Ghajar: where the world sits on the fence.

The tinder-dry yellowed thistles alongside the neglected military road leading to Ghajar are not the only thing which could ignite any minute in that region. Tempers too are riding high. As I leaned against one of the concrete road blocks outside the village, waiting for permission from the IDF to enter and admiring the houses painted in sorbet shades of pinks, blues, yellows and greens, a minibus pulled up beside me and the window opened.

Ghajar from the road

“Do me a favour.” said the driver, a resident of Ghajar, “Write that it’s humiliating, degrading.”

“We can’t go on like this” he continued, complaining about the lack of services and public transport, the fact that roads are not mended anymore and the resulting damage to his vehicle.

“But nobody in the world is interested in us.”

I asked him what his status would be if the northerly part of Ghajar and its residents – who are Israeli citizens – is given over to Lebanon as demanded both by that country and the international community. He shrugged his shoulders and having no answer to that question for himself, let alone me, drove off.

Anyone who is not a resident of Ghajar cannot normally enter the village, which lies on a volatile border and has in the past been the site of kidnapping attempts by Hizbollah. The entrance to the village is heavily guarded and road-blocked and the once thriving domestic tourist industry died with the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000. I last visited Ghajar around fifteen years ago when a now extinct local restaurant serving delicious authentic Alawi cuisine against the backdrop of a marvellous view over the Hatzbani river was an attraction for day-trippers to the area.

The entrance to Ghajar village.

Najib Khatib, the spokesman for Ghajar’s local council, was unable to hide his discontent at the fact that no official representative has visited the village to ask what the 2,200 residents want or inform them of decisions which will affect their future.

“We only find out what is going on by way of the media” he said.

Since Israel withdrew from Lebanon, the residents have consistently opposed the division of the village as stipulated by the UN. Najib explained that there are not two halves to the village; it is one community and every resident of it has family members in both the artificially created parts.

“Why put up another Berlin Wall here?”  he asked rhetorically, and indeed when one sees where the proposed border would lie, one understands the full absurdity of the UN stipulation.

The ‘Blue Line’ crosses this road in central Ghajar. The point from which the photograph is taken would be in Lebanon. The wooden building across the road would be in Israel.

Most of the agricultural land belonging to the village is situated in the southerly area which means that should the division plan go ahead, the people living today in the northerly part would, according to Najib, find themselves stateless refugees in Lebanon and bereft of their lands. He calls it a “Judgement of Solomon”: a demand to divide something which cannot be divided.

The northerly section of Ghajar.

Najib then explained that the village never had any connections with Lebanon, from which it is separated by the natural border of the River Hatzbani. All the old deeds they have for their lands are Syrian and were issued in the Golan Heights town of Kuneitra. The UN mapmakers who drew up the border or “Blue Line” in 2000 relied upon old maps from 1923 created as a result of the Sykes-Picot agreement. As he wryly pointed out, “Those maps were made by the British and the French. There were no Israelis, Lebanese or Syrians then.”

Ghajar with the Hatzbani river and the current border fence below, and Lebanon beyond.

According to Najib, the entire village speaks with one voice on this issue and their position is that they are part of the Golan which was captured by Israel in 1967 and as such, their fate is inextricably linked to that of the Golan as a whole. If a peace agreement is ever signed between Israel and Syria under which the former gives over the Golan, then Ghajar should go back to being a part of Syria. Until then, they wish to remain as they are today: one united village in Israel, with Israeli citizenship.

I asked Najib if anyone from the UN had been to the village to actually see what the implementation of the “Blue Line” entails or talk to the people there. His frustration was evident.

“They’re not interested.”

When asked how a decade of ambiguous status has affected the village, he answered

“Life in the village is not good”

It is impossible to get services in the northerly part of the village; ambulances cannot enter and technicians cannot come to the houses to repair a broken fridge or air conditioner. No building permits are given and no compensation was provided for damages caused during the second Lebanon war in 2006 because officially Israel is not supposed to operate there.

