The Shebaa Farms (مزارع شبعا, ; חוות שבעא, Havot Sheba‘a or הר דוב, Har Dov) is a small area of land with disputed ownership located on the border between Lebanon and the Golan Heights. The area measures about 9 km (5.5 mi) in length, and averages 2.5 km (1.5 mi) in width, coming to about 22 km² (8 sq mi). It is located about 3 to 12 km (2 to 7.5 mi) southwest of the Lebanese village of Shebaa and about 5 to 7 km (3 to 4 mi) northwest of the Druze village of Majdal Shams.
The Shebaa Farms area is situated on the southeastern side of a long, broad ridge descending to the southwest from Mount Hermon. The northwestern edge of the area corresponds to the traditional (UN-recognized) Lebanese-Syrian border along that ridge. The southeastern edge corresponds to the approximately parallel Wadi al Asal valley. (This 16 km long wadi, which flows into Israel, drains a portion of the relatively precipitation-rich Mount Hermon ridge in the northern Golan Heights.) These "edges" are connected by the Shebaa Farms' northeastern limit 2.5 km east of the Israeli Har Dov (military) facility as defined by the UN 2007 report.
The same report defines the southwestern limit as a line roughly following the foot of the ridge and starting at just over a kilometer northwest of Banias, then running northwest to the traditional Lebanon-Syrian border's sharp turning point 3.4 km east of Ghajar and 1.0 km "south of the (Lebanese) village of El Majidiye." This southwestern limit of Shebaa Farms comes within about a km of the 1949 Armistice Line now dividing Israel and Israeli-annexed Golan Heights. The only overland route between Lebanon and Syria south of the Mount Hermon ridge runs between these two lines. The Shebaa Farms area has been depopulated since 1967 and includes heights overlooking parts of southern Lebanon and Israel to the west. Altitudes range from about 250 to about 1,500 m (825–4,940 ft).
Even after the Israeli military withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, Hizbullah cites what it sees as continued Israeli occupation of the disputed Shebaa Farms as partial justification for attacks upon Israeli concerns. The newly elected president of Lebanon, Michel Sleiman in his 1 August 2008 speech also stated, referring to the Shebaa Farms: "the countdown for liberating the rest of our lands has begun. And today I confirm the [use] of all available and legitimate means to achieve this goal".
A controversy arose following the withdrawal of Israeli troops from occupied territory in Southern Lebanon on 25 May 2000. On 18 June 2000, the United Nations affirmed that Israel had withdrawn its forces from Lebanon, in accordance with Resolution 425. Syria and Lebanon disputed the United Nations certification that Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon was complete. Hezbollah cites the ongoing occupation of the Shebaa farms as the basis for its continued attacks on Israel.
For decades members of the international diplomatic community have repeatedly requested that Syria and Lebanon take steps to determine the exact boundary between them in the Shebaa Farms region and elsewhere, including officially registering the demarcated border with the United Nations. However, recently President Bashar al-Assad of Syria has refused to do so until Israeli troops withdraw. On October 31, 2007, the definition of the physical extent of the Shebaa Farms area by former UN cartographer Miklos Pinther was released by the UN. This could be a prelude to an eventual negotiated determination of the political destination of that territory.
Documents from the 1920s and 1930s indicate that some local inhabitants regarded themselves as part of Lebanon, for example paying taxes to the Lebanese government. But French officials at times expressed confusion as to the actual location of the border. One French official in 1939 expressed the belief that the uncertainty was sure to cause trouble in the future.
The region continued to be represented in the 1930s and 1940s as Syrian territory, under the French Mandate. Detailed maps showing the border were produced by the French in 1933, and again in 1945. They clearly showed the region to be in Syria.
After the French Mandate ended in 1946, the land was administered by Syria, and represented as such in all maps of the time.
The maps of the 1949 Armistice Agreements between Syria and Israel also designated the area as Syrian.
Border disputes arose at times, however. Shebaa Farms was not unique; several other border villages had similar discrepancies of borders versus land ownership. Syria and Lebanon formed a joint Syrian-Lebanese border committee in the late 1950s to determine a proper border between the two nations. In 1964, concluding its work, the committee suggested to the two governments that the area be deemed the property of Lebanon, and recommended that the international border be reestablished consistent with its suggestion. However, neither Syria nor Lebanon adopted the committee's suggestion, and neither country took any action along the suggested lines. Thus, maps of the area continued to reflect the Farms as being in Syria. Even maps of both the Syrian and Lebanese armies continued to demarcate the region within Syrian territory.
A number of local residents regarded themselves as Lebanese, however. The Lebanese government showed little interest in their views. The Syrian government administered the region, and on the eve of the 1967 war, the region was under effective Syrian control.
In 1967 most Shebaa Farms landowners and (Lebanese) farmers lived outside the Syrian-controlled region, across the Lebanon-Syrian border, in the Lebanese village of Shebaa. During the Six Day War in 1967, Israel captured the Farms from Syria. As a consequence, the Lebanese landowners were no longer able to farm it.
