ABC gets Lebanon border wall story completely backwards

(Photo: AFP)

Leave it to the ABC to pervert news about perfectly reasonable Israeli defensive measures as somehow being about the protection of local Lebanese from Israeli aggression.

In an online article – accompanied by a shorter radio story on “AM” –  published Saturday entitled “Israel-Lebanon Blue Line wall to offer war-hit locals peace of mind, but some fears persist,” Middle East correspondent Adam Harvey managed to not interview a single Israeli, civilian or official, about an Israeli initiative to protect Israelis from Hezbollah aggression by building a massive concrete wall along the border (and just to be clear this wall is completely in Israeli territory, as the UN has certified). Hezbollah, which should be the crux of a story about Israeli defenses against Hezbollah, is mentioned once, and only in the context of Israel’s stated reasons for building the wall:

“Israel says the $600 million project is essential to stop Hezbollah fighters from attacking Israelis in the villages and settlements near the border.”

Instead, Harvey interviews a local from the village of Dhayra, who claims the wall will protect them from nonexistent Israeli incursions; and Andrea Tenenti, the spokesperson for the United Nations Interim Force In Lebanon (UNIFIL).

Here is Harvey’s description of the local villager and context:

“In one Lebanese village in the shadow of the wall, local man Ibrahim Abou Sari says the threat of incursion is from Israel.

“Now with a solid wall, it is like a protection for them, and almost a protection for us,” Mr Sari said.

The village of Dharya [sic] was occupied by Israel from 1982 to 2000. Now, the Israeli troops are about 200 metres away, on the other side of the new wall.

“Yes it’s a protection for us, no one can pass the border and enter the village to destroy the house they want, doing whatever they want as before the liberation,” he said.

Harvey fails to mention that Hezbollah, which ultimately controls the entire Lebanese government and all its various organs to some extent, has supreme control over the border with Israel, including Dhayra, where Hezbollah representative Nawwaf Moussawi addressed supporters in 2014. Dhayra is one of a string of villages in the South that Hezbollah has turned into virtual armouries in preparation for its next war with Israel.

Hezbollah has given previous media tours of the region, in coordination with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and UNIFIL, to showcase their armed forces and specifically to demonstrate how Israel had switched from offensive to defensive measures along the border in preparation for the next war. This is an outrageous contravention of UN resolution 1701 – which calls for disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon (implying Hezbollah) except the Lebanese armed forces, and for “creating a buffer zone free of  ‘any armed personnel’ – both Hezbollah militants and Israeli troops – between the Blue Line in southern Lebanon drawn by the United Nations and the Litani River (12 miles from the Israeli border). Meanwhile it is supposed to be UNIFIL’s role to enforce this resolution, yet instead they have effectively become party to flouting it.

As Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who has covered the incestuous and absurd relationship between the LAF, UNIFIL, and Hezbollah over the years, has noted, the entire rationale behind the Western and UN approach to Lebanon has been fatally flawed from the start. Hezbollah, the Lebanese branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF), is able to keep UNIFIL on a leash via the LAF coordination mechanism, occasionally organising ostensibly spontaneous attacks by locals against UNIFIL patrols to emphasise its control. Thus, instead of enforcing its mandate by disarming Hezbollah, UNIFIL “tries to keep things calm,” says Tenenti, by turning a blind eye to Hezbollah’s violations of the resolution they are supposedly in Lebanon to enforce. Indeed, since resolution 1701 was passed, UNIFIL and the LAF have overseen quite the opposite of their mandate: the exponential strengthening of Hezbollah across Lebanon and a staggering increase in its missile arsenals.

Also ignored by Harvey are overt threats by Hezbollah to invade and occupy areas of Northern Israel, as well as appearances by other IRGC-QF subsidiaries from Iraq and Syria along the border promising to join them. Hezbollah has reportedly stood up an elite unit, “Radwan,” to actually take territory within Israel during the next war. This, in fact, is the reason why the wall is being built; namely, the current security fence, according to a senior officer in the IDF’s Northern Command, would not be enough to stop a Radwan infiltration or attempts to kill, kidnap, or harass soldiers or civilians.

Instead, Harvey wrote an article sourced to a random local in Hezbollah territory and the spokesperson for UNIFIL, an organisation that operates at the pleasure of Hezbollah and in coordination with it.

The icing on the cake is Tenenti’s superficial occupation monologue on the complex issue of the city of Ghajar, which is technically bisected by the UN-designated international border between Israel and Lebanon. Harvey and Tenenti summarize the situation as follow:

It will get more complicated later if Israel tries to extend its wall through Lebanese territory that it currently occupies — like at the village of Ghajjar.

“Ghajjar is a village that is divided in two by the Blue Line,” Mr Tenenti said

“The northern part of the village of Ghajjar has to go back to Lebanon. Israel is obliged to withdraw from the northern part of the village.

“Several proposals were sent to the parties. The Lebanese have accepted the proposals, in principal the Israelis also but so far there has been no movement in that village, so part of that village is still under occupation.”

Far worse is Tenenti’s quote, only included in the radio program, that the Israeli position in Ghajar “is a permanent violation of 1701.” The man speaking on behalf of an organization that coordinates with and encourages Hezbollah, thus repudiating the essence of 1701, speaks without a shred of irony.

In reality, the residents of Ghajar, a Syrian Alawite village captured by Israel in 1967, are desperate not to be transferred to Lebanese authority. Unlike other areas that found themselves suddenly in Israel, Ghajar residents accepted Israeli citizenship in the 1980s and refused to allow the city to be physically split by the security fence, which has caused endless complications.  A Haaretz report in 2002 on a massive construction boom in the city based on fears it would be given to Lebanon put it this way: “More than they are Syrians who don’t want to be Lebanese, they are Israelis who want to remain Israelis, so for them, the fence is a threat.”

More recently, in 2015, TIME published a piece on the strange twilight zone history and situation of Ghajar, including the following passages:

But while the residents of Ghajar have endured wars and terrorism, their concern is the future of the village. The U.N. and Beirut insist that the northern half of the village will be given back to Lebanon, despite the fact that the Blue Line border runs directly through Ghajar’s centre and several nearby houses. In 2010, the Israeli cabinet came close to an agreement to withdraw but the matter remains to be settled

The residents are opposed to the division. “We are not Lebanese, we don’t have any links to Lebanon”, says Khatib. If the village was transferred into Lebanon’s hands, the locals, he says, would become “refugees”.

For years, Khatib and others have been holding protests and demonstrations against any change to the village boundaries. Khatib says he has lobbied everyone from former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to successive Israeli Prime Ministers on this, delivering “stacks of plans , maps and building permits all to show that Ghajar is not Lebanese”. So far, little has changed.

“As citizens, we feel we have no say in this. We feel we have no control over our future”, he says. “We are peaceful people but we will become Lebanese only over our dead bodies”.

Turning a story about Israeli defensive measures against organisations sworn to its destruction and a complex issue like Ghajar into a story principally about alleged Israeli aggression and occupation – without speaking to a single Israeli –  is sadly all too typical of much recent Middle Eastern coverage by the ABC. Lately, it sometimes seems the network cannot be bothered to provide anything more than the flimsiest pretext of balance, despite their charter obligations.

The fact that the Israeli perspective is completely lacking when the subject of the story was an Israeli initiative makes this example all the more egregious.