On the other hand, the residents of the northerly portion of Ghajar are still Israeli citizens and therefore pay income tax, are required to purchase a television license and vote in Israeli elections. All of the village’s main services such as educational establishments, the mosque and cemetery are located in the southerly part, which means that should the Israeli withdrawal be implemented and UNIFIL soldiers brought in as proposed, 650 school pupils will have to cross a problematic international border to get to school each morning.

Children in Ghajar’s school.

According to Najib, the tension of living with uncertainty for over a decade has taken a particular toll on the children, with some of them displaying signs of stress whenever they see UN soldiers because of the implications of their presence.

Later, wandering around the twisty village streets perfumed with the scent of wood smoke, I popped into a corner shop to buy water.

“You’re making a big mess for us” said the shopkeeper, referring to Israel’s recent announcement that it will withdraw from Ghajar. I could not help but understand his point of view. In trying to comply with the demands of the UN, Israel has put some of its citizens in an impossible position. Yet even if the UN and Lebanese demands are met, there is little chance that, as claimed by some, this will cause Hizbollah to beat swords into ploughshares. In order to chase that illusion, the international community is prepared to create 1,200 new refugees entirely unnecessarily and to send them to an unsure fate in a country on the brink of yet another civil war.

A street in Ghajar.

Sadly, none of the dozens of Human Rights organisations operating in Israel, either local or international, has seen fit to take up the cause of the residents of Ghajar in the past decade. Israel’s famously vocal Left is silent on this issue too and the international body responsible for the care of refugees, the UNHRC, apparently does not subscribe to the belief that prevention is better than cure.

As I left Ghajar I hitched a ride with another of its residents who raises beef cattle on the surrounding land. He spoke of the sense of a lack of future among the young people and of the emotional toll of ten years of threat and instability; in particular of the difficulties of their destiny being in the hands of others.

“It’s like living in a prison” he concluded.

Ghajar’s “Blue Line” is not just about borders and maps. It is first and foremost a human rights issue, but one on which the international community has been sitting on the fence for ten years. They may not be many and they may not have much of a voice, but surely the villagers of Ghajar deserve to be released from that prison.

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29 replies »

  1. This is a very sad story.
    I know some people from Rajar (as we call it).

    They are most certainly not Lebanese and never said they were.
    Some don’t even want to go back to Syria but are too scared to say that in case they are sent back.

    This is similar to many of the few villages of Druze in the Golan.

    One thing is certain, they are very different than the Israeli arabs or Palestinians, both in customs and in attitude.

  2. The villagers of Ghajar belong to the Alawi sect of the Mohammedan religion, a very small minority. They are hated by their fellow shia and sunni Muslims and considered heretics. The Christians and the Druze wouldn’t do anything to protect them. Their personal security will be in the benign hands of the Hezb’allah. Joining Syria would be much better for them, the Assad clan belongs to the same sect. Dealing with the village and its population clearly demonstrates the incompetence, the immorality, the impotence and the stupidity of the UN. They must be held responsible for creating more than thousand new refugees and victims of religious hatred in the Middle-East.

  3. Adam, this is a beautifully written piece which I hope can have a very wide distribution. Beautiful photographs too.

    Itzik and Peter have also presented the problems succinctly but who is going to put a stop to the atrocities enacted by the UN?

  4. thank you for this valuable piece of information

    the UN cares about demonstrating it can wield power

    Michael Totten had a lengthy piece about the Druze recently in which the Alawi figured. I don’t remember whether he mentioned Ghajar.

  5. A sympathetic and well-written piece on the way that the peoples of the Middle East are regarded by the UN and the world at large as chessmen to be played without any consideration for their well-being.
    When you read of all their privations because of the political situation you start wondering why those with hearts dripping blood for the fashionable Palestinian cause have no time to care for these people who are no less deserving.

