The view of Ghajar from the Upper Galilee
The view of Ghajar from the Upper GalileeIsrael news photo: Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu

The arrest Sunday night of four suspected heroin smugglers near the northern border village of Ghajar highlights the dilemma of a town that is claimed by three countries. The drug gang was caught trying to bring into Israel 5.5 kilograms (12.1 pounds) of a substance believed to be heroin.  

Drug smuggling is one of the prime sources of income for the Hizbullah terrorist organization in Lebanon, where most of the world’s heroin is believed to be processed.

Most of the residents of Ghajar are in the bizarre situation of having ancestral ties with Syria, holding Israeli citizenship by choice and being threatened with becoming part of Lebanon if Israel confirms increasing rumors that it will agree to withdraw from the area. Hizbullah and Lebanon have declared that the Israeli presence in the tiny village is a threat to Lebanese security.

However, most of the villagers feel their security will be threatened if Israel were to relinquish control of the area, which was restored to the Jewish State in the Six-Day War in 1967. Ghajar developed northward after Israel handed over the land to Lebanon's army as part of the “Good Fence” policy in the late 1970s.

Unlike Druze residents of the neighboring Golan Heights, Ghajar residents petitioned Israel in 1981 for citizenship.

After then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak ordered the sudden withdrawal of the IDF from southern Lebanon in 2000, the southern part of the village remained in Israel’s hands while the northern part became part of Lebanon, based on the United Nations demarcation of the so-called “Blue Line” that officially defines two-thirds of the land as being in Syria.

Israel again took over the northern part in the Second Lebanon War, but the possibility of an Israeli surrender leaves the villagers in a quandary.

'The UN Mistake'

"The U.N. made a huge mistake when they demarcated the Blue Line," village leader Najib Khatib told The Media Line, a Middle East news agency. "They based it on maps from 1923, way before Israel even existed. This is a Syrian village. Nobody wants this [division]. They are going to divide families, take mothers from their kids. We have no problem if Israel wants to return the entire village to Lebanon. The entire village is one big family and we won't let the U.N. come in just to divide us."

Village leaders say the town and its residents’ heritage is Syrian, despite their location in Lebanon and many of the residents' holding Israeli citizenship.

They don't give us problems"

However, many of Ghajar’s Israeli citizens prefer the treatment they receive from the Jewish State over that of Lebanon, which is dominated by Hizbullah in the south, or from Syria. “They don't give us problems," a local school teacher, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Media Line. "We are Israeli citizens and we can go in and out as we like. The problem is they keep changing their minds about the village's status."

The United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) plan for Israel to withdraw, possible this month, according to Lebanese media sources. UNIFIL would deploy 12 peacekeepers in addition to three Lebanese army soldiers and an officer in the northern part of the village, on condition that movements within the town are not restricted.

Several hundred villagers recently demonstrated against the U.N. plan and rumored Israeli withdrawal, which would leave UNIFIL in charge of security beyond the fence that separates Ghajar from the Hizbullah-controlled territory. The international forces have allowed Hizbullah to smuggle thousands of rockets into southern Lebanon since the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 ended the Second Lebanon War. Lebanon and Hizbullah demand that Israel surrender Ghajar in accordance with the same resolution.

This week’s drug bust leaves the residents in the same quandary of being Israeli citizens fearful of Hizbullah in Lebanon while considering themselves Syrians, whose country has tightened its dominance of Lebanon through its ties with Iran and Hizbullah.