The Shebaa Farms, UN Resolution 1559 and the Baathinization of Truth
By: Elias Bejjani/Human Rights activist, journalist & political commentator.
Translated from Arabic by Dr. Joseph Hitti
This Study was first published on Match 18/2005
Under the puppet Lebanese regime in place since 1990 and the hegemony of the Syrian Baathist occupier of Lebanon, the “Shebaa Farms” issue has become a big lie and a pretext to pre-empt the ability of the Lebanese state to assume its responsibilities, an alibi to maintain tensions along the Israeli-Lebanese border, and a justification for maintaining the Syrian Army in control of the lives of the Lebanese people. Through cheap intelligence and moronic politicial manipulations, including threats, promises and bribes, the Baathies occupier continues today to try and place sticks in the wheels of resolution 1559, but to no avail. Neither the Lebanese people, nor the international community are buying any of it, and the eviction of the Syrian occupier from all Lebanon’s territories is imminent.
Truths have been falsified, history has been disfigured, and a case has been fabricated from scratch for no other reason but to serve the interests of the Syrian Baathists, and with no import whatsoever to Lebanon or the Palestinian cause. The objective of this document is to shed light on the Shebaa Farms “occupation” fabrication in a chronological overview spanning the period from 1924 to the present. A naive and isolated Baathist Syria stands today against the international will – with the stubborness of Saddam and the ill-logic of Suhhafi – refusing to implement resolution 1559 and to end its hegemony over Lebanon.
On May 25, 2000 the Israeli Labor government decided to implement UN Resolution 425 issued by the Security Council on March 19, 1978 and withdrew its troops from the “security zone” border strip. At the same time, it also implemented the clauses pertaining to it of UN resolution 426 that was voted by the Security Council on the same date and which represents a mechanism for implementing resolution 425.
It is worth noting that the Israeli withdrawal and its background are no longer a secret since it was carried out as part of a total agreement between Israel, Iran, Syria, the Lebanese regime and Hezbollah under the supervision of the United Nations represented by Terje Rod-Larsen, the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General. The agreement stipulated, among many other conditions, the dismantling of the South Lebanon Army (SLA) and the decommissioning of its weapons, the closure of all passage points between the Lebanese border strip and Israel, the facilitation of Hezbollah’s takeover and control of the south and the dispatch of its fighters along the borders instead of the Lebanese Army.
The Lebanese Taef regime did not implement the clauses of Resolution 426 pertaining to it, which calls for handing over security on the international border to the Lebanese Army and spreading the authority of the Lebanese State over the entire South. A combination of Syrian will and international-Israeli complicity granted Hezbollah the exclusivity of controlling the South, thus preventing the Lebanese State from shouldering its responsibilities in the region as it is supposed to do. Hezbollah continues to this day to carry out this highly suspicious mission assigned to it, maintaining in a historically unprecedented and twisted logic that the Lebanese Army is not a police force and will not be deployed to protect the Israeli border. Meanwhile, Damascus and its barkers in Beirut continue to accuse of treason any Lebanese who demands the spread of the authority of the Lebanese State – through its legitimate forces – to the South and along the Lebanese-ISraeli border.
Only one week after the Israeli withdrawal, Syria concocted the problem of the Shebaa Farms and made a hot issue out of it, cloaking around it a false cause for a new resistance to replace the resistance pretext that was lost with the Israeli withdrawal. The fact is that the vast majority of the Lebanese people, and first among them the howlers of steadfastness, merchants of liberation, and peddlers of unity of purpose and destiny, and all the Quixotic wielders of swords, butcher’s knives and daggers had never heard of the Farms and had no idea whatsoever if the Farms were in Lebanon or in Timbuktu !!.
The Syrian producer of this tragic comedy had decided to hand over the South to Hezbollah under the pretext of a continued Israeli occupation of the Shebaa Farms. Damascus had from the start tried to play the card of the seven Lebanese villages that were annexed to Palestine in 1924 by mandatory Britain and France when the latter drew the borders between Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine. But Syria did not find this issue to be fertile ground for achieveing its goal of maintaining tensions on the Lebanese-Israeli border.