In 1967, following the termination of the Six Day War, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 242 (1967), later reaffirmed by UN Security Council Resolution 338 (1973), calling for all four of the following:
In 1981, the area was officially annexed by Israel, as part of the Golan Heights. This unilateral annexation is not recognised by the UN.
From 1968, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) established a quasi-state in southern Lebanon. On 11 March 1978, PLO members infiltrated Israel from Lebanon, and killed 37 Israeli civilians riding in a bus in the Tel Aviv area, as well as an American nature photographer on an Israeli beach and injured 76 Israelis, in what became known as the Coastal Road massacre. The attack was the most deadly in a string of attacks that the PLO had launched from Lebanon. It triggered Israel's Operation Litani against PLO bases in southern Lebanon three days later.
Five days after Operation Litani began, UN Security Council Resolution 425 (1978) called upon Israel to: "withdraw forthwith its forces from all Lebanese territory." The phrase "all territory" was used in Resolution 425, contrasting with the language in Resolution 242 (1967).
On 7 October 2000, three Israeli soldiers – Adi Avitan, Staff Sgt. Benyamin Avraham, and Staff Sgt. Omar Sawaidwere – were abducted by Hezbollah across the Israeli-Lebanese border. The soldiers were killed either during the attack or in its immediate aftermath.
The phrase "all territory" was used in Resolution 425, in contrast to the language in Resolution 242 (1967), which led to semantic disputes about the meaning of the term "the".
On 22 May 2000, Israel claimed to have completed its withdrawal from the southern Lebanon in accordance with Resolution 425. The UN certified the completion of the Israeli pullout. However, Lebanon rejected the UN finding that Israel had complied with the Resolution.
In 2000, Lebanon disputed Israel's compliance with Resolution 425 (1978). Lebanon claimed that the Shebaa Farms area was actually Lebanese, and demanded that the Israelis should therefore withdraw from there as well. Lebanon asserted that the UN certification of the Israeli withdrawal was "invalid," because of Lebanon's claim to the Farms.
Lebanese officials point to land deeds, stamped by the Lebanese government, that were held by a number of area residents in the 1940s and 1950s.
The Lebanese claim to this area is asserted by Hezbollah for its continuing conflict with Israel, and its cross-border attacks after the Israeli withdrawal. Senior Lebanese officials also linked the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Shebaa to Hezbollah’s disarmament. "If the U.S. and friendly countries help us achieve the withdrawal of Israel from Shebaa farms, this would make it possible for the Lebanese forces to be the sole owner of weapons and arms in the country," Lebanese Prime Minister Foaud Seniora said. Those comments were echoed by Lebanese President Émile Lahoud who said that "the resistance should be kept until a just and comprehensive peace is achieved in the region", adding that "if the Lebanese army were deployed along the borders (with Israel) ... it would be turned into a police force to protect Israel's borders, and this is not acceptable.
Lebanese politician Walid Jumblatt has stated that Lebanon has no valid claim to the Shebaa farms area, though both the prime minister and president acknowledge that Lebanon does indeed have a claim to the Shebaa farms area.
On 28 August 2006, Hezbollah fighters withdrew from positions facing Israeli lines in the Shebaa Farms area.
Maps published on the Lebanese army website show different versions of the Lebanese southern border. While the Shebaa Farms themselves are not marked on the maps, it is evident from one map that the border runs north of the Shebaa Farms, while another map marks the border south of the Farms.
According to an Arab newspaper, Al-Hayat, most Lebanese, in fact, had never heard or read about the Farms, even in their national school curricula. "The issue over these farms was created to justify resistance operations from Lebanon after the UN had created the Blue Line following Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon. The Shebaa farms were placed inside Syrian territory. It should be noted that Syria, which claims that the farms are Lebanese, has not presented a single document to the UN to prove it. Moreover, Syria refuses to demarcate its borders with Lebanon.
In August 1972, Syrian president Hafez al-Assad said, "Syria and Lebanon are a single country." Syria does not maintain an embassy in Beirut, which would indicate recognition of Lebanese independence. Similarly, a professor of political science, Daniel Pipes (Editor of Middle East Quarterly), and others have written about Syria's failure to establish diplomatic relations with Lebanon. In addition, Lebanon does not appear as an independent state in maps in Syrian textbooks, but rather as part of Greater Syria.
The Shebaa Farms also appear as part of Syria on the large-scale map on the Syrian Ministry of Tourism's website.
In 2002 Israeli officials noted that Syria treated the area as its own over the years. They pointed to the fact, for example, that a Syrian census in 1960 included the residents of the Farms.
On 16 May 2000, the Syrian Foreign Minister, Farouq al-Shara, indicated to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in a telephone conversation that Syria supported Lebanon's claim. This was made public in the UN Press Release SC/6878 of 18 June 2000 which stated "Concerning the Shab'a farmlands, both Lebanon and Syria state that this land belongs to Lebanon."
Support for the Lebanese claim was reiterated in January 21, 2006, by the President of Syria in a speech before the convention of the Arab Lawyers Union in Damascus and translated into English by SANA, the official state news agency of Syria. President Bashar al-Assad stated that there are two legal requirements for demarcating the border: first, the complaint must be registered with the UN; and second, engineers must precisely define the border. As neither Syria nor Lebanon have access to the area, Assad argues that resolution is waiting on Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territory.