  6. Gerald, they are a lot more deserving. They’re not even trying to lie about, kill or expel anyone. They certainly don’t deserve Hizb’allah. Or Hizbshaitan as someone I know used to call them.

  7. Israelinurse,this is a beautifully written piece which I hope can have a very wide distribution. Beautiful photographs too.

  8. Israelinurse

    its Michael Totten style reporting – unassuming, low-key, extremely interesting and very informative

  9. Great article, IsraelNurse.

    Amazing what someone who actually knows Israel in depth can write specially compared with the pathetic articles for the Guardian by ChickenLady.

  10. But AKUS, the incompetence of Sherwood’s articles is less her fault than that of the Guardian management, for assigning to an area someone who does not speak the language(s) and knows nothing of the area’s history.

    The only question is whether such Guardian management decisions are due to their own incompetence or to an extremely twisted ideological bias.

  11. IsraeliNurse
    I read the article and was shocked to notice that there was no reference to the chickens of Grajar. Have you no heart? I also have the horrible suspicion that you actually visited the site in question IsraeliNurse and would like you to know that that is taking unfair advantage of the opposition — those journalists who write for a living and depend on the handouts of the press for their information. There is also the distinct possibility that you were able to speak directly to those concerned without the need for an interpreter or your imagination to assist you. Also, no taxi-drivers were featured. This is really taking it too far.

    As for the photographs, they showed people smiling. The rule is that when you want to pull heartstrings the people should show solemn faces. Children are best shown pathetically crying or wounded or in ragged clothing.

    I hope sincerely that you do not continue with this shameful behaviour.

  12. Gerald,

    “When you read of all their privations because of the political situation you start wondering why those with hearts dripping blood for the fashionable Palestinian cause have no time to care for these people who are no less deserving.”

    Though you are correct in a way that this particular village is not mentioned, you are mistaken when saying that their cause is not highlighted.

    a lot of people who fight for the Palestinian cause (probably most of them) want the golan heights returned to Syria.

    Rajar is part of the Golan and was taken in 67.

    So in effect the people who champion the Palestinian cause are suggesting that the village should be returned to Syria.

    The problem is that the northern part of the village was expanded over time after 1982 when Israel controled southern Lebanon, and the border was not that clear.

    This part, though taken from public Lebanese ground, is the real issue.
    The same can be said about the Shabaa farms.
    The Lebanese Syrian border was never marked that clearly and people crossed it many times without a fence even being visible.

    This was Lebanese simply used Syrian soil to farm on (as they have done for generations before).
    This is still the same in the baqaa region where arms traficing and drugs flow easily.

    what is the solution?

    If anything, I suppose one can say that Rajar was the only Israeli settlement in Lebanon (since it residents hold Israeli ID cards)

    How funny it is that this prtial settlement happen to have no jews in it, and was not objected by the SLA or the UN at the time to the best of my knowledge.

    Another example of such borders can be seen in the shomron up until 8 years ago.

    The border in many areas between Israel and the WB was not fenced.

    All Palestinians needed to do in order to cross and bypass the check point was get off the main road by foot and walk accross to the Israeli side, maybe a kilometer at most.

    All this stopped when the Palestinians abused these ways in 2001-2 in their deadly bombing campeign forcing the Israelis to errect a barrier.
    By doing this they forced many Palestinians who worked in Israel to queue up in check points and possibly not able to cross for work.

    The same is being done by the UN in Rajar.

    The UN and Hizbullah who don’t care about small sects or the little people are forcing them into a new reality, which they can’t afford or even survive in.

  13. Ariadne,

    “Beautiful photographs too.”

    I know the nurse deservs the credit but I can’t help in being proud of my home.

    The upper galilee’s beauty is what I can call home.

    I’m sure there are much more beautiful places in the world but for me there can be only one place.
    In the winter you can see in the distance the Lebanese snowy mountains shine.

    We know it is Lebanon and wouldn’t want to have them.
    It’s just gives a sense of direction.
    Since we know it’s in the distance and not close, we know we’re on the right side of the fence… 🙂

  14. Silke

    its Michael Totten style reporting – unassuming, low-key, extremely interesting and very informative

    Yes. So unusual in today’s ‘reporting’. Just setting out the facts and you make your own conclusions.

    The Guardian has a lot to learn. Harriet in particular. One wonders why she doesn’t visit Radjar.

  15. JerusalemMite:
    “One wonders why she doesn’t visit Radjar.”

    2 reasons spring to mind.

    1) She is all Hizbullah now and has no interest in reporting about people who are not part of some rsistence…

    2) The Guardian’s financial problems have cancelled Harriet’s petrol expenses claims…

  16. Philo-Semite – good points. My own theory is that the editorial staff have created a fictional country that they call Israel that exists only in their own minds and those of some of the usual Israel-bashing contributors and commenters who write on the site. They have long ago lost any grasp on the reality of Israel.

  17. Thanks for this excellent article, Israelinurse – I, too, hope that it will be widely circulated. I agree with Hawkeye that this is quality reporting that would put the Guardian to shame.

    Ariadne, the UN is atrocity incarnate, in word (by the barefaced lies it tells) and in deed, in terms of the atrocities it ignores.

    The west is rapidly going to hell in a handbasket, aided and abetted by our dhimmi governments.

  18. @AKUS, “..The Guardian has a lot to learn. Harriet in particular. One wonders why she doesn’t visit Radjar….”

    No chickens??

    (Just a thought)

  19. The Israeli goverment proposed abandonment of Ghaja should be of grave concern to all Israelis and an ominious portent once the UN starts interfering in Israeli affairs. Israel should realise by now that the UN agenda is an advocate for Islamic ambitions having pronounced that the Tomb of Rachel is a mosque.

    Once Ghaja goes, a precident is set and the next in line will be the Shaba Farms, Mount Hermon and that is even before negotiation restart with the Palestinian Authority on the Jewish neighberhoods in Judea and Sameria. “Tough Love” Obama and “Honest Broker” Europe then will be further emboldened to pressurise Israel.

    If Israel does not have the guts to say NO to the UN at the very least a refereredum should be given of the inhabitants, and UN interference stopped dead in its tracks.

  20. Israel Matsav had a report, I think from Media Line, with the same Ghajar resident saying different things.

    But from the driver’s request

    “Do me a favour.” said the driver, a resident of Ghajar, “Write that it’s humiliating, degrading.”

    we can see that being there now is like being in prison.

  21. And if its like being in prison, why did the British PM not point that out in Turkey? Of course, they are not Palestinians shooting rockets at Israel … maybe that explains it.

  22. AKUS, this isn’t the country I was born in. We are in a state of war of some kind, spewing out deadly propaganda for the enemy.

  23. What a mess for the people involved.

    Was this article prompted by this news:
    Israel appears set to withdraw from Lebanese border town Ghajar, easing tensions


    But talking of border areas (and I could find no more applicable thread here to post this on), I today saw a brief feature on the BBC about a film tracking the story of a Gazan rocket-launcher who’s had distinctly second thoughts. This is the film:

  24. The plight of Ghajar should make everyone reflect on how ridiculous it is to divide places against their human realities. If only we were there in 1917-20 to stop the allies from dividing the middle east, Ghajar wouldn’t have this problem.

  25. is this the same andrew r as I met on the Fraudster’s blog?

    if so I don’t remember whether he was already then a fan of what-if-history.

    So clever so smart and so easy to correct the past and assign blame, and such a comfortable position to take because one can never ever be proved wrong.

  26. I’m afraid Harriet Sherwood took some posters advice and wrote about Ghajar yesterday. And a more mendacious article one would have to take considerable time to seek out . Her article is the most atrocious piece of innuendo and calumny, devoid of real facts and, as usual, places the entire blame for the voillagers’ predicament on Israel.

    Read the original, already the subject of criticism by Just Journalism, but have a paper bag ready when you come to the comments.