It should be noted here that the borders between the three countries were confirmed internationally in 1949 after the creation of the state of Israel. And from that time, the Armistice Agreement between Lebanon and Israel became the working modality for the borderline between the two countires, and the Engineering Corps of the Lebanese Army drew the borderline under the supervision of international observers in the early 1960s.
Since 1924, the Shebaa Farms were treated as Lebanese territory, but Syria refused to recognize this fact, as it refused indeed to recognize the independence of Lebanon as a sovereign country. In the 1950s, Syria seized the Shebaa Farms and kept the territory under its control until Israel occupied the Farms – along with the Golan Heights – in 1967. Syrian control of the Farms was an anomaly because the inhabitants and properties were Lebanese, but the administration and authorities in charge were Syrian.
Lebanon did not accept Syria’s control of the Farms but did not seek redress at the United Nations or with the Arab League out of fear of adding complexity to the issue. Still, the Syrians remained obstinate in maintaining their grip on the territory and never paid much attention to Lebanon’s claims.
In 1961, Lebanon tried to open a police station in the Shebaa Farms, but Syrian forces there killed a number of Lebanese gendarmes and evicted the others by military force. This event si documented in one of the issues of the Lebanese Army Magazine. In a press conference organized by An-Nahar on December 4, 2000, Retired Lieutenant Colonel Adnan Shaaban said that the Shebaa Farms is Lebanese territory under Syrian sovereignty, reminding those who forgot of the document published by the Lebanese Soldier Magazine in 1961, in which it is reported that 4 Lebanese soldiers of various ranks were killed by the Syrian “brothers” because they entered into territory under Syrian sovereignty (according to the Syrian version of events). The photos of their sacrifice are available in the files of the Directorate of Orientation and Information.
The inhabitants of the Farms and land owners there have raised the matter and complained many times to successive Lebanese governments – from the time of Bechara El-Khoury through the presidency of Fuad Shihab. They also raised the issue many times directly to the Syrian authorities with petitions, sit-ins, dispatching delegations and mediators, but unfortunately to no avail. Syria insisted on imposing its authority by force over the Shebaa Farms.
In his book, “Lebanon: Political Absurdity and Unknwon Fate” (Dar An-Nahar Press, pp. 293-294), the former Prime Minister of Lebanon, the late Sami Solh, mentions the Shebaa Farms as follows: “Lebanese-Syrian relations continued to deteriorate during 1956-1958, whereby severe border problems came up when Syrian authorities established a police station and a ‘Mujahideen’ camp in the Shebaa Farms, as reported by Lebanese security sources. The inhabitants of the Shebaa Farms were warned (September 1957) by Syrian authorities that families there should submit statements saying that they accept the Syrian identity instead of the Lebanese. With the recurrence of attacks against Lebanese civilains, a delegation of the notables of Shebaa led by the Mayor of the Farms went to Damascus to talk to senior officials in the Syrian leadership, beginning with Prime Minister Sabri Al-Assali and Speaker of Parliament Akram Al-Hourani, but to no avail. When the same southern delegation came to visit me, and I was informed of the details of developments there, I emphasized to the delegation the necessity of holding on to their Lebanese identity and keeping it, and I promised the southerners to work to solve the issue, support their steadfastness, prevent the attacks, and reduce the pressures on them. After that, I immediately contacted the Egyptian ambassador in Damascus, Mahmoud Riyad, and explained to him the situation and what the Lebanese citizens have to endure, and that these actions are not in the interest of Egypt, nor are they in the interests of Syria and Lebanon. To the contrary, they hurt relations and the basic interests between the concerned nations and their peoples. I also informed him very emphatically that the issue was having a negative influence on the Arab and international scenes because the matter was no longer limited to the dispatching of men and weapons across the border , but has now reached the point of cutting off territories and annexing them along with their inhabitants. At the same time, I issued Decree No. 493, dated December 14, 1957 calling on the Lebanese authorities in the Shebaa Farms to record all events and transgressions, and exert their utmost efforts to protect and preserve the Lebanese identity of the Shebaa Farms (including: Kfar Douma, Marah Malloul, Qafwa, Ramta, Khallit Ghazaleh, Fashkoul, Jourit Al-Aqareb, Al-Rubaa, Beit Dhimmi, Aardata, etc.)
