Why Ghajar should not be divided and should remain in IsraelOne of the most interesting presentations my bloggers group heard on Wednesday was about the town of Ghajar. Ghajar is just West of Kiryat Shmona. I believe that this photograph (which I did not take) was taken from or near Misgav Am, where we stood in the wind and listened to the story. The picture appears to be only the southern half of the town. If you look on the left, you will see an open space. That is the border between Israel and Lebanon although, according to the IDF spokesperson for the upper Galilee (from Rosh Hanikra in the west to Metullah on the edge of the Golan Heights), there are houses built so that the border runs through them. There is now talk of returning the northern half of Ghajar to Lebanon as you will see below.
Here's a quick summary from Wikipedia about how Ghajar came to straddle two countries' borders:
Prior to the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Ghajar was considered part of Syria and its residents were counted in the 1960 census. When Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967, Ghajar remained a no-man's land for two and a half months. The villagers petitioned the Golan's Israeli governor to be annexed to Israel because they saw themselves as part of the Golan Heights. Israel agreed to include Ghajar in its occupied territory and the residents accepted living under Israeli rule. In 1981, most villagers accepted Israeli citizenship under the Golan Heights Law [which annexed the Golan Heights to Israel. CiJ].Except that the residents were never really part of Lebanon:
After Operation Litani in 1978, Israel turned over its positions inside Lebanon to the South Lebanon Army and inaugurated its Good Fence policy. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was created after the incursion, following the adoption of Security Council Resolution 425 in March 1978 to confirm Israeli withdrawal from Southern Lebanon, restore international peace and security, and help the government of Lebanon restore its effective authority in the area. Ghajar expanded northward into Lebanese territory, subsuming the Wazzani settlement north of the border.
In June 1982,... Israel launched Operation Peace for Galilee. [From June 1982 until 2000, the IDF maintained a presence in Lebanon south of the Litani River - roughly 25 miles from the border. CiJ] In 2000, following the campaign promise and election of Ehud Barak as Prime Minister, Israel withdrew their troops from Lebanon. In an attempt to demarcate permanent borders between Israel and Lebanon, the United Nations drew up what became known as the Blue Line [see the map below. CiJ]. Due to Ghajar's location, wedged between Lebanon and the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, the northern half of the village came under Lebanese control and the southern part remained under Israeli control.This arrangement created much resentment among the residents, who see themselves as Syrian.
Despite the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, tension mounted as Hezbollah made repeated attempts to kidnap Israel soldiers in the Ghajar area. In 2005, Hezbollah launched a rocket attack on Ghajar and infiltrated it, but withdrew after being repelled by the Israelis. Following another attack in July 2006, Israel invaded southern Lebanon and re-occupied the northern half of Ghajar during the 2006 Lebanon War. Following a month of intense fighting, UNSC Resolution 1701 was unanimously approved to resolve the conflict, and it was accepted by combatants on both sides. Among other things, the resolution demanded the full cessation of hostilities, the withdrawal of Israeli forces, the disarming of Hezbollah, the deployment of Lebanese and UNIFIL soldiers, and the establishment of full control by the government of Lebanon.Here's what I have in my notes about the IDF spokesperson's presentation about Ghajar plus what I remember (silly me - I had an MP-3 in my pocket and forgot to use it!).
The UN has physically marked the recognized border and Israeli soldiers remain on the Lebanese side of Ghajar despite the decision of the Israeli cabinet on December 3, 2006, to hand it over to UNIFIL. Israel says that the Lebanese army rejected a UN-brokered proposal in which the Lebanese Army would protect the vicinity north of the village, while UNIFIL would be deployed in the village itself; this type of arrangement would be unique for UNIFIL in populated areas. A perimeter fence has been built along the northern edge of the village in Lebanese territory up to 800 meters north of the Blue Line. UNIFIL military observers patrol the area continuously.
