Nawaf al-Moussawi (Al-Manar, November 3, 2008)
The seven Shi'ite villages in the Land of Israel
Dr. Issam Khalifa
Lebanese LBC TV channel
1. Recently, Hezbollah’s international relations official Nawaf al-Moussawi has once again raised the issue of the so-called "seven villages”, disputing the legitimacy of the Israel-Lebanon international border and the "blue line” (the line agreed upon by the UN and Israel following the IDF’s pullout from the security zone on May 23, 2000 ).
2. The seven villages were Shi’ite villages abandoned by their residents during Israel ‘s War of Independence (1948). They were situated inside Israeli territory, south of the international border, in areas populated now by Israeli villages . The Israel-Lebanon international border was the result of an agreement reached in 1923 between Britain and France , demarcating the line between Palestine – the Land of Israel (under the British mandate), and Syria and Lebanon (under the French mandate). The border was drawn by a British-French committee (the Newcombe-Paulet committee) and was internationally recognized by the League of Nations in 1935. The international border was recognized as a reference for the armistice line between Israel and Lebanon (March 23, 1949). Since then, it became a basis for any political settlement between Israel and Lebanon . It was also used by the UN to draw the "blue line” following the IDF’s pullout from the security zone.
3. While the Lebanese government accepts the reality that emerged with the signing of the Armistice Agreement and does not dispute the validity of the Armistice Demarcation Line (ADL), Hezbollah occasionally uses the issue of the seven villages (situated, as already mentioned, in Israeli territory) for its political propaganda. We believe this owes to two internal Lebanese political causes:
a. Providing internal Lebanese and even international legitimacy to the continued existence of Hezbollah’s extensive military infrastructure and to the continuation of terrorist attacks against Israel . Hezbollah uses various pretexts, some of them groundless, to justify its continued existence as a military force and as a central component in defending Lebanon ‘s national interests. Currently it is politically more relevant in the context of Lebanon ‘s ongoing national dialogue—the process of reconciliation between Hezbollah and its opponents—that has been taking place since early 2006; and also considering Hassan Nasrallah’s call to formulate a joint defense strategy for Lebanon .
b. Imposing difficulties on any possible attempt to achieve a political agreement between Israel and Lebanon . Hezbollah is aware that a mutual recognition of a line based on the international border would eliminate any significant territorial disagreements between the two countries, making it easier to engage in a future dialogue between Israel and Lebanon . It is worth mentioning that, basically, Hezbollah’s demands are not limited to the seven villages—instead, it considers Israel ‘s entire territory to be "Palestinian, Arab, and Islamic land, from the sea to the river”. 1 Therefore, Hezbollah’s pretexts and the territorial demands it brings up from time to time are meant to promote tactical and political needs, as Hezbollah’s opponents in Lebanon are well aware.
4. What follows is a short analysis of the issue of the so-called "seven villages” in its historical context.
Hezbollah raises the issue of the seven villages
5. On November 3, Nawaf al-Moussawi, Hezbollah’s international relations official, met with the Ambassador of Norway in Lebanon . In the meeting, he complained (as he does quite often as of late) about the constant intrusions of Israeli aircraft into Lebanese territory, calling the UN to put an end to that. In addition, he mentioned Hezbollah’s well-known reservations about the Israeli-Lebanese international border, and once again brought up the demand to return the seven villages —seven Shi’ite villages abandoned during Israel ‘s War of Independence (1948). They are situated inside Israeli territory, south of the international border, which is recognized by Israel , Lebanon , and the international community. The territory of those villages is nowadays populated by Israeli villages.
6. Nawaf al-Moussawi noted that there could be no agreement on the issue of the blue line , because it supposedly weakens " Lebanon ‘s national rights”. Later on, Moussawi gave the Norwegian ambassador a false historical presentation of the Israeli-Lebanese border, mentioning the seven villages:
"The Zionist terrorist organizations moved the border line [between Lebanon and Israel ] of 1920 [to the line of] 1923 [and as a result] Lebanon lost its seven villages and twenty agricultural farms [i.e., the Shebaa Farms]. Today, we must be aware [of the danger] of moving the border to the blue line, which would cost Lebanon millions of square meters of its national land. We are facing a stage in which only Lebanon ‘s capabilities [are able] to defend its people, its lands, and its skies; and once again we are facing the constraints from which the resistance [i.e., Hezbollah] emerged, grew, evolved, and won. It [the resistance] will continue to repel Israel ‘s aggression. This is why we say that we adhere to our right to stand against the Israeli incursions, and it is even our responsibility to do our duty and counter [ Israel ‘s ] attacks…” (Lebanese News Agency, the official information service operated by Lebanon ‘s Ministry of Information, November 3, 2008 ).