On August 15, 2006, however, Syria said it would not object to the deployment in Shebaa of UNIFIL soldiers, but would not allow the Lebanese Army to patrol or set up positions there.
In an interview with Assad reported by SANA on August 24, 2006, Assad flatly refused demarcation of the Syrian/Lebanese border near Shebaa Farms before a withdrawal of Israeli troops.
The United Nations agreed with Israel that the area is not covered by United Nations UN Security Council Resolution 425, which governed the withdrawal from Lebanon, inasmuch as the Farms are not Lebanese territory, and the UN certified Israel's pullout. At the same time the UN noted that its decision was "without prejudice to future border agreements between the Member States concerned," referring to Israel, Syria, and Lebanon.
The UN stated:
In a 18 June 2000 statement, the Security Council noted that Israel and Lebanon had confirmed to the Secretary General, that identification of the withdrawal line was solely the responsibility of the UN and that both sides would respect the line as identified. Moreover, the Security Council took note, "with serious concern," of reports of violations - by Hezbollah - that had occurred since June 16, 2000, and called upon the parties to respect the line drawn by the United Nations.
On a fact-finding visit to the region, Terje Rød-Larsen, the UN special envoy to the Middle East, noted that the 1923 Anglo-French demarcation and the 1949 Armistice line clearly designated the area as Syrian territory.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in remarks to the press with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, Foreign Minister of Spain Josep Pique, Foreign Minister of Russia Igor Ivanov, and European Union Senior Official Javier Solana in Madrid, Spain, on 10 April 2002, said:
More recently, the 20 January 2005 UN Secretary-General's report on Lebanon stated rather emphatically:
The BBC quoted Timur Goskel, a spokesman for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) as saying that "no-one disputed that the village of Shebaa itself was in Lebanon, but most of the farms fell into an undefined area that may be either in Lebanon or Syria" and although the UN was not a "boundary marking authority [...] on all maps the UN has been able to find, the farms are seen on the Syrian side [of the border].
On 11 July 2007, an unnamed official in Jerusalem stated that an expert UN cartographer deemed the area to be Lebanese territory, but Israel rejected the UN's request to control the area until the dispute was resolved.
Israel's position emphasises that the area is not covered by UN Security Council Resolution 425, which governed Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon, stating that the Farms were not Lebanese territory. In support of that view, Israel points to the fact that the UN certified Israel's pullout from Lebanon as having been completed.
Israel is of the view that the land was Syrian at the time that Israel conquered it during the Six Day War. Israel alleges that this new dispute raised by Hezbollah is a further excuse to continue violent actions, and even if Israel withdrew from Har Dov then Hezbollah would find a new "disputed area".
On 21 June 2008, DEBKAFile claimed that in a 15 June 2008 meeting in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that he was "willing to evacuate Israeli troops and hand [the Shebaa farms] to United Nations custody as early as July.
Along similar lines, John Bolton, the former United States Ambassador to the United Nations, said on April 26, 2006: "I think the overwhelming preponderance of the evidence is that Shebaa Farms is Syrian territory.
In June, 2008, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Beirut, stating that "the United States believes that the time has come to deal with the Shebaa Farms issue ... in accordance with [[United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701|[U.N. Security Council Resolution] 1701]].
The Arab League backed Lebanon's claim with a communique issued at Arab League's 13th session in 2001, asking for "complete Israeli withdrawal from all occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, from the occupied Syrian Golan Heights to the line of 4 June 1967 and from the remaining occupied Lebanese territory up to the internationally recognized borders, including the Shab`a farmlands".
Former Vice President of Syria Abdel-Halim Khaddam, in an interview with the Lebanese Future Television on 27 August 2006, speaking of Syria's most recent comments regarding Shebaa Farms, said: "Saying that the farms are occupied, and hence cannot be demarcated, is nothing but a pretext. The demarcation would not take more than an hour if there was a political will.
In 2002, a fellow from the Harry S. Truman Research Instititute at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Dr. Asher Kaufman, came across documents in French government archives while researching the issue. In one, French litigants in a private dispute, and their arbitrators, entered into a private commercial agreement that suggested that the border should put the Farms in Lebanon. Two other documents, from 1937 and 1939, were reports from the administrative councillor of south Lebanon and the head of the Services Speciaux in the Syrian town of Quneitra. They noted a discrepancy between the border, as determined by the 1:200,000 Ottoman map, and their view of the "reality" in the region. Collecting "unofficial information" from "various sources," they concluded that in their view the area was Lebanese. Their conclusion, however, was based on the facts that: a) some area residents paid taxes to Lebanon; and b) 3 or 4 sheep pens in the Farms belonged to residents of the Lebanese village of Shaba. After Kaufman published his findings, an editorial in the Lebanese newspaper "the Daily Star" chided the Lebanese academic community, indicating that it was embarrassing that the discovery had been left to an Israeli researcher.
In a book published in Hebrew in 1988, Moshe Braver, an Israeli geographer, mentions two French maps published in 1932 and 1946, the former shows the farm area as being part of Lebanon while the latter shows the area as a Syrian territory