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
“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,”
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
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
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
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
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
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
Israel extended Israeli law to Ghajar, along with the rest of the
Golan Heights, in 1981, and most villagers accepted Israeli
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.
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
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
“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.
Hilary Leila Krieger, AP and Jerusalem Post staff
contributed to this report.
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