During the Six-Day War on June 6, 1967, Israel invaded and occupied the Golan and with it the Shebaa Farms. UN resolution 242 issued by the Security Council on November 22, 1967 after the war did not mention the Shebaa Farms as Lebanese territory. It did, however, clearly state that all territories occupied by Israel on the Syrian-Israeli front are Syrian territories. Lebanon was not a participant to the war, and did not at the time claim in any official manner that Israel had occupied part of its territory.
In 1972, Israel entered in some portions of the Israeli-Lebanese border fence, but this entry was limited and did not go beyond the southern town of Houla.
When the 1973 war broke out between Israel and the Arabs, Lebanon did not participate either, neither did it consider at the end of the war that Israel occupied any of its territory. Resolution 338 of the Security Council dated November 22, 1973 did not mention anything at all suggesting any occupied Lebanese territory. Not one official in the Lebanese government at the time said anything about Israel occupying a single inch of its territory, and Lebanon remained officially bound by the 1949 Armistice Agreement.
In 1978, Israel entered the south of Lebanon on its “Operation Litani” campaign, and on March 9, 1978, the Security Council issued resolution 425 and its implementation mechanism in resolution 426. That resolution did not mention the Shebaa Farms, and official Lebanon again never said anything in any Lebanese, Arab, international or regional venue that Israel occupied the Shebaa Farms. In fact, the concerned countries, namely Syria and Lebanon, all the Arab countries and Israel did not consider that resolutions 242 and 338 pertain in any way to Lebanese territory. Similarly, resolutions 425 and 426 did not mention the Shebaa Farms and did not consider them as Lebanese territory that is occupied by Israel.
In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon and reached the capital Beirut. It then withdrew to the south and remained there until May 2000. The Security Council had issued on September 17, 1982, resolution 520 that demands the withdrawal of all foreign forces from all Lebanon, the respect for Lebanon’s sovereignty and internationally-recognized borders, and the spread of the authority of the Lebanese State with its own national forces over its entire territory. This resolution did not mention the Shebaa Farms since the UN believes the Farms belong to Syrian territory covered by resolutions 425 and 338 which globally apply to the Golan heights.
It is important to remember here that a resolution was adopted by the Lebanese Parliament in 1991, which “requested that the government attend the Madrid Conference on the basis of several principles, including the principle that resolutions 242 and 338 do not pertain to Lebanon”, but that the governments that were formed after that parliament was dissolved and three non-representative parliaments were set up officialy linked the Lebanese cause with the implementation of those two resolutions, thereby nullifying the Taef Accord. In October 1991, and after the Gulf War, all Arab countries, as well as Israel and Lebanon, participated at the Madrid Conference under American-Russian sponsorship. Then the completely Syrian-occupied Lebanon of the Taef regime said that resolutions 242 and 338 were immaterial to Lebanon and instead focused on resolutions 425 and 426, demanding a return to a commitment to the Armistice Agreement signed with Israel in 1949. Not one Arab country, and neither Israel nor Syria pointed then to the Shebaa Farms as occupied Lebanese territory. The same position was also adopted by Taef Lebanon and Baathist Syria in their negotiations with Israel that took place in the US over several periods of time between 1994 and 1996 during the Clinton administration. Nowhere in the minutes and proceedings of these negotiations were the Shebaa Famrs mentioned, while Lebanon called for a return to the implementation of the Armistice Agreement with Israel. The Lebanese Foreign Minister again reiterated that it was not concerned by resolutions 242 and 338, but only by resolution 425.
