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Welcome to splitsville

The UN resolved a border dispute between Lebanon and Israel but left one village divided ... literally.

However Hezbollah militants erected a tent outside it and its militants eventually penetrated Ghajar and headed for the southern gate. They were ambushed and the Israelis renewed their patrols in northern Ghajar. Now a high fence separates the village from the rest of Lebanon, Hezbollah is no longer there, the United Nations’ Interim Force in Lebanon installed a row of floodlights and a white watch tower. Spanish peacekeepers man it.

But the landline phones in northern Ghajar are dead because Israeli technicians do not go there to fix them. The residents use cellular phones. Their car insurance is not valid there and when a person dies his body has to be taken to Ghajar’s entrance so that an Israeli official can sign a death certificate authorizing his burial. “They don’t even let us die in peace,” Ghajar’s spokesman Najib el-Khattib complained.

And Israel finds itself, again, pressured to complete its withdrawal, a move expected to bolster the moderates in Beirut and weaken Hezbollah which keeps arming itself to continue fighting. U.S., French and Italian officials have raised the issue with the Israeli government and Beirut’s Daily Star recently quoted the U.N.’s Special Coordinator to Lebanon Michael Williams as having said his organization would “redouble” its efforts to get the Israelis out.

Israeli officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said the U.N. suggested that UNIFIL move into northern Ghajar, assume responsibility for security there, that the Israeli army would be in the southern sector and that residents could move from side to side.

A senior Israelis official noted, however, that Ghajar’s residents are “first and foremost Israeli citizens” so the government is seeking arrangements that would guarantee their security, that “the lifestyle will stay as it was,” and so far no agreement has been reached.

The residents fear Ghajar would be divided. El-Khattib noted the village’s school, mosque and cemetery are in the southern side. “We cannot have a situation where UNIFIL will be in the middle of the village with checkpoints … . We’re not going to allow it. It’s like cutting your body in half.” He said they would welcome transferring the entire village with all its lands to Lebanon, so that it would then be returned to Syria, but an Israeli official said this is not on the agenda.

Ahmed the grocer, speaking in fluent Hebrew, wanted to maintain his ties with Israel. “I am an Arab and Lebanon is an Arab country,” he said, but returning the area to Lebanon would be like “bringing me back to being a child and I would have to grow up all over again … . I don’t know the rules … . They’ll take advantage of the fact I am not familiar with things … . Sure it bothers me.”

In his store, stocked with Israeli-made products, he added: “The best thing for me is to stay in the country I was born in, the country in which I grew up, that I know and understand … . Imagine yourself being a refugee in your own home, on your own land.”

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify a reference to Ghajar.