Frontline World

ISRAEL, Tracing Borders, February 2003
On the Lebanese Frontier

The Israeli-Lebanon border fence near Kibbutz Menara has been moved since Israel's withdrawal                       from Lebanon.

The Israeli-Lebanon border fence near Kibbutz Menara has been moved since Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon.
Kibbutz Menara: Where Bodies Built Borders

Leaving Jameela and family, I head north, going backward in Israeli-Arab border history, to Kibbutz Menara, the oldest Jewish settlement directly on the Lebanon border. Among the settlement's 270 members are a handful of elderly founders. Shaul Haxter, a refugee from Nazi Germany now 79 years old, tells me he came to the bald rock of Al-Menara in 1943 to expand the borders of Jewish settlement with his own body. During those first cold months, Shaul and four
Shaul Haxter

Shaul Haxter slept in a cave to help establish the border outside Al-Menara in 1943.
others pushed the limits of their country-to-be by sleeping in hilltop caves near the border. "We had to be here to make facts and say, 'Jews are here,'" he tells me simply. "We had to maintain the border."

In those days, he explains, the border between British Mandate Palestine and French Mandate Lebanon was barely marked and not much respected, and the Zionist settlers hoped to reinforce it for their future claim to a state. Under Ottoman rule, "Palestine" did not exist, "Lebanon" referred only to the Mount Lebanon area, and "southern Syria" meant southern Lebanon and northern Palestine. France and Britain agreed to carve up the spoils of the fallen Ottoman empire after World War I and in 1923 drew borders on the ground --
After the first winter in caves, Jewish residents of Menara in the early 1940s lived in tents.

After the first winter in caves, Jewish residents of Menara in the early 1940s lived in tents.
though locals tended to ignore them. In 1938, the British erected double- and triple-layer barbed wire fences along the Lebanese-Israeli border. People protested the restrictions on their movement, and by 1939 the fences were gone.

In the early 1940s, two bulls and a wagon brought water, flour and provisions along a road from the Lebanese village Adessa to Menara. The kibbutz was cut off from other Jewish towns because no roads in Palestine led there, Shaul says. So the Holocaust
An old map at Kibbutz Menara

An old map at Kibbutz Menara says "The Land of Israel" and shows no borders.
survivor in the Palestine highlands learned Arabic along with Hebrew, maintaining more daily connections with Arab villages than with Jewish villages. In a kind of exclusive, two-sided border zone citizenship, Jewish frontier residents obtained passes from the British to access an area tens of kilometers wide on either side, and the Lebanese got passes from the French. That was over in 1948.

Our conversation is silenced for a minute by a low-flying United Nations helicopter on one of its daily rounds.

Refugee Palestinian fedayeen, or guerilla fighters, launched the first attacks on Menara in the early 1960s. Dan Ilan, the kibbutz secretary, recalls that the first fence was built around that time. It was a metal fence, he says, and the fedayeen cut through it.

First a fence.
The Israel-Lebanon border just after Israel's military withdrawal from Lebanon.

The Israel-Lebanon border just after Israel's military withdrawal from Lebanon. The border was later fortified and in some places, moved.
Then a smarter fence, with electronic sensors to detect touching or tampering. Then army patrols, daily plowing of the border area, more sophisticated sensor equipment. As Israel was building barriers, it was also overstepping them. Israel invaded Lebanon in 1978 to subdue the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Then the army withdrew, only to invade Beirut in 1982. As Israel fortified its fences, the Palestinian fedayeen crossed them: landmines, bazookas, rocket-propelled grenades, cannons -- then, recently, the katyusha rockets of the Iranian-backed militia Hezbollah came to Israel. After the Beirut invasion, Israeli soldiers remained in southern Lebanon to create a nine-mile-wide "security zone" and fight the Hezbollah in yet another border war.

The Lebanon Line: Hash and Hezbollah

May 24, 2000, the day that Israel withdrew its troops from Lebanon after occupying the south for decades, the Galilee roads filled with hitchhikers. Israeli conscripts were thumbing their way home from combat, and their Lebanese allies, now refugees, were waiting roadside for rides to anywhere. As the retreating armies drifted south, I drove north to report on what their departure from the Lebanese zone had created: a border where none had been for 22 years.

A flimsy, rusted double cyclone fence marked the border with Lebanon. Tourists from Tel Aviv arrived on the very day of the withdrawal to press themselves close to the barrier. Hezbollah fighters advanced to the fence as well. From opposite sides, they called out to each other: "We hate you!" "We don't hate you!" "My brother died!" "My son died!"

Now, two years later, at Kibbutz Menara, I see the Israeli government has built new fences on different lines. Kibbutz apple orchards and grapevines, planted when Lebanon did not seem to begin for miles, now directly abut Hezbollah-controlled territory.

A joke Lebanese passport

While Israel occupied Lebanon, Kibbutz Menara residents used to escort tourists to a kiosk that was on land technically part of Lebanon, and issue them joke Lebanese passports like this one.
My friends Yariv Heilbrunn and Roy Kfir take me for a tour of the fruit groves they tend. "The price of hash went up after Israel withdrew from Lebanon because the supply went down," they say. "But at some places along the border people just throw the drugs over the fence. They call it playing volleyball." Roy points out that Yariv has a gun under his T-shirt. He goes out to irrigate, alone, at 3 a.m. He drives through their fields in his tractor, its headlights beaming into the blank fields across the street in Lebanon. He's afraid.

In the kibbutz kitchen, the elderly Menara founder insists that it's safer here than in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. Even though to Israelis living in the big cities Menara seems to be past the edge of the country, there are no suicide bombs here. In a way, Shaul has realized his vision of 60 years ago and has helped to secure the periphery. "The fact is, I'm still here," he says. "I raised my children here and buried my wife here. We have the feeling we succeeded to build a place."

Yet not everything is resolved. At dusk near Menara, voices are still audible from the Lebanese villages at the bottom of the hill, where 60 years ago Shaul might have bought flour.

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