(Response to F. Hof Essay, “The Line of June 4, 1967”, MEI, Sept 1999.)

Frederic Hof has written a timely and well-researched essay on the dividing line between Syria and Israel since 1948. This is particularly useful. The frequent reference in the news to the June 4, 1967 line is not matched by a clear picture of how and why this line came about and where it might be.

The following article describes the history and significance of three line the 1923 international boundary line, the July 20, 1949 Armistice line enclosing the demilitarized zone (DMZ) and the mysterious June 4, 1967 line. Hof has covered much of the factual background. So I will not repeat it here unless there is a comment to make.

(1) The 1923 international boundary

It must be recalled that this line, dividing a homogeneous Arab country, was created largely to meet the Zionist plan submitted to the Paris Peace conference in 1919. The plan, presented to fulfil the promise made by Balfour to hand over Palestine to the Jews, requires that all water resources leading to Palestine shall be within it. On Feb 3, 1922, the British Officer Newcome and the French Officer Paulet signed an agreement demarcating the boundary, which was ratified by the High Commissioners of Palestine and Syria the following year.

The efforts of Meinertzhagen, a British Colonial Officer, who was an ardent Zionist and anti-Arab racist (according to his ‘Middle East Diary’) have led to the inclusion of the mouth of River Yarmouk, River Jordan north of Tiberias, Huleh and Tiberias lakes within the territory of Palestine but failed to include Litani river which, the French insisted, would remain in the new Christian state of Lebanon.

This brought havoc to the local population. Twenty two villages of Safad District were dissected, leaving people cut off from their land and livelihood. The unrest which followed led to The Good Neighborly Agreement of 1926 which stipulated the following terms:

  1. Syria is a riparian country to Jordan. It has free access to water anywhere for fishing, navigation and irrigation.
  2. The inhabitants of the region, whether now classified as Syrians or Palestinians, can move freely with their goods across the boundary; they are subject to min. customs duty, not greater than the lowest of either country.
  3. A special committee shall be formed to resolve disputes. Failing amicable resolution, the matter shall be referred to the International Court of Justice, which was under the League of Nations in Geneva.
  4. In the 1923 agreement, Syria is entitled to the use of the railway line to Samakh (a town at the southern edge of Lake Tiberias), and a special pier for its goods there. This and other positive provisions of the 1923 agreement were maintained.

Here we have a clearly special status for this area, a forerunner of the DMZ. The reference to the International Court of Justice is highly significant. If Syria does not recognize the 1923 line (as the author states), this is probably in relation to its rights in the territory of the DMZ.

It is doubtful whether Syria will give up its rights under the 1926 Agreement. It remains the burden of Israel to prove that it has any rights. The legal basis of these rights, whether as inheritors of Colonial rule, according to UN resolution 181 for the partition of Palestine or by military conquest should be examined and agreed by the parties.

(2) The Armistice Line of 20 July 1949

Syria entered Palestine on 15 May 1948 to save its people. On that date, Jewish forces had already expelled 52% of the refugees. The territory which Syria controlled on the date of Armistice Agreement is the following: the north sector, north of Azizat (4 sq. km.); the central sector, south of Huleh and a strip along the Jordan (34 sq. km.) and the south sector, east of Lake Tiberias (32 sq. km.).

This territory is largely Palestinian Arab. It had 10 Palestinian villages (Khan el Duweir in the northern sector; Baqqara, Ghannameh, Mansurat el Khayt, Yirda in the central sector; Samra, old and new Nuqeib, Kh. Tawafiq and al Hemma in the southern sector). There were only two Jewish settlements: Mishmar Hayarden and Ein Gev.

The author mentions the two Jewish settlements and only two of the ten Palestinian villages. Another important fact, is that this area was never controlled militarily by Israeli forces prior to the Armistice Agreement.

It was Arab (Palestinian/Syrian), by historical continuity, not “by default”.

The map shown here reflects DMZ as interpreted from the Armistice Agreement. Article V, para 5a, of the Armistice Agreement states: “This provision applies to the Ein Gev and Dardara sectors which shall form part of the Demilitarized Zone”.

DMZ is not limited to the area bounded by the Armistice Line and the boundary line. The quoted passage indicates this. (The author’s map correctly defines the Armistice Demarcation Line as per Annex 1 of the Armistice Agreement).

The negotiations leading to the Armistice Agreement were strenuous lasting from April to July 1949. The Israelis insisted on the withdrawal of Syrian forces from the area so that the area becomes demilitarized.

The Syrians rejected this demand. Dr. R. Bunche the UN Acting Mediator finally arrived at a solution by issuing what is known as the “authoritative statement”. The author did not mention this statement without which the Syrians would have never signed the Armistice Agreement.

