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Ghajar

 

Ghajar

Ghajar
غجر
Gateway to the southern part of the village of Ghajar
Gateway to the southern part of the village of Ghajar
Location of Ghajar
Coordinates:
Country On the border between Lebanon
and the Israeli-occupied area
of the Golan Heights (de jure Syria).
Area
 • Total 246 ha (608 acres)
Elevation 310 m (1,020 ft)
Population (2012)
 • Total 2,301

Ghajar (Arabic: غجر; Hebrew: ע'ג'ר‎ or רג'ר) is an Arab village on the Hasbani River on the border between Lebanon and the Israeli-occupied portion of the Golan Heights, internationally considered to be de jure part of Syria. Its inhabitants are members of the Alawite community.[1]

History

Early history

Control over Ghajar has changed hands many times. Three hundred years ago, the village was known as Taranjeh. It was renamed Ghajar under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, when the land was allegedly seized from the "villagers" by Kurds and forcibly sold.[2] According to "local" legend, the Kurdish governor of Ghajar tried to ride his horse onto the tomb of a local holy man, Sheikh al-Arba'in. The horse refused and the following day a fire broke out, destroying the governor's shield and sword. The Kurds fled and quickly sold it back.[2]

Modern era

In 1932, the residents of Ghajar, predominantly Alawites, were given the option of choosing their nationality and overwhelmingly chose to be a part of Syria, which has a sizable Alawite minority.[3] Prior to the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Ghajar was considered part of Syria and its residents were counted in the 1960 Syrian census.[2] When Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967, Ghajar remained a no-man's land for two and a half months. The Alawi villagers petitioned the Golan's Israeli governor to be attached to Israel, as part of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, rather than Lebanon, because they allegedly considered themselves to be Syrians, like the majority of the native residents of the Golan at that time.[2] Israel agreed to include Ghajar in its conquered territory of the Syrian Golan Heights and the residents had to live under Israeli rule.[4] In 1981, most Alawi villagers accepted Israeli citizenship under the Golan Heights Law which annexed the captured Syrian territory to Israel, but as a unilateral annexation was not recognized by the international community.

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.[5] Ghajar expanded northward into Lebanese territory, subsuming the Wazzani settlement north of the border.[3]

In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon.[6] 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. 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.[2] This arrangement created much resentment among the residents, who see themselves as Syrian.[2]

Despite the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, tension mounted as Hezbollah made attempts to kidnap Israeli soldiers in the Ghajar area.[7] In 2005, Hezbollah launched a missile on Ghajar and infiltrated it, but withdrew after being repelled by Israel.[3] Following another attack in July 2006, Israel invaded southern Lebanon and re-conquered 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.

The Blue Line fixation

In April 2009, the Lebanese paper Daily Star reported the IDF had agreed to withdraw from northern Ghajar at a meeting at Rosh HaNikra.[8] On May 13, the government of Israel suspended talks to await the outcome of the Lebanese Parliamentary elections, fearing a Hezbollah victory.[9] In the wake of reports in December 2009 of a possible withdrawal of Israeli troops, 2,200 Ghajar residents took to the streets in protest.[10]

On November 2010, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu informed the UN Secretary General of Israeli intentions to unilaterally withdraw from Ghajar, after failing to come to an agreement with Lebanon [11][12] and place security matters into the hands of UNIFIL.[13] On the 17th of November 2010, the Israeli "Security" cabinet voted in favor of withdrawal from northern half of Ghajar.[14]

Citizenship

Residents on both sides of the village have Israeli citizenship; those in the northern half often hold passports from both Lebanon and Israel.[15] They work and travel freely within Israel, but those living on the Lebanese side have difficulties receiving services from Israel. There is an Israel Defense Forces checkpoint at the entrance to the village, and a fence surrounding the entire village, but no fence or barrier dividing the two sides of the village.

UNIFIL observers

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.[16]

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."[17]

Problematic border demarcation

The reliability of the Blue Line in the area of the Ghajar has been questioned, based on cartographic and historical points of view. According to an article in Haaretz newspaper, there has never been an agreement over the exact location of the boundary in Ghajar and its vicinity. Maps produced prior to 1967 have been inconsistent, placing the village occasionally in Syria, at different times in Lebanon and less frequently divided between the two states. Ghajar, when under full Syrian control before the 1967 war, extended to include both sections of the village that were divided by the Blue Line in 2000—both the southern section that was annexed by Israel and the northern part that Israel is being asked to return to Lebanon.

According to a researcher from the University of Notre Dame, "This is clearly seen in reports of and sketches made by the US Embassy in Beirut that tried to decipher the problems of sovereignty in the tri-border region during the 'water wars' in the early 1960s between Israel and its Arab neighbors." The village has been divided by the Blue Line into two 'neighborhoods' that in 2000 were mistakenly thought to be two different villages: Ghajar in the south and al-Wazzani in the north. The village of al-Wazzani, the supposedly northern village that as of July 2000 lies within Lebanon, has never really existed. There is a small community called al-Wazzani, better known as ‘Arab al-Luweiza', but it is located west of the Hasbani river across from Ghajar.[18] Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced plans to withdraw from the northern part of Ghajar.[19]

References

  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c d e f Getting rid of Ghajar, Zvi Bar'el, Haaretz
  3. ^ a b c A New Fence Is Added to a Border Town Already Split
  4. ^ Dudu Ben-Tzur's interview with Khatib Jamal, a resident of Ghajar, December 1993. Published in Hebrew in Teva Ha-Dvarim, 2nd issue, February–March 1994 [1].
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Kidnap of soldiers in July was Hezbollah's fifth attempt
  8. ^ http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_id=1&categ_id=2&article_id=101089
  9. ^ http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1085251.html
  10. ^ Residents of Ghajar protest rumored Israeli withdrawal: More than 2,000 took to streets to reject division of village
  11. ^ http://www.jpost.com/Israel/Article.aspx?id=194301
  12. ^ Ravid, Barak "Lieberman: Israel will quit Lebanon town unilaterally due to Hezbollah refusal to cooperate." Haaretz, 7 November 2010
  13. ^ http://www.jpost.com/Israel/Article.aspx?id=195643
  14. ^ http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/israel-approves-unilateral-pullout-from-lebanon-border-town-1.325185
  15. ^
  16. ^ Lebanon holding up IDF Ghajar pullout
  17. ^ UN Security Council document S/2007/641, paragraphs 16 and 71
  18. ^ Border Control/The thin blue line, Akiva Eldar, Haaretz, July 28, 2009]
  19. ^ Israel to withdraw from village on Lebanon border,

Bibliography


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