Shebaa Farms Belongs to Lebanon - Michael Hess

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Shebaa Farms Belongs to Lebanon
Thursday, August 10 2006 @ 11:55 PM EDT
Edited by: Michael Hess
Syria Should Make it Official to the United Nations

BBSNews 2006-08-10 -- Shebaa Farms has a long history of dispute involving Syria, Israel and Lebanon in spite of some claims from the right-wing in the US that it is only recently come up as a Hezbollah "pretext" for continued fighting against Israeli occupation. The fact is Shebaa Farms belongs to Lebanon. There has been evidence uncovered of this fact since 2002.

Area map showing Lebanon and surrounding countries and indicating the area of Shebaa Farms.
Area map showing Lebanon and surrounding countries and indicating the area of Shebaa Farms.

Image Credit: BBSNews.
At one point in time, Israel highly valued Shebaa Farms because of its strategic position. Undoubtedly this is why Israel wanted to occupy this land, adjacent to the Golan Heights, regardless of whether Syria or Lebanon held actual ownership of the land. One thing is crystal clear. The land simply does not belong to Israel and they should hand it over to the United Nations.

Ynetnews reported today in an analysis [originally from The MediaLine] that considered the strategic value of Shebaa Farms:

"When looking at the topography of the region, Shebaa Farms is located on the western slopes of Mount Hermon. Higher than the immediate areas surrounding it to the north, south and west, the area has enabled Israel so far to have good strategic control over the Beqaa Valley to its north. Intelligence surveillance equipment located in Shebaa also gives Israel good coverage over the valley below."

But what seems to really concern the Israeli's would be a cease-fire agreement that included handing back Shebaa Farms back to Lebanon would be the "symbolic" value. In other words, Hezbollah might be seen as actually getting something in turn for armed resistance; Lebanon's own land back. For some reason though, most media simply focus on what a resistance group may or may not get instead of actually focusing on the long stated issue of illegal Israeli occupation of land that does not belong to them.

The Ynet article continues to explain through an anonymous IDF officer why the strategic value is less than the symbolic:

"Today, the techniques at hand do not necessitate points on the ground," added the officer, who asked to remain anonymous. The officer further explained that while the strategic value of the topographic location of Shebaa could be taken lightly, it was, however, more a question of the symbolic meaning.

"If Israel withdraws it will mean a great victory for Hizbullah. It will prove that forceful measures carried out by a terrorist group can force Israel to withdraw from territories."

Conveniently leaving out the central fact underlying the entire Arab-Israeli problem. The Israeli's appear to be incapable of recognizing that it is they who are standing on ground that does not belong to them outside of their internationally recognized borders. It is not "territory" that belongs to Israel. Under the current understanding of the United Nations, the land is Syrian. Another retired IDF officer is quoted anonymously in the article as saying the tiny area that is Shebaa Farms would be but a "drop in the bucket" if Hezbollah is able to operate along the entire Lebanese border. Of course if the occupation is completely removed there would be no reason for the existence of an armed militia.

Hezbollah, as are the other groups that keep springing up, are born from the dirty well of occupation; they came about as a result of invasion and land grabbing. Hezbollah did not exist prior to 1982. On March 15th, 1978 Israel invaded Lebanon in retaliation for a bus attack in Tel Aviv that killed 35. Israel said the attack was in response to the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Yasser Arafat's old organization. He's now dead. But the Palestinian refugees and their decendants in Lebanon remain. Then on June 6th, 1982 Israel again invaded Lebanon to drive out the PLO. That goal happened in August 1982 but on September 17th, 1982 a horrible massacre occured where it was reported that 800-3500 people were slaughtered under Israeli supervision. Hezbollah was born of the Israeli occupation in 1982. Then Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon resigned on February 8th, 1983 because an Israel government report placed the blame for the massacre on Sharon personally. [See the BBC historical news files for deeper detail] Ariel Sharon is now in a coma and thought to not be far from death. Yet the hatred and the occupation still lives on much to the detriment of world security.

Terror used by either side, by both Israel and Hezbollah, should be soundly condemned. Past and recent history shows that Israel's hands are not clean in this regard. It's not even clear which side of the border the Israeli soldiers were captured. Many of the first reports said the operation happened on Lebanon's side of the border near Ayta a-Shab. These "cross-border" raids must stop, UNIFIL has documented many instances of Israeli incursions, usually by air, into Lebanon prior to July 12th, 2006. A just and lasting peace will only come when these decades long illegal occupations and incursions of land end.

So Who Really Owns Shebaa Farms?

Prior to his death in February 2005, Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri gave an interview to Margaret Warner of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) on April 16th, 2002. One issue discussed was Shebaa Farms and who actually is entitled to it. The year 2002 was about as volatile as any other year in the region and once again the central issue was Israeli occupation of land that does not belong to them. Warner probed Hariri's stance about former US Secretary of State Colin Powell insisting that the "Blue Line," the UN border line settled in UN Resolution 425, be respected by all sides. Warner asked if Hariri would do anything to restrain Hezbollah especially as pertains to Shebaa Farms. Hariri replied:

"I said that we respect the blue line, which is equivalent to the borders but Shebaa Farm is a Lebanese territory. And because it is Lebanese and because it is occupied by Israel so the Lebanese people had the right to have it back, by all means including the resistance."

The current Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora in May 2006 was "on a mission" to have Shebaa Farms returned to Lebanon according to the BBC:

"Mr Siniora told the BBC that his mission is to convince world leaders to pressure Israel into withdrawing from the area of Shebaa farms.

He added that he is convinced that such a withdrawal will lead to the disarmament of Hezbollah."

According to Reuters on July 23rd, 2006 Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad said that Syria wants a dialogue with the US aimed at achieving a lasting peace:

"The root of the crisis, Mekdad said, was Israel's occupation of Arab land, including Shebaa Farms, an area near the Golan Heights still under Israeli control after Israel pulled out of south Lebanon in 2000.

Lebanon and Syria say Shebaa Farms is Lebanese" ... "The basis must be found for a just and comprehensive peace and the return of the occupied land in Golan, Palestine and south Lebanon," Mekdad said.

"America and Israel are mistaken to think that destroying Lebanon will bring peace. What Israel is doing with U.S. involvement will only produce more violence and hatred."

Asked if Syria could see Hizbollah disarmed at one point, Mekdad said this was only possible with a peace deal that gives back Arab territory occupied by Israel in 1967."

But most of all, some scholarly work by a respected Israeli researcher found the maps and facts from the 1930's that everyone had been searching for. A Hebrew University scholar Asher Kaufman found the disputed documentation from the period when maps were drawn under the French Mandate. According to an article in The Age on August 3rd, 2006:

"Four years ago, while rummaging through government archives in Paris, a historian at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Asher Kaufman, stumbled on documents that appear to resolve the dispute.

Kaufman, who bears a slight physical resemblance to Indiana Jones, discovered a set of papers from the French mandate era from 1920 to 1941 that show that French officials in the 1930s had accidentally put the Shebaa Farms in Syria.

The papers reveal that the officials realised their error and wanted to correct the maps, which had been drawn without surveyors or cartographic equipment, but the mistake was never fixed."

US Secretary of State Rice must surely know this, and France must know this, this indicates why the return of Shebaa Farms is on the diplomatic table. Returning it would be the right thing to do, returning Shebaa Farms would be the just thing to do.

And Syria could help by going around the intractable US ambassador to the UN John Bolton and appealing in writing to the United Nations directly and officially letting the world know that Syria believes Shebaa Farms belongs to Lebanon.