Three weeks before the signing, on 26 June 1949, Dr. Bunche sent a letter to both the Israeli and Syrian sides. This letter is part of the official record. In it he specifically excluded Israel’s claims of sovereignty over the area to be included in the Armistice Agreement. “Questions of permanent boundaries, territorial sovereignty, customs, trade relations and the like must be dealt with in the ultimate peace agreement and not in the armistice agreement”, he stated (his emphasis).

It is to be pointed out that the listed topics reflect the same issues stipulated by the 1926 Agreement. Dr. Bunche went on to say, addressing Moshe Sharett, Israel’s Foreign Minister, “From the beginning of these negotiations, our greatest difficulty has been to meet Israel’s unqualified demand that Syrian forces be withdrawn from Palestine.

We have now, with very great effort, persuaded the Syrians to agree to this. I trust this will not be undone by legalistic demands about broad principles of sovereignty and administration which in any case would be worked out satisfactorily in the practical operation of the scheme” (my emphasis). Dr. Bunche extended the exclusion of Israel’s claims of sovereignty to other demilitarized areas, such as the Government House and Mt.

Scopus in Jerusalem and El-Auja DMZ (260 sq. km.) on Palestine/Egypt border. Two years after Dr. Bunche’s statement, the Security Council, in its resolution on May 18, 1951 about Israeli violations of the Armistice Agreement, affirmed his statement and called upon the parties to give effect to “the authoritative comment on article V of the SyrianIsraeli Agreement”.

The Armistice conditions were clear. No political or military activity in the area, the local population (Arab majority and Jews) have freedom of living, work and movement, civil administration and ‘Arab’ and Jewish local police are to be set up, no heavy arms within 5 km of the armistice line and full authority of UN Truce Supervision to supervise the civil administration.

(3) The mysterious line of June 4, 1967

Soon after the Armistice signing, Israelis started to assert control of DMZ in an effort to claim sovereignty.

It is now well-documented that Israelis provoked clashes (80% according to Dayan) with Syrians as a justification for introducing military forces into the area. Obviously this was in direct violation of the Armistice Agreement. Israelis then started to divert the River Jordan and drain lake Huleh.

The Security Council condemned this action and ordered Israel to stop all diversion work. US President, Gen. Eisenhower stopped financial aid to Israel.

Israelis expelled most Palestinians from their villages to Syria (3,770, now 23,100).

Those who remained (600) were relocated in Sha’ab near Acre. One of them, Abu Salim Khawalid, had this to say in his testimony, “The soldiers ordered us to leave the village that very night, and threatened that if we did not leave, they would do to us what was done to the inhabitants of Al-Husseiniya village.

We knew that the Jews had slaughtered dozens of them like sheep. We were absolutely panic-stricken”. All these and similar actions make the substance of “some 66,000 official complaints about the conduct of the other”, which the author referred to in passing.

A statement by the Israeli Foreign Minister on 15 April 1951 claimed Israeli sovereignty over DMZ as of 14 May 1948, on the basis that, “it was always part and parcel of the British Mandated Territory”.

The British immediately rejected the statement as “most menacing assertion” and noted that Israel had on numerous occasions firmly refused to have themselves regarded as the successors of the former Palestine Government” and noted that “firm UN action was necessary in order to combat Israeli pretensions”.

Ben Gurion was determined to seize the demilitarized zones in the north with Syria, in Jerusalem with Jordan and in the south (El Auja) with Egypt. Frequent attacks on Syria were designed to provoke Nasser into war to defend Syria under the Combined Defence Pact of 20 October 1955.

Nasser did not respond, neither did he respond when Egypt itself was attacked in Subha and Kuntilla. So, another plan was devised. The collusion of Britain, France and Israel in the Suez Campaign of 1956 provided the required opportunity to seize both DMZ areas in the north and the south.

By October 1956, Israeli troops under Sharon, have succeeded in expelling the population of Auja, all the remaining Palestinians in and around Huleh and in Samra and Nuqeib on Lake Tiberias.

This left a continuous strip of land in DMZ, approximately 40% of the whole area, under Syrian control. It is clear therefore that Israel only, not Syria as well, attempted “to take max advantage” of the territory under the Armistice Agreement, and there was no “ambiguity” about its terms.

Which line to follow?

First of all, June 4 line should be excluded. This line is not officially shown on any map. It is not part of any agreement or treaty.

It has no legal basis whatsoever. It is merely the line dictated by the intrusion of Israeli forces into DMZ in strict violation of the Armistice Agreement.

That is why it is omitted from my map. This line represents the anti-thesis of peace.

Palestinian villages were destroyed, their inhabitants expelled, their land confiscated, unauthorized diversion took place and Israeli military occupation encroached on the area.

There can be no reward for these actions; they must not be condoned, but should be undone.

The sovereignty issue

The Armistice Agreement has clearly excluded the inclusion or acceptance of Israel’s claims of sovereignty over DMZ under its terms.

The claim that Israel is the Successor State to Palestine is baseless. (In fact, this has been denied repeatedly by Israel lest it should offer the Palestinians nationality and other obligations of the state).

Israel claims that it should annex this area because it falls in the Jewish part of the Partition Plan (UN Resolution 181). If that is the contention, Israel should hand back 24% of Palestine (6,320 sq. km. or about 100 times DMZ) occupied over and above its allocation in the plan.

Syria shall insist on the return of the expelled refugees and restitution of their land as “decided” by the Security Council resolution of May 18, 1951. Syria will not accept Israeli sovereignty on land beyond the agreed line whatever it may be.

It will be recalled that in the Peace Treaties with Egypt and Jordan, Israel recognized the sovereignty of those countries on lands beyond Palestine border while the reverse (sovereignty inside Palestine border along the Armistice line) remained qualified and left in abeyance pending eventual peace treaty with the Palestinians.

No doubt, Syria would not concede sovereignty to Israel before an acceptable agreement is made with the Palestinians.

The Military Issue

Important visitors to Israel are taken routinely to the Golan to see the cliffs towering over the ‘defenseless’ plains beyond Tiberias.

This may impress those dignitaries but most military experts agree these cliffs by themselves do not pose any appreciable threat to Israel. In the age of rockets and sophisticated aircraft, this terrain does not offer overwhelming advantages.

Even in a surprise attack, IDF can repulse any attack from its fortified positions around Safad mountains. Moshe Arens, the former Defence Minister, says that Syrian Army is “completely inferior” to IDF.

Israelis propose buffer zones, early warning systems and other communication equipment and expect the US to pay $ 10 billion for that. (Similar amount was allocated for partial withdrawal from the West Bank).

A similar early warning station built in Um-Khashaba in Sinai (now moved to Urim in the Negev) failed to function as planned. Massive armaments and huge funds paid by the US will not buy peace. If anyone needs security, it is Syria.

Damascus lies within the range of Israeli artillery and it is this artillery that should be pulled back. Syria respects its agreements. It should be remembered that during the violent clashes of 1951-1956, indeed from 1949 to 1967, not a single Israeli civilian was killed, while dozens of Syrian civilians were bombed and machine-gunned.

The water issue

In the ultimate analysis, Israel is not concerned about a military threat, or even a sovereignty issue.

Israel’s main objective is to control Arab water resources. All else is secondary. It is believed that Syria will never surrender its rights as a riparian state to the river Jordan and lake Tiberias and may ask for compensation for its diverted resources in the last 50 years. Such rights are clearly spelled out in the 1926 Good Neighborly agreement.

The Armistice Agreement, although temporary in nature, did not invalidate these rights.

The obstacles in negotiations are derived from Israel’s aim to exploit the water resources exclusively. Israel now uses 50 million cubic meters (mcm) annually from Syrian Golan, 100 mcm from Yarmouk river compared to 25, its share according to Johnston Plan and 550 mcm, from Upper Jordan compared to its share of 375. Two thirds of Israel’s water consumption is taken illegally from Arab waters in and outside Palestine.

A report prepared by Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, which remained classified for some time, shows the max. limit of Israeli withdrawal from the Golan such that Arab water sources remain under Israeli control. (see map).

On the face of it, Israel will look generous by returning “most” of Golan to Syria. In fact, Syria would then be non-riparian and its waters are diverted to Israel.

In conclusion, the author has presented a useful and carefully worded resumé of the Israeli/Palestinian/Syrian border issue.

He is to be commended for his effort. Perhaps due to the close association between US and Israel (which does not necessarily reflect common national interests) and no doubt due to the scarcity of Arab sources he found it easier to derive his information from Israeli sources.

Nevertheless, the author tried hard to walk along the tight rope of impartiality. It is hoped that the above comments will shed some light on the issue from another perspective.

Permanent peace, when and if it comes, can only be based on legitimate rights and international law. As we know well from the tragic events of this century, naked power is transient and leads to more bloodshed. None other than US President, Dwight D.

Eisenhower, has stated at the height of Suez Campaign in 1957, “Should a nation which attacks and occupies foreign territory in the face of UN disapproval be allowed to impose the conditions of its withdrawal? If so, I fear we have turned back the clock of international order”.

This sentiment should return to be the guiding principle for any future dispute resolution.