Border dithering

Syrian soldiers patrol a field at the Syrian village of Al Msherfeh as seen from the northern Lebanese village of Wadi Khaled near the Lebanese-Syrian border April 10, 2012. (REUTERS/Omar Ibrahim)

In the past few weeks there has been much talk about protecting Lebanon’s northern and northeastern borders. This has followed the exchange of accusations between March 14 and Syria and its allies, the former criticizing the latter for the shelling of border towns and incursions into Lebanese territory, while the latter accuses March 14 of supplying arms across the border.

Residents of Lebanon’s border villages are being punished for the fact that they are seen to contain, even harbor, dissent against the Syrian regime. Regardless of the politics, the victims are ordinary Lebanese who do not deserve to lose their loved ones or their livelihoods over someone else’s conflict.

South Lebanon understands this experience all too well. Between 1965 and 1978 they were targeted because of the Palestinian revolutionary presence in the area, which became known as Fatahland. The Israelis used this as a pretext to repeatedly enter Lebanon, until eventually occupying a vast portion of the south in 1978.

That border remained tense and vulnerable to clashes until 1978, when the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon entered with a mandate to maintain peace.

Difficult though that role was, and is, it was at this point that violence in the area began to be subsumed by political rhetoric, a development which continued, until it was sadly interrupted in 2006. Without a doubt the number of casualties in that period was minimal thanks to the presence of UNIFIL.

The United Nations force has a crucial job in the south, where it is well-received, and has carved itself a role not only in peacekeeping but in developing the area.

Lebanon now faces a similar danger on its northern borders. The similarities are remarkable, although this time the violence comes from a supposedly friendly nation aiming its ire at a different area of the country. The material and human impact will only increase as the border continues to be used by either side to convey messages to the other.

Future parliamentary bloc leader MP Fouad Siniora Tuesday handed a petition to President Michel Sleiman signed by almost half of Parliament calling for stationing U.N. troops along the border in order to protect both sides. This is a solution that could avert further bloodshed and destruction.

The U.N. is intended for exactly such a situation. Their forces have carried out this peacekeeping role in the south, in the Golan Heights, in Bosnia, and they have succeeded in preventing violence, even though sometimes they have had to pay a price themselves.

So why does the government, which has accepted this solution for the south, not beg the U.N. – which is soon to meet for its annual General Assembly – for a peacekeeping force to protect the northern borders?

The decision need carry no political baggage. Such a move would not be designed to protect any one side, but to protect Lebanon and its people.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 05, 2012, on page 7.




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