Ever since Israel occupied the Golan in 1967, and since the international observers have been watching the Syrian-Israeli border, the Shebaa Farmd have always been considered as Syrian territories by the international community. Several international maps place the Farms inside Syrian territory that is occupied by Israel. Former Syrian president Amin Hafez mentions in his memoirs (available on the Al-Jazeerah web site) that the regime of Hafez Assad had delivered the Golan to Israel in exchange for maintaining him and his band safely in power.
From all the preceding, it is clear that the Shebaa Farms question landed on the Lebanese in a Syrian Baathist parachute, a poisoned gift such as all the gifts the Baath offered the Lebanese. The Baath fabricated this story to maintain its occupation of Lebanon and create an anomalous situation at the Lebanese border with Israel that prevents the rise of the Lebanese State, and to keep its control of the Lebanese scene, directly through its intelligence and soldiers, and indirectly through Hezbollah, the Amal Movement and the rest of the Lebanese and Palestinian organizations that are completely in its grip.
Following the Israeli withdrawal of May 2000, the United Nations tasked its delegates, with Lebanese and Israeli participation, with the mission of delineating the border between Lebanon and Israel. The Blue Line was thus drawn with the stipulation that the Shebaa Farms were located inside Syrian territories. Lebanon and Syria, as well as Israel and all Arab countries recognized the Blue Line as the official border.
Lebanon’s recognition was double-sided. General Emile Lahoud, the Lebanese President, sent a secret letter to the Secretary General of the UN Kofi Annan without the knowledge of his Primie Minister Salim Hoss, in which he accepted the Blue Line. Yet, publicly and in the media, the matter was presented as though Lebanon refused to recognize the Blue Line before an Israeli withdrawal from the Shebaa Farms.
The Lebanese media, towing the Syrian line, then began a campaign of inciting the people in order to justify keeping weapons in the hands of Hezbollah and preventing the Lebanese Army from deploying along the border with Israel and entering the Palestinian camps, and basically prevent the Lebanese government from spreading and exercising its authority over its entire territory.
The Lebanese South was to remain a time-bomb in the hands of the Syrian and Iranian rulers through under upside-down argument that the Lebanese Army ought not to be deployed to the Lebanese border with Israel so as not protect the Israeli border! A sick and tragic logic that made Lebanon and those in its government the laughing stock of the international community.
The UN tried to peacefully dismantle the Shebaa Farms time bomb through the modalities of international law. It requested both the Lebanese and Syrian governments to submit official documents signed by both countries clearly stating Syria’s recognition of the Shebaa Farms as Lebanese land. However, Syria refused to comply with this request, and instead had its Foreign Minister Farouq Sharaa place an unofficial telephone call to the UN Secretary General Annan.
Annan reiterated his demand several times, but Syria ignored the request while the rulers of the Lebanese puppet regime did not dare raise the issue with the Syrians. Instead, they persisted in their lies, their incitments and their faithful execution of the Syrian dictates, all of this against the background of the Baathist slogan of “one-path, one-destiny”.
In an interview with a French magazine, the Maronite Patriarch Sfeir said:”Some tell us that Shebaa is Lebanese, and some tell us it is Syrian, and to this date we have no information about any official Syrian document presented to the UN that certifies Syria’s recognition of the Lebanese identity of the Shebaa Farms. We do not see how the Farms can be liberated by throwing stones across the Blue Line between Israel and Lebanon, but by negotiating through the UN, especially since the Secretary General, Washington, and the European countries have acknowledged that Israel has implemented Resolution 425. The Farms, which were under Syrian control when Israel occupied the Golan in 1967, are covered under Resolution 242, and not Resolution 425.”