In its October 2007 report on the implementation of the resolution, the United Nations issued a report stating that discussions on the duration of temporary security arrangements for northern Ghajar remained deadlocked. Israel remains in control north of the Blue Line and the small adjacent area inside Lebanese territory, although it does not maintain a permanent military presence there. The Lebanese Armed Forces patrol the road outside the perimeter fence. The report notes “so long as the Israel Defense Forces remain in northern Ghajar, Israel will not have completed its withdrawal from southern Lebanon in accordance with its obligations under resolution 1701 (2006)." It further notes: "Failure to make progress on this issue could become a source of tension and carry the potential for incidents in the future."
In Ghajar (pronounced Ra-jar), the population fears Hezbullah and fears that one day they will be given to Lebanon. The population is from the Alawite sect of Muslims, and if that sounds familiar it should: That's the same sect from which the Assad family that rules Syria comes.
The population of Ghajar - both halves - is free to enter and leave Israel as it pleases. They have blue (Israeli citizen) Israeli identification cards (as does can any Arab who has legal residency in the Golan and in 'east' Jerusalem - areas that have been legally annexed to Israel). But unlike Israelis, the people of Ghajar may also travel to Lebanon, which is just north of their town. They get Israeli health care through the same Kupot Cholim (like HMO's) that we do, and they and their children hang out in the mall in Kiryat Shmona and own Lebanese restaurants in Kiryat Shmona - the same Kiryat Shmona that often gets hit by Katyusha rockets from Lebanon.
If you ask the people of Ghajar, they will tell you that they want to be part of Syria. And that's a lie! They have a good life in Ghajar. Their housing is free and many of them drive much nicer cars than Israelis do (cars here are very expensive - taxes often exceed 100% of the purchase price). But they cannot speak freely or say that they are happy with their lives because if they eventually end up in Lebanon - as Hezbullah is demanding - they would be killed if they had spoken of Israel favorably.
Two weeks ago, the people of Ghajar went to the southern entrance of their town to protest the prospect of their northern half being turned over to Lebanon - and the Lebanese inhabitants of southern Lebanon (who are mostly Shiite Hezbullah supporters) came in through the northern entrance and robbed them! So they no longer leave their homes unattended.
UNIFIL commander Major-General Claudio Graziano (Italy), whose term expires in January, is pushing Israel to give the northern half of Ghajar to Hezbullah. If that happens, the residents have prepared an appeal to Israel's High Court of Justice against being given to Hezbullah. Even if the northern half of Ghajar is given to Hezbullah, Israel will continue to provide services, and the IDF will continue to patrol in the southern half of town.
Ghajar is a closed military zone, which means that no Israelis can enter without the IDF's permission. According to the IDF spokesperson, she has entered Ghajar but only to accompany foreign journalists, and then only photographers show up. She is not allowed to cross into the northern half of town, and as a result discourages journalists from doing so. The townspeople have a spokesperson whose first name she gave us (it's probably the better part of discretion not to disclose it), but even the spokesperson - and certainly the townspeople - will not talk unless they are sure that the person to whom they are speaking is 'safe.'
All of that is background for this story.
Deputy Minister Ayoub Kara [Likud. CiJ] has a Turkish map from World War I showing that the northern village of Rajar must not be divided, but must rather remain totally Israeli.The story goes on to explain how the village does not want to be divided between Israel and Lebanon.
Kara, a Druze supporter of Jewish rights and claims to the Land of Israel, says the newly-discovered map shows that there was a mistake in the Sykes-Picot agreement map of 1916. The agreement was made between the United Kingdom and France, with the assent of Imperial Russia, defining their respective spheres of influence and control in the Middle East after the expected downfall of the Ottoman Empire. Its terms were negotiated by French diplomat François Georges-Picot and Briton Sir Mark Sykes. The official map mistakenly has the Druze village of Rajar as half Syrian and half Lebanese.
However, Kara’s map shows that Rajar - population 2,200 - was in fact totally Syrian, and not Lebanese. The error in the Sykes-Picot map was caused when the original was traced over, and a slight movement caused the line to be drawn through, and not aside, Rajar.
The implications of this are that Rajar is part of the Golan Heights, the area that was annexed to Israel in 1981. As such, its northern half need not be “returned” to Lebanon, as demanded by Hizbullah.
By the way, most Israelis don't understand this situation. When I first started writing this post, I had a lot of mistakes that I cleared up (I hope) during the course of writing it. And the map story may have first come out in July.