Nawaf al-Moussawi (Al-Manar, November 3, 2008)
The Israeli-Lebanese border: historical background 2
7. The international border between Israel and Lebanon resulted from the division of the Middle East into territorial political units by Britain and France at the end of World War I, following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire . In the years 1919-1923, the British and the French engaged in dialogue on the demarcation of the northern border of Palestine, between French-ruled Syria and Lebanon on one hand and Palestine (governed by the British mandate) on the other. Several parties were working behind the scenes in order to influence Britain and France, including the Zionist movement, which, driven by economic considerations, demanded the inclusion of the Litani River and the headwaters of the Jordan River in the territory of Palestine – the Land of Israel. Ultimately, the demands of the Zionist movement were rejected, and the border drawn was the result of a political compromise between France and Britain , stemming from the strategic interest of those two countries.
8. In June 1920, the British accepted a French compromise proposal according to which the border with Lebanon would extend from Ras al-Naqoura eastward, turning north in order to include a "panhandle” ("finger”) containing all Jewish settlements up to the town of Metula . That compromise allowed the two countries to sign an agreement in principle ( Convention of Paris, December 23, 1920) about the border between Palestine and Syria and Lebanon (Nawaf al-Moussawi’s assertion that "Zionist organizations" moved the border from the line of 1920 to the line of 1923 is therefore utter nonsense, seeing as the border was worked out by Britain and France).
9. Based on the Convention of Paris, Britain and France set up a joint committee to clearly determine the demarcation of the border between Palestine and Syria and Lebanon . The committee was headed by the British officer Stewart Newcombe (a Lieutenant Colonel with mapping experience) and a French Lt. Col. named M. Paulet. The Newcombe-Paulet committee delineated the Israeli-Lebanese border and described it verbally, placing 38 piles of stone on the ground to mark the border from Rosh ha-Nikra to the Hasbani River . On March 23, 1923 , based on the committee’s work, the governments of Britain and France signed an agreement that established the border between Palestine and Syria and Lebanon . That border was internationally recognized in May 1935, when the League of Nations approved the 1923 border at the request of Britain and France .
10. With minor modifications, the border established and agreed upon in 1923 serves as the international border between Israel and Lebanon to this very day, the agreement on which prevented significant territorial differences of opinion between Israel and Lebanon . The border was also the basis for the Lebanese-Israeli Armistice Agreement (March 23, 1949), stating that the " Armistice Demarcation Line will follow the international boundary between Lebanon and Palestine ".
11. Ever since, the ADL serves as a source of reference for all contacts and settlements between Lebanon and Israel and for the international community. The Taif Accord (October 22, 1989), an internal Lebanese agreement which established the "Syrian order" in Lebanon , also states that Lebanese control must be restored in all areas up to the international border with Israel . The international border was also used to establish the "blue line" following the IDF’s pullout from the security zone on May 23, 2000 . The international border is also marked as such on Lebanese civilian and military maps. At present, the Lebanese government demands that the Shebaa Farms and the village of Ghajar be returned; however, it avoids raising the issue of the seven villages, as Hezbollah does on occasion.
The issue of the seven villages in its historical context 3
12. Following the demarcation of the border in 1923, some 3,000 Shi’ite residents (as at 1932) remained in British-mandate Palestine . They lived in six villages: Malkiya, Kadas, Nabi Yusha, Hunin, Saliha, and Tarbikha. In a seventh village, Abeil el-Qamh (near Metula), the Shi’ites made up 50 percent of the population (see map). The largest village was Hunin, north of the present day village of Margaliot . The residents of those villages had close social and economic relations with their fellow Shi’ites in French-governed Lebanon , while their connections with Israeli Arabs were quite loose. Most of the villages’ lands were inside Palestine , south of the international border, and a small part of them were in Lebanon .
The seven Shi’ite villages in the Land of Israel (based on a map of Palestine ,
1:250,000, printed in 1946 by the British Mandate authorities)
13. During Israel’s War of Independence (April-November 1948), all of the Shi’ite villages in Israel were abandoned, be it on the residents’ own initiative, their fear of the IDF and of being caught in the fighting, or as a result of the IDF’s security-related considerations (those villages, including the big Shi’ite village of Hunin, were used as bases by the supporters of the Mufti and by Fawzi al-Qawuqji’s Arab Salvation Army). The villagers became refugees in Lebanon , currently numbering about 45,000 (Al-Mustaqbal, June 9, 2005). Unlike Palestinian refugees, they were granted Lebanese citizenship and intermingled with the Shi’ite population of south Lebanon . After the 1948 Israeli War of Independence, new towns and villages were founded on the territories of those villages, and a new demographic reality emerged along the Israeli-Lebanese border.
Why does Hezbollah keep raising the seven villages issue?
