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Military occupation of Lebanon by Israel

Conflict type: Military occupation

Since the Six-Day War of 1967, Israel has occupied the Shebaa Farms, also referred to as Shab’a Farms, which was under the control of Lebanon.

Israel has occupied the Shebaa Farms since 1967 without any armed resistance from Lebanon and annexed it in 1981. Asher Kaufman, ‘Who Owns the Shebaa Farms? Chronicle of a Territorial Dispute’ 56 Middle East Journal 4, 2002, pp.576-595; David Eshel, ‘The Israel-Lebanon Border Enigma’, IBRU Boundary and Security Bulletin Winter, 2000-2001, p.82. The Shebaa farms, a portion of land which measures 22 km2 is found at the intersection of Lebanese-Syrian border and Golan Heights Occupied by Israeli, is mainly, recognised as forming part of Lebanon. Asher Kaufman, ‘Who Owns the Shebaa Farms? Chronicle of a Territorial Dispute’ 56 Middle East Journal 4, 2002, pp.576-595.

On 24 May 2000, Israel announced withdrawn of its forces from South Lebanon in accordance with the terms of the UN Resolution 425 (1978). Frederic C. Hof, ‘A Practical Line: The Line of Withdrawal from Lebanon and Its Potential Applicability to the Golan Heights’, 55 Middle East Journal 1, 2001, p.26. The withdrawal was to a line (Blue Line) defined by the UN, and the UN confirmed the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces.  David Eshel, ‘The Israel-Lebanon Border Enigma’, IBRU Boundary and Security Bulletin Winter, 2000-2001, p.79. However, the withdrawal Blue Line was understood as only a temporary line and without prejudice to any future boundary demarcation, and as the then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan acknowledged the existence of ambiguity in the area of the farmlands, due to the absence of any official border demarcation in the region. David Eshel, ‘The Israel-Lebanon Border Enigma’, IBRU Boundary and Security Bulletin Winter, 2000-2001, pp.79&82.

In 2006 the UN Security Council under resolution 1701 (2006) requested the Secretary-General to develop a proposal for delineation of the international borders of Lebanon, especially in those areas where the border is disputed or uncertain, including by dealing with the Shebaa farms area. UNSC Resolution 1701 (2006), 11 August 2006, Para.10. Based on such request, the Secretary-General has come up with a provisional definition of the geographical extent of the Shab’a Farms area: ‘starting from the turning point of the 1920 French line located just south of the village of El Majidiye; from there continuing south-east along the 1946 Moughr Shab’a-Shab’a boundary until reaching the thalweg of the Wadi al-Aasal; thence following the thalweg of the wadi north-east until reaching the crest of the mountain north of the former hamlet Mazraat Barakhta and reconnecting with the 1920 line.’ Report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of Security Council resolution 1701 (2006), S/2007/641, 30 October 2007, para.58. Nevertheless, in a recent report of the Secretary-General it was indicated that no progress was made towards the delineation or demarcation of the ‘uncertain or disputed’ border between Lebanon and the Syrian Arab Republic, nor did the Syrian Arab Republic and Israel respond to the proposed provisional definition of the Shabʻa Farms area. Implementation of Security Council resolution 1701 (2006) during the period from 27 October 2018 to 17 February 2019, Report of the Secretary-General, S/2019/237, 14 March 2019, para.51.

For a territory to be considered occupied, it must be 'under the authority of the hostile army.' Article 42, 1907 Hague Convention (IV) Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and its Annex: Regulations Concerning the Laws and Customs on Land. For an occupation to exist, hostile foreign forces must exercise effective control. Three elements must be fulfilled for effective control to exist.

  • First, the armed forces of a foreign state are physically present in the territory and the territorial state did not consent to their presence.
  • Second, the presence of the foreign forces prevents the effective local government in place at the time of invasion from exercising its powers.
  • Third, foreign forces establish their own authority. For further information, see ‘military occupation – elements of occupation’ in our classification section.

Israel seized control of the Shebaa Farms during the 1967 Six-Day War and has retained control since. The Shebaa Farms are administered by Israel as part of the Golan Heights. As mentioned above, maps used by the UN in demarcating the Blue Line were not able to conclusively show the border between Lebanon and Syria in the area, although they consider that at least part of the Shebaa Farms is in South Lebanon and over which Lebanon claims that Israel had violated its sovereignty. Frederic C. Hof, ‘A Practical Line: The Line of Withdrawal from Lebanon and Its Potential Applicability to the Golan Heights’, 55 Middle East Journal 1, 2001) 25-42. Syria agrees that the Shebaa Farms are within Lebanese territory; however, Israel considers the area to be inside of Syria's borders and continues to occupy the territory. Asher Kaufman, ‘Understanding the Shebaa Farms Dispute’, 11 Palestine-Israel Journal 1, 2004.  Of course, that fact that a title to a territory is disputed does not as such affect classification of the situation as a belligerent occupation. Marco Sassòli, International Humanitarian Law: Rules, Controversies, and Solutions to Problems Arising in Warfare, Edward Elgar Publishing, 2019, pp.312-313, para.8.213. Moreover, as clearly stipulated under Article 47 of Geneva Convention IV, annexation cannot make the Convention inapplicable.

There are two contending views regarding which paragraph of common Article 2 of the Geneva Conventions is applicable to the belligerent occupation in Lebanon. The first view is that as Israel gained control of the Shebaa farms, during an international armed conflict between Israel and Syria in 1967, without the territorial state – Lebanon - defending itself, Article 2 (2) governs the situation. The other view is that as the control was gained following the 1967 international armed conflict between Israel and Syria, and alternatively, as there was already a state of war between Israel and Lebanon since 1948, the situation should be covered under Article 2 (1). Nevertheless, in both cases, Israel’s presence and administration of the Shebaa Farms unequivocally satisfies the effective control test and they were clearly not under Israeli control before the 1967 armed conflict. This establishes Israel as the occupying power.

Following the US President’s recognition of the Golan Heights as part of Israel on 25 March 2019, the Lebanese President Michel Aoun stated that ‘[t]oday, the Arab ummah is experiencing a truly black day due to the fact that Trump has already announced the recognition of the sovereignty of the state of Israel over the Golan Heights’ and asserted that ‘foreign leaders have no right to make decisions on other countries' territories’. International community leaves Trump alone on Golan Heights decision’, Daily Sabah, 27.03.2019. This shows the concern among Lebanese officials as Israel considers Shebaa Farms as forming part of Golan Heights. However, the fact that the US has recognized Israel as a sovereign over the occupied part, which includes in Israel’s view the Shebaa Farms, does not affect the legal classification of the situation as an occupation.

The law of military occupation is set out in the 1907 Hague Convention (IV) Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and its Annex: Regulations Concerning the Laws and Customs on Land, the 1949 Geneva Conventions (IV) Relative to the Protection of Civilians Persons in Time of War and the 1977 Additional Protocol I applicable to International Armed Conflicts. Israel and Lebanon are parties to the four 1949 Geneva Conventions, but only Lebanon is a party to the 1977 Additional Protocol I.

Customary international humanitarian law is also applicable during occupation, it complements the protection granted by treaties and binds all parties to the conflict. Customary international law consist of unwritten rules that come from a general practice accepted as law. Based on an extensive study, the International Committee of the Red Cross maintains a database on customary international humanitarian law.

In addition to international humanitarian law, international human rights law continues to apply during times of occupation. Israel and Lebanon are parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights. Israel remains bound by its international human rights law obligations in the territory it occupies.

Last updated: Monday 29th April 2019