A test case in population transfer: Ghajar
For the purposes of this article, a “population transfer” is understood to include land swaps of populated land.
A test of ideology awaits the Israeli left next week. Similarly, the constraints on Israeli government power will be tested in what may be a trial-run for future scenarios involving the two-state solution. Government officials on Saturday announced that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will present plans to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on Monday in New York for a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the northern half of the border-town of Ghajar. The town’s residents say they are Syrian, the UN says that the town is split between Israel and Lebanon, and nearly all of its residents hold Israeli citizenship. So the question becomes, is Israel planning on transferring its own citizens to an enemy state, which the transferees claim they have no connection to?
In the past year, the Israeli left has reacted strongly and loudly to hints by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman of plans – or even the floating of ideas – of transfering some Israeli-Arabs to Palestinian control. The thought of a forced population transfer is indeed repulsive. Although any two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians will need to deal with many issues relating to citizenship and land swaps, it has become simply unacceptable in the modern world to strip citizens of their citizenship through no fault of their own.
Back to Ghajar. When Israel captured the Golan Heights in 1967, the residents of Ghajar actually petitioned the Israeli governor to be included in the newly-Israeli-controlled territory. The town had been under Syrian control prior to the ’67 war and the residents – members of the same Allawtite minority as Syria’s ruling class – considered themselves to be Syrian rather than Lebanese. So when Israel officially annexed the Golan Heights in 1981, the residents of the town were offered, and accepted, Israeli citizenship. However, when Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000 and the UN demarcated the “Blue Line” border between the two countries, Ghajar found itself split between Israel and Lebanon. After the 2006 Lebanon War, Israel reoccupied the northern half of the town in order to keep Hizb’allah out. Since then, the UN and the US have been pressuring Israel to withdraw once again from northern Ghajar. This week, Netanyahu and Lieberman announced that they plan on doing so.
In December of 2009, the last time there was talk of transferring the town to Lebanese control, over 2,000 of Ghajar’s residents took to the streets to protest the prospect of being transferred to a country they don’t identify themselves with, and of being cut off from the country they are citizens of. Whatever the reasons for the town’s opposition to being placed under Lebanese sovereignty, the result remains the same: Israeli citizens would be transferred against their will to Lebanon.
So will this prospect of forced population transfer see the same opposition from the Israeli left as the similar prospective transfer of Israeli-Arabs to Palestine? The question becomes: Are the ideals of the Israeli leftists universally applied when it comes to the most serious issue of population transfer, or do they only apply when in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
Will Israel place its citizens under the sovereign control of an enemy state? If so, will Ghajar’s residents – who are Israeli citizens – retain the freedom of movement in Israel that they have today? Will the Israeli left protest this population transfer with the same vigor seen when it speaks out against the transfer of Umm el-Fahm? The answers to all of these questions are completely unknown. There is simply no precedent.