14. Since the Armistice Agreement in 1949, Lebanon has avoided making a political issue of the seven villages, accepting the new demographic reality that emerged along the Israeli-Lebanese border during and after the War of Independence. However, ever since Hezbollah established itself as a key political and military force in Lebanon , it repeatedly raises the issue of the seven Shi’ite villages, coupled with other claims such as the return of the Shebaa Farms on the foothills of Har Dov (first making it following the IDF’s pullout from the security zone in May 2000). As already mentioned, however, the Lebanese government and the international community recognize the 1923 border to be the actual border between Lebanon and Israel .
15. The historical description of Hezbollah’s international relations official Nawaf Moussawi that the 1920 border was "moved" by Zionist organizations to the 1923 line is patently false. It was a border established by the two mandate superpowers, while the Zionist movement took no part in the negotiations and instead attempted (without much success) to influence them through diplomatic channels in order to promote its own interests.
16. Every once in a while, Hezbollah brings up the issue of the seven villages not just out of Shi’ite solidarity but also because of two clearly political reasons: the first reason is the use of the seven villages issue in an attempt to create an internal Lebanese (and even international) legitimacy to preserve its military infrastructure and continue its terrorist and guerrilla activities against Israel. The second reason is Hezbollah’s interest to impose difficulties on any idea or possibility of reaching a settlement or agreement between Israel and Lebanon . It should be mentioned that Hezbollah’s opponents in Lebanon are well aware that bringing up the issue of the seven villages (and even other issues such as the Shebaa Farms) is meant to promote its tactical and political objectives on the internal Lebanese scene.
17. One example of the criticism against Hezbollah’s use of that issue on the internal Lebanese scene can be found in an interview by Dr. Issam Khalifa, a professor of history in the Lebanese University and a reputable expert on the Israeli-Lebanese border. 4 In the interview, he addressed the issue of the seven villages when it was brought up by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah several years ago ( Al-Mustaqbal, June 29, 2005). He stressed that the seven villages were situated inside Palestine ‘s territory and that they did not belong to Lebanon . This results, as he said, from all of the border markings and agreements which established the border between Lebanon and Palestine – from the agreement between France and Britain on December 23, 1920, through the 1923 agreement between the two sides in which the Lebanese border was demarcated, to the first clause of the Lebanese constitution which mentions Lebanon’s internationally recognized border, and finally the Armistice Agreement between Lebanon and Israel (in which the international border served as reference for the ADL). According to Dr. Issam Khalifa, the claim that those villages belong to Lebanon is "opposed to the scientific facts" and "rests on an ideological and emotional basis, rather than on a scientific one."
Dr. Issam Khalifa: Hezbollah’s claims regarding the seven villages
are groundless and meant to serve political and tactical needs
(picture: Lebanese LBC TV channel, June 24, 2008)
18. Then why does Hassan Nasrallah bring up the issue of the seven villages? Dr. Issam Khalifa gave the Al-Mustaqbal reporter the following answer: "The issue of the seven villages is brought up now [by Hezbollah] due to tactical considerations which have to do with political mobilization; and to prepare an excuse to protect the weapon of resistance, so that if the Shebaa Farms issue is resolved, we will raise the issue of the seven villages, if that is also resolved, we will raise a third issue and so forth…" In the interview, Dr. Khalifa warns against the use of such tactics, saying that it gives Israel a pretext to dispute the location of the border line. He maintains, therefore, that Lebanon must abide by the recognized border and the relevant international decisions. He added, however, that protecting the rights of the seven villages’ residents must be one of the topics brought up in any future negotiations between Lebanon and Israel .
Lebanese satire on claims brought up by Hezbollah to justify
On June 1, 2006, the Lebanese LBC TV channel broadcasted a satire show which strongly criticized Hezbollah. The following is an excerpt from the show which deals with the Shebaa Farms. 5
"Nasrallah" and the interviewer discuss the "liberation" of the Shebaa Farms
1 From an interview granted by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah to Orbit TV (December 15, 1998). In that interview, Nasrallah noted that the passage of time had no effect on the "right” to the land of Palestine —"even in 100, 200, or 300 years”.
2 Based on Reuven Erlich , Be-svach ha-levanon, 1918-1958 [ The Lebanon Tangle: The Policy of the Zionist Movement and the State of Israel towards Lebanon , 1918-1958 ] (Tel Aviv, Ma’arachot/Ministry of Defense, 2000), hereinafter: The Lebanon Tangle.
3 For further details see: The Lebanon Tangle (Hebrew), pp. 277-283.
4 Dr. Issam Khalifa wrote a book on the issue of borders and water: Lubnan, al-maya wal-hudoud (1916-1975) ( Beirut , 1996).
5 See our Information Bulletin: "Terrorism and humor: a satirical show severely criticizing Hezbollah was shown on Lebanese LBC-TV. It focused on Katyusha attacks and Hezbollah’s boasts concerning a "balance of deterrence” with Israel and "liberating” the Shebaa Farms. Lebanese Shi’ites rioted and the satirical show was quickly taken off the air" (June 25, 2006).