Lebanon – The Ghajar Enigma

(Afp, November 18, 2010)

Ghajar, a divided village which straddles the border between Lebanon and the occupied Golan Heights, looks set to be redivided after Israel decided Wednesday to hand over the northern half to UN control.

The village, which is home to around 2,200 residents, is located on the north-western edge of the Golan Heights plateau, which Israel snatched from Syria during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war then annexed in 1981 in moves not recognized by the international community.

Northern Ghajar is in Lebanon and the rest lies in the Golan Heights, but Israel took over the Lebanese half during its 2006 war on Lebanon.

Located at the foot of Mount Hermon, Ghajar is perched on a cliff overlooking the precious Wazzani spring, a source of many bitter disputes between Israel and Lebanon.

Many residents of southern Ghajar are Alawites, members of an Islamic minority based in Syria, but they took Israeli nationality after the Golan annexation.

Although they consider themselves Syrian, most are against re-partitioning the village, which would leave 1,700 people in the Lebanese part and 500 on the Israeli side.

Until now, they have been able to travel freely to other parts of the occupied Heights and to Israel proper, but no outsiders other than Israeli soldiers are allowed into the village.

Since the Israeli takeover in 1967, Ghajar has grown and expanded northward so that when Israel withdrew from south Lebanon in 2000 and the UN demarcated the border, the so-called “Blue Line” went straight through the village, leaving the northern half under Lebanese control.

Six years later, Israel retook the Lebanese part during its 34-day war on Lebanon, and built a security fence around it to prevent Hizbullah from entering the enclave, which is also reputedly a bastion of drug smugglers and spies.

Removing Israeli troops from the Lebanese half of the village is a requirement of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 which brought an end to the 2006 war.

But the resolution also calls for the disarmament of Hizbullah and until now Israel has argued that a lack of progress on collecting the group’s weapons has made a withdrawal impossible.

Syria has always demanded the return of the Golan Heights in any peace deal with Israel.