-Ibtisam Ghayad, expelled from the village of Sheba' with her husband, thirteen-year-old son, and nine other relatives in December 1998.
On July 1, 1999, three residents of Israeli-occupied south Lebanon were expelled. Two of them were elderly: Hassan Mohammed Said, seventy-two years old, and Khalil Deeb Saab, sixty-five. Lebanese daily newspapers reported the expulsions the next day, but Israeli dailies such as Ha'aretz and the Jerusalem Post did not. The two old men joined the uncounted hundreds, if not more, of Lebanese women, children, and men from the occupied zone who have suffered a similar fate since at least 1985. This report examines the expulsion and other forcible transfers of Lebanese civilians from Israeli-occupied Lebanon, practices that violate international humanitarian law and are grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions. These measures have been carried out by Israel's local auxiliary militia, known as the South Lebanon Army (SLA), in the occupied Lebanese territory. The use of expulsion as a weapon to punish the civilian population in the occupied zone has received scant attention in Israel and internationally during the two decades that it has quietly made a shambles of the lives of the men, women, and children forced to leave their homes and communities. Human Rights Watch documented cases of individuals and entire families who have been collectively punished by being expelled for the acts or suspected activities of their relatives. These have included admitted or suspected participation in attacks on Israeli military personnel and installations in the zone, membership in the military wings of Lebanese political organizations such as Hizballah and the Amal Movement, refusal to cooperate with the occupation security apparatus, and desertion from or refusal to serve in the SLA.
The expulsions come in the context of Israel's long occupation of part of southern Lebanon, and the ongoing confrontation between Israeli and SLA military forces and Lebanese guerrillas fighting to oust the occupiers. Historically, it is Lebanese territory which has been the primary stage for this military conflict, and it is in Lebanon where the bulk of the military activity and civilian casualties have occurred. Both sides have carried out indiscriminate attacks on civilