Bush Administration.
Mousawi continued: "You can go back to the French Foreign Ministry’s documents in the city of Nant, where you will find a memorandum the Zionist movement sent to the peace conference held in San Remo in 1919. In it, the Zionist movement wanted the Al-Awwali River, north of Sidon, to be the border of Israel, something which makes the entire south into part of the State of Israel."
Mousawi, often succinct in his fact-filled dialogues, did not name the seven villages but those living along the blue line who were expelled from them, recite: Tarbikha, Abil al-Qamh, Hunin, al-Malikiyya, al-Nabi Yusha, Qadas and Saliha. In addition, they insist the villages of Abbasieh and Nkhaile have been encroached upon by Israel and must be returned.
UN cartographers who spent part of 2007 studying French/English maps relating to the Lebanese/Palestine boundary pointed out that those who know best exactly what Lebanese territory Israel still occupies are those Lebanese citizens whose families have lived along the historic Lebanon/Palestine/Syria frontier for generations and who have witnessed Zionist projects dating back nearly half a century before, according to one spry 80 something villager, "the Zionist colonial enterprise was grafted onto our land".
A brief survey of that opinion, as well as a review of cartography records from the colonial mandatory period (1920-48) which led directly to the establishment of modern Lebanon as well as to the Nakba, is revealing.
It also aids in understanding the mindset of Hezbollah in servicing its population base, and fulfilling what the Party refers to as its ‘religious and moral duty to resist Zionist occupation". As AUB Professor Timur Goksel, a 30 year observer of the boundary between Lebanon and occupied Palestine, nearly a quarter century as spokesmen for UNIFIL, told a visiting American delegation from the Council for the National Interest last week, "sorting out Lebanon’s southern border could take ten years and that assumes cooperation from all the parties".
Colonialism and the Seven Shia Villages
The Seven Villages lie just south of the present Lebanon-Israel ‘border ‘ and remain a sensitive issue for Hezbollah since they were originally populated by Shia whose farms were inside the French mandate of Greater Lebanon after World War I. However, in 1924 their property was transferred to Palestine by the pro-Zionist British, at the urging of the Rothschilds, after the initial demarcation of the international border.
The Seven Villages comprising, at the time 25 farms were originally declared part of Lebanon by the French and English mandatory powers in 1920 but were shifted south out of Lebanon by the Treaty of Al Quds in 1924 based on faulty border measurements, Zionist pressure and misunderstandings between French and English diplomats and cartographers. The residents were forced off their property and only in 1994, following 30 years of litigation were they finally given Lebanese nationality. To this day their deeds and land records are in government offices in Tyre and Sidon — but their villages and more than 25 farms are locked inside Israel.
Recovering the Seven Shia Villages has never high on the list of Christian and Sunni Lebanese demands of Israel over the years and the Seven Villages were ignored as part of the stillborn US orchestrated 1983 May 17th Agreement. The villagers argue that this neglect of their lands does not diminish Lebanon’s legal case to regain them or the validity of the Lebanese Resistance raising the issue.
Some may argue that it is not politically expedient before the election for Lebanon to raise the issue but that view may change following the next election assuming a new Parliamentary majority.
The genesis of the Seven Villages issue is found in the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 wherein England (Sykes) and France (Picot) prepared a secret plan to carve up greater Syria and create a new State, Lebanon with ancient Palestine to the South. The territory south of the Sykes-Picot line would be governed by Britain and truncated Syria and the new state of Lebanon by the French.
The Seven Villages were lost to Lebanon at the end of World War I, when the British and French each established their exclusive Occupied Enemy Territorial Administrations (OETA) area, which kept the Seven Villages inside Lebanon, only to be shifted south into Palestine when the British, in the spirit of the Balfour Declaration, caved to Zionist pressure. Britain, not only did not shy away from the Zionist momentum ignited by the 1917 Balfour Agreement including Lebanon’s lower Litani river and in headwaters of the Hasbani, at the Versailles Peace conference two years later, it nearly achieved for the Zionists a border for ‘Palestine" that would run as far north as South Saida to Mount Hermon.
The French representative on the Border Unit, one Colonel N. Paulet, received instructions from the French Governor Gouraud in Beirut to retain the Shia populated villages in the area inside Lebanon on the grounds that they were a natural part of the new country. Gouraud’s resistance to British intensions was not out of love for the Shia.
Indeed, the French, were far warmer to the expansionist ambitions of their Christian subjects, at the expense of Muslims, and were disinclined to insist on keeping the Seven ‘kufer’ Shia villages. Rather, Gouraud’s reasoning appears to have been based on a recognition that the geographical division between Shia- and Sunni-populated areas corresponded closely to the delineation of the border.
The fate of the Seven Villages was sealed on April 24 1924 when villages and farms located north of the Palestine OETA line were formally moved at British insistence from the jurisdiction of Greater Lebanon to Palestine – a total Lebanese land loss of more than 2,729 hectares.
The fact that Hezbollah has kept the pressure on Israel to withdraw from Ghajar and Shebaa Farms will likely reward it at the polls, although there are more than a dozen other Israeli border violation issues that Hezbollah may decide to address including some 25 farms, seven villages and any number of ‘moving the goal posts’ issues.
During its 22 year occupation, Israel frequently took ground in the Galilee panhandle because for much of its route Lebanon has the topographical advantage, particularly in the 1980s, when the Israeli military was watched and sometimes recorded by villagers. They report seeing Israeli soldiers pushing the border fence north and deeper into Lebanon in various areas, creating annexed areas that granted the Israelis the high ground overlooking the terrain to the north and west. Villagers claim that some of these areas have not been returned to their pre-occupation positions.
Future Border Rectifications?
Additionally, if some of the Lebanese farmers along the Khiam plain south of Marjayoun have their way, Hezbollah may also try to force Israel to return more than an estimated 3,000 truckloads of the area’s rich and fertile soil that during its occupation, its engineer corps hauled south to create expanded farms at Kiryat Shemona, Matulla and adjacent areas.
This observer has noticed that some foreign visitors or ‘experts’ writing from Zionist-funded ‘think thanks’ in Northwest Washington, DC claim that Hezbollah is radical and makes extreme and unrealistic demands concerning the return of Lebanese territory.
Researchers tramping the south of Lebanon come to learn that it’s the people of the South who used to travel uninhibited between Palestine and Lebanon and whose families have lived in the area for hundreds of years who are counting the days until their southern neighbors are liberated. Views they express make Hezbollah appear meek and mild.
Whatever Lebanon’s future government decides to do about regaining this countries land, it may wish to consider the results of an admittedly unscientific survey conducted recently of former owners of farms in the Seven Villages as well as Abbasieh and Nkhaile villages in South Lebanon. Villages like Maron al Ras from which today visitors can clearly view Saliha, one of the Seven Villages where during April of 1948, 70 people were rounded up, forced into the center of the village and machine gunned by Israeli troops, their bodies dumped inside the mosque and the building demolished.
Next Move: the UN or Hezbollah?
The United Nations may want to work with increased vim to resolve the myriad extant border issues in south Lebanon, alongside the current unity Government of Lebanon, rather than face the escalating wrath from villagers along the 1916, 1918, 1920, 1923, 1924, 1949, 2000, 2006 frontier. The same goes for Israel, the US and the other members of the Quartet.
On the table at Maron al Ras:
1. The return of the kifa shoula hills, adjacent to Shebaa Farms annexed in 1967
2. Handing over all maps of landmines and cluster bombs, the latter of which has caused more than 300 Lebanese and international casualties since the August 14, 2006 cessation of hostilities;
3. Ending all violations of airspace and territorial waters;
4. Written acknowledgement of Lebanon’s right to control its water resources including the Hasbani and Wazzani rivers;
5. Demarcation of the Lebanese/Palestine border back to the original 1923 line and replace the 2000 ‘blue line’
6. Restoration of the Seven Lebanese villages
7. The return of all Palestinian Refugees residing in Lebanon who want to exercise their UNSCR 194 guaranteed Right of Return, (approximately 400,000) and fair and adequate compensation for those who do not choose to return;
8. Indictment and prosecution before International Courts of all those who committed crimes against humanity and who crossed the southern Lebanon border by land, air or Lebanese territorial waters to do so;
9. The payment by Israel of Third Reich era reparations, compensation, and damages for the destruction of Lebanon and for the families of the Massacred for Israeli crimes conducted by its aggressions in 1948, 1949, 1967, 1976, 1978, 1981, 1982, 1984. 1985, 1993, 1994, 1996 and 2006;
10. An international tribunal to try Israeli officials for organizing and abetting the September 16-18 Massacre at the Sabra-Shatila Palestinian Refugee Camp. The payment by Israel of compensation for those killed and injured as a result of the Massacre and the destruction of property.
-Franklin Lamb earned his Doctorate from the London School of Economic in International Law and Economics. He is a board member of HOKOK: the International Coalition against Impunity, which is preparing a case before the International Court of Justice with respect to Israeli violations of international humanitarian law during the 2006 War. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: email@example.com.