To those who are concerned and have an open mind to understand the facts, we simply say…Yes, the Shebaa Farms are 100% Lebanese land, but Syria seized them by force and took control of them administratively and militarily from the early 1960s. In the process, it killed Lebanese gendarmes and shut down the Lebanese police station there, which was tantamount to evicting the Lebanese authorities from the Farms.
If the Syrian Baath regime indeed wanted to help recover the Shebaa Farms and rid it of the Israeli occupation, it would have presented the official documentation required by the UN and officially recognized the Lebanese identity of the Farms. The UN in turn would guarantee the return of the Farms to Lebanon without firing a single bullet. Israel has in fact expressed its readiness to withdraw from the Farms the moment Syria formally recognizes Lebanon’s sovereignty over the Farms and the Lebanese Army deploys on the border.
Syria never recognized Lebanon’s right to exist as an independent country since the borders of the State of Greater Lebanon were drawn in 1920, even as it continued to speak about botherhood, geography and history. Syria always and categorically rejected the idea of establishing diplomatic relations with Lebanon and it also refrained from undertaking any official assessment of the borders between the two countries, consistent with its hidden ambition under the slogans of “one people in two states”, “the unity of geography and history”, “Lebanon is the ‘soft flank’ of Syria, “the unity of path and destiny”, and others.
And here is Syrian today refusing to implement UN resolution 1559, linking it to the implementation of 1,300 UN resolutions pertaining to the Arab-Israeli conflict, including resolution 194 that calls for a retun of Palestinina refugees.
If the “Baathinized” Lebanese regime really wanted to liberate the Farms, it would have asked Syria for the official document requested by the UN, and if Hezbollah genuinely wanted to liberate the Farms as it claims, it would have surrendered its weapons to the Lebanese State after Israel implemented Resolution 425 by withdrawing from the border strip, and would have allowed the Lebanese Army to deploy along the border and spread the State’s authority over all Lebanese land. It also would have facilitated the implementation by the State of its obligations under Resolution 426.
And if Syria were truly in Lebanon to defend it against Israeli attacks, it would have fired at least one bullet on one Israeli soldier through the hundreds of Israeli attacks against Lebanese soil, the Lebanese people and their institutions, by land, air and by sea. Syria, after all, has been militarily present in Lebanon since 1976 under that pretext. And if Syria really wanted to protect Lebanon, it should have begun by protecting itself and its own occupied and annexed Golan, it would not have abandoned the territory of Iskenderun (Alexandretta) to Turkey with whom it has signed agreements. Fact is, Syria cannot offer what it has lost.
To the rulers of Syria and their followers we say: “You can fool only some people some of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time”. You have ceased to demand “All of Palestine” back, you have recognized Israel the day you agreed to participate in the Madrid Conference, and like all other Arab League countries you did not mention the Lebanese identity of the Shebaa Farms, which defeats all of your resistance and liberation pretenses. The silence of the Golan Heights front since their occupation by Israel exposes your hypocrisy.
Enough lying to your people and to our people. The presene of the Syrian Army in Lebanon has nothing to do with the strategic wars against Israel because all those wars are doomed to failure and are gone for no return. The presence of the repressive Baathist Syrian Army in Lebanon is entirely tied to your Baathist plans aiming at eliminating Lebanon, uprooting its history, erasing its identity, displacing its people, killing its distinct culture and reduce it to a Syrian province.
It would better for the Baath Party in Syria to convince the Syrian people that the fate of the Golan will not be different from the fate of Iskenderun after the Baath abandoned its claims to it and signed joint security and water agreements with Ankara!
Let the Baath rulers of Damascus drop the lie of the Shebaa Farms and concern themselves with the Golan and Iskenderun, and the Lebanese are capable – after implementing resolution 1559 and ridding themselves of the hegemony of the Syrian Army and Intelligence Services – of recovering the Shebaa Farms peacefully through the United Nations and without firing a single bullet.
Will the rulers of Damascus finally live and let live, and let us, the Lebanese people live and recover our freedom and independence?