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April 28, 2002
The Shifting Maps of Syria

By Louis Farshee


The Shifting Maps of Syria:
The Case of Shebaa Farms

By Louis Farshee

Since the end of World War I and the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, the territory that comprised Greater Syria remains under the surgical knife of various imperial powers. The result has been the dismemberment of lands from Syria and the transferring of them to the sovereignty of others.

Greater Syria existed as a cultural unit for centuries and included lands that today are contemporary Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza and Israel. Under the rule of the Ottoman Empire from 1517 to 1917, Greater Syria was divided into administrative districts but governed as a single political unit from Damascus.

In 1919, the Supreme Council of the Paris Peace Conference dispatched the King-Crane Commission to the Middle East to determine the political aspirations of the Greater Syrian population. Among the Commission's several findings, submitted to the Peace Conference in August 1919, was an overwhelming appeal for a united and independent Syria. In late 1919 early 1920 a Greater Syrian government was formed when the General Syrian Congress convened in Damascus and elected Faisal as its head, who had led, with T.E. Lawrence, the WWI Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire.

In defiance of the recommendations of the King-Crane Commission, the French initiated Greater Syria's dismemberment when, in 1920, they carved out the State of Lebanon. This was the first repudiation of Syrian self-determinism elicited and documented by the King-Crane Commission. A second French response was in the form of a military assault on Damascus followed by the overthrow of Faisal and his exile to Iraq.

France's unilateral action in Greater Syria was followed in 1921 when Winston Churchill drew arbitrary lines on a tablecloth over dinner in Cairo and created the boundaries of much of the modern Middle East. Churchill and his British advisers were independent actors in this project and did not bother to consult the indigenous populations to determine their political aspirations and had no desire to abide by the King-Crane recommendations, which were ignored not only by the British but also, by the Paris Peace Conference and kept secret until 1922.

That same year, with issuance to Great Britain of the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, the British contrived boundaries were legitimized in the Mandatory document and Palestine, detached from Greater Syria, became an imperial sponsored colonization project that remains a work in progress to this day.

In 1938, acting under its assumed authority as the Mandatory power in Syria and Lebanon, France sponsored a fraudulent referendum in the northwestern Syrian province of Hatay and established the so-called Republic of Hatay. Among the cities in this province were Alexandretta and Antioch both with overwhelming Arab majorities. The following year, France ceded the province to Turkey and that decision to redistribute Syrian territory to Turkey continues to be a point of contention between the two countries.

With the 1948 emergence of the State of Israel in conquered Palestine the Zionist geographical agenda first espoused at the Paris Peace Conference was once again set into motion. At the close of the 1967 war, after the declaration of a UN cease-fire, Israel seized the Golan Heights of Syria, expelled the indigenous Syrian population and annexed the land. Included in this conquered territory was a little patch of earth known as Shebaa Farms.

Shebaa Farms is a current news item almost daily. The land, continuously occupied by Israel's military forces since 1967, is the scene of intermittent artillery exchanges between the occupying Israeli military forces and the Lebanese Hizbollah resistance organization that forced Israel to end its 22 year occupation of South Lebanon in June 2000. During his April 2002 failed peace mission through the Middle East, US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, traveled to Beirut and Damascus to seek Lebanese and Syrian governmental support for the curtailment of Hizbollah resistance to Israel's military occupation of Shebaa Farms. Nothing reported in news accounts of Mr. Powell's meetings with Lebanese, Syrian and Israeli officials, however, mentioned that the surest means of defusing the perceived crisis would be an Israeli withdrawal from Shebaa Farms.

But something equally interesting emerged during Mr. Powell's Beirut-Damascus jaunt. Mr. Powell stated that Shebaa Farms wasn't part of Lebanon at all, it was part of Syria. For his source of authority he argued, "maps in the possession of the United Nations refer to the area as Syrian land." If this assertion is a precedent and the determinant factor in legitimizing sovereignty over territory, Mr. Powell should apply his UN map rule to all the actors in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

He might begin with the map attached to the 1947 UN General Assembly resolution recommending the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states. A cursory review of that map by the most elementary geography student would reveal that the State of Israel today not only occupies the 5600 square miles of Palestine allocated by the UN for the Jewish state, it occupies an additional 1800 square miles seized in its 1948 war of conquest that lies between the 1947 partition lines and the 1949 armistice lines plus, all of the remaining 2200 square miles of Palestine known as the West Bank and Gaza. Beyond these lands Israel continues to occupy the Golan Heights, of which Shebaa Farms is a part.

If Mr. Powell and the US government were truly interested in resolving the legitimate grievances of the Lebanese and Syrian governments and defusing the Shebaa Farms powder keg, they would demand and enforce an end to Israel's occupation. In his statement that Shebaa Farms is Syrian land, Mr. Powell tacitly affirmed that it is occupied territory.

If the Syrians want to transfer, assign, loan or give Shebaa Farms to Lebanon that is a matter for Lebanon and Syria to decide.

After all, the British, French, and Israelis have all had their hands in the Syrian map-making business, why can't the Syrians and Lebanese decide among themselves where their boundaries lie?

This won't happen, of course, because imperialism is alive and well in its assault on Syria and Lebanon. The wishes of the Lebanese and Syrian governments, heirs to the remnants of Greater Syria, will continue to be ignored by the US, Great Britain, France and Israel, just as the wishes of an earlier generation who expressed their aspirations to the King-Crane Commission were ignored.

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