The Shebaa Farms is a roughly 25 square kilometer mountainside running along Lebanon’s southeast border with the Syrian Golan Heights. It was once home to some 14 farmsteads whose occupants grew lentils, olives and wheat and herded sheep and goats. Most of the land is owned by residents of two Lebanese villages – Shebaa and Kfar Shuba.
The mountainside was captured by Israel in 1967 along with the Golan Heights from Syria and in the following years, most Lebanese inhabitants of the Farms were evicted.
Largely forgotten during the 1980s and 1990s, the sovereignty of the Shebaa Farms became a hot political issue in the months preceding Israel’s May 2000 troop withdrawal from South Lebanon. Lebanon demanded that Israel pull out of the Shebaa Farms along with the rest of South Lebanon. However, despite ample evidence of land ownership deeds in the possession of Lebanese citizens, the government was unable to satisfactorily prove the sovereignty of the Shebaa Farms. Syria has declared publicly that the Farms are Lebanese, but has declined to provide the necessary documentation to the UN which would confirm Lebanese sovereignty. The Lebanon-Syria border has never been fully delineated and demarcated on the ground, and the Shebaa farms is one of several frontier anomalies. The United Nations decreed that the Farms were Syrian territory occupied by Israel and its fate was thus subject to UN Resolutions relating to Israel and Syria. The UN based its decision on maps submitted by Syria and Israel in the wake of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war when establishing the UN Disengagement Observer Force to police the no-man’s land on the Golan Heights. Both maps portrayed the Shebaa Farms inside Syria, and it consequently fell within the remit of UNDOF.
From October 2000, Hizbullah periodically attacked Israeli forces occupying the Shebaa Farms. Following the July war of 2006, the UN agreed to take a further look at the Shebaa Farms, beginning with an attempt to delineate its perimeters prior to a further assessment of its true sovereignty.