Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Ghajar Revisited

Ghajar, the town divided by the Lebanon-Israel border is back in the news.

Israel's foreign Minister Lieberman has been tasked with finding a solution to the boundary issue in the town and is proposing that a fence be built along the border cutting off the northern half of the village from the southern one and giving the Israeli citizens in the north the chance to move south, or forfeit their citizenship.

This solution stands in contrast to a plan whereby peacekeepers would act as border guards between the town and the rest of Lebanon, but the town would remain undivided and the IDF would withdraw from the north. This seems to be the plan the IDF itself advocates.

Meanwhile, residents of the town have pleaded with Israeli government officials not to divide the town or turn any of it over to Lebanon as this would be akin to a "death sentence." It's unclear if this is a literal fear of death or just a fear of disastrous consequences. It's easy to imagine the social and economic implications of dividing a small town like Ghajar, but a death sentence, literally? Probably not. Nonetheless, Siniora, the Lebanese Prime Minister described Israel's presence in the north of the town as a daily act of aggression and insists Israel must leave.

Israel has to withdraw from the town to comply with UN resolutions ending the last war in Lebanon. Israel's considerations are over drug smuggling, security and the unstated concern over the water resources around Ghajar. A fence is probably a quick fix to at least the crime and security concerns, but it ignores the interests and rights of the Israeli citizens living in the town. In the absence of more information about Lieberman's intent and reasoning, it's probably a fair guess that this plan of building a fence and all the negative consequences it may have stems from the mistrust of peacekeepers stationed in Lebanon and their ability or willingness to act on Israeli security interests. It is an oversimplified solution to a complex problem. A proper solution must take into account all the security considerations as well as the rights of the people living in the town and the whole issue should be examined to see if there is any way to use the case of this town to make contacts with Lebanon on some level. It's been done in the past, why not build on it? Only, don't build a wall!


David Herz said...

No solution is satisfactory in northern Gajar.

Northern Gajar is indeed located in Lebanese territory. Smuggling is a major problem and the situation on the ground does pose a security problem (remember the botched Hizbullah kidnapping attempt that took place there in 2006?).

However, an Israeli withdrawal from northern Gajar would abandon the inhabitants to the tender mercies of Hizbullah. The inhabitants of northern Gajar have lived docilely under Israeli rule for years and have family connections on the Israeli side of the border (a fact that Hizbullah will surely exploit). Hizbullah will NOT act kindly towards the inhabitants of northern Gajar. The splitting of families is also a major problem.

Peacekeepers are not a solution. They will not risk their necks to keep Hizbullah out of northern Gajar. Nor will they be willing to protect the inhabitants from Hizbullah, or prevent Hizbullah from launching military operations against Israel.

The Lebanese government is, as usual, impotent in the south.

Again, no good solution here. I do not envy Lieberman his job. Perhaps link withdrawal from Gajar to the disarming and reining in of Hizbullah?

Charlie H. Ettinson said...

I think, as in many cases, the solution is outside the box, though I'm not exactly sure what it may be.

I'm really thinking as I type this, but what about the possibility of Israel purchasing the town from Lebanon, or entering into a Hong Kong like situation, with a multi-generational lease on the town? Lebanon would not likely sign a lease with Israel, but perhaps Lebanon could lease the property to the UN, who in turn would allow Israel to retain the status quo while Israel actually paid the rent.

I realize, in writing this, that I am assuming that Lebanon will part with the territory easily and that they're willing to give up what is theirs. I don't know if that's realistic.

A sticky situation indeed.

David Herz said...

Actually, having examined the issue in a bit more depth, it seems that northern Gajar was part of Syria, rather than Lebanon, before Israel took control of it.

As such, northern Gajar should be ceded to Syria as part of a comprehensive peace deal. It should not be ceded to Lebanon.

Either way, Israel has nothing to gain from ceding northern Gajar to Lebanon. It will not bring any peace. The Lebanese government will not sign a peace accord in return, nor will it rein in Hizbullah. It is took weak.

And, as an Israeli, I would be uncomfortable abandoning a friendly population to Hizbullah rule.

Charlie H. Ettinson said...


I think you may be a bit confused. To my understanding, southern Gajhar was part of Syria, in the Golan heights, northern Gharar was Lebanese and the IDF moved in some time ago. This is as per UN surveys conducted to determine the exact location of the border.

What that seems to really mean, is that even in the event of peace with Syria and the return of Southern Ghajar to Syria, the northern part will still be on the Lebanese side of the fence. At that time, it really shouldn’t concern Israel too much what happens, but the people in the town will still be Israeli citizens and have rights as such.

This is why I think the best thing to do, would probably be to redraw the border, at least just slightly so that Ghajar falls entirely within the Golan heights (which would fit nicely with the wishes of the locals) and the town can be returned if and when the whole region is returned to Syria.

Naturally, Lebanon should receive fair compensation for the territory it would lose as a result of redrawing the border.

David Herz said...

I stand corrected. Thank you for clarifying the exact status of southern and northern Gajar prior to the establishment of Israeli jurisdiction.

Still, the main point I sought to make about ceding northern Gajar to Lebanon, i.e. the abandonment of a friendly population to Hizbullah, stands.

The solution you propose, redrawing the border to include northern Gajar in the Golan Heights while compensating Lebanon for the territory it may lose in such an arrangement, would be very reasonable in an ideal world.

However, given the current political climate, I am unsure if the Lebanese government would be open to such an arrangement.

Charlie H. Ettinson said...


I agree with you. I think it raises important questions not only about how a friendly population is treated, but how Israeli citizens are treated.

It could be a test case for how Israeli citizens are treated in areas that are relinquished. In Gaza, for example, all Israeli citizens were removed. It would seem that some guarantee for the security of Ghajar citizens should be implemented as well.