Ghajar residents took to the streets on Wednesday to protest the security cabinet’s approval of a plan to unilaterally pull the IDF out of the northern part of their village, located on the Lebanese border.

In so doing, Israel has abided by Security Council Resolution 425 from 1978, under which the UN, in 2000, determined that the Israeli withdrawal line from Lebanon – known as the Blue Line – should run through Ghajar.

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Its residents, however, had hoped to remain united under Israeli sovereignty.

Najib Khatib, a village spokesman, complained that no one had spoken with them about the new withdrawal plan.


“No government body has spoken to us. They are playing with our emotions,” he told Army Radio.

“The uncertainty is killing us. Ten years we have been going through this. We are fighting for the village so that it won’t be divided. It has never belonged to Lebanon, and the Lebanese know this,” he said.

Tawfik Khatib, a 44-yearold resident, said he was upset because he feared an Israeli withdrawal would result in a division of the village and separate residents from their land and from each other.

“I shouldn’t have to need an ID card to pass through my own village to see my sister,” he said. “We don’t mind which side we end up on, but we want the whole village and our land to be on the same side.”

Ghajar, an Alawite village of 2,210 people on the Hasbani River, is located on the Golan Heights and sits on a strategic corner where the boundaries between Syria, Lebanon and Israel are in dispute.

It is anticipated that once the IDF withdrew into the southern part of the village, the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon would then be stationed along Ghajar’s northern perimeter.

UNIFIL spokesman Neeraj Singh said the force was waiting for formal notification from the Israelis to get more details, including a proposed pullout date.

“This is a long-standing matter and our position is very clear that Israel is obliged to withdraw from northern Ghajar,” he said. He said the peacekeepers have been “actively engaged” with Israel and Lebanon, and that to advance the withdrawal, “UNIFIL had recently suggested some ideas and modalities for consideration by the parties.”

While the details of a withdrawal have not been finalized, it is assumed that Ghajar’s residents, who have dual Israeli- Syrian citizenship, would still travel in and out of the village through the Israeli side, not the Lebanese one.

It’s assumed that even after a withdrawal, the government would still service the entire village, and its residents would still pay taxes to Israel. But there would be no clear sign of Israeli sovereignty in the northern part of the village.

The withdrawal plan has been worked out exclusively with UNIFIL, and the Lebanese government has not been involved.

The cabinet on Wednesday approved a pullout in principle, based on a UNIFIL plan put forward by its commander, Gen. Alberto Asarta Cuevas. It asked the Foreign Ministry to finalize the withdrawal details with UNIFIL.

Once the final details are worked out, the withdrawal must again be approved by the security cabinet.

After Israel captured the Golan Heights in 1967, Ghajar remained a noman’s land for two-and-a-half months.

The villagers petitioned to be annexed to Israel because they saw themselves as part of the Golan Heights.

After Operation Litani in 1978, Israel turned over its positions inside Lebanon to the South Lebanon Army and inaugurated the Good Fence policy.

Ghajar expanded northward into Lebanese territory, subsuming the Wazzani settlement north of the border.

Israel extended Israeli law to Ghajar, along with the rest of the Golan Heights, in 1981, and most villagers accepted Israeli citizenship.

In 2000, after the IDF withdrew from Lebanon, UN surveyors put the international border in the middle of the village, leaving Israel in control of the southern half.

Israel retook the northern part during the Second Lebanon War in 2006. After the cease-fire, Israel pledged to withdraw once more from that northern section of the village, but has yet to do so, fearing Hizbullah would use it as a base for attacks on Israel.

In 2008, UNIFIL first proposed a plan that would allow the IDF to leave the northern half of the village.

Now that the initial plan has passed the cabinet, Foreign Minister spokesman Yigal Palmor said he expected it to take about 30 days to work out arrangements with UNIFIL, and that the redeployment would take place shortly afterward.

Residents should have nothing to fear, Palmor said. Israel has “no intention” of dividing the village and its residents would continue to have free movement throughout Ghajar and in and out of Israel, as they do now, he said.

“We hope to maintain and preserve their daily lives without any changes,” Palmor said.

The US issued a statement on Wednesday welcoming the news that Israel had decided to withdraw from northern Ghajar.

“The United States encourages Israel and the UN to complete the technical details necessary to implement this proposal rapidly and thereby protect the rights of the affected civilians,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.

Hilary Leila Krieger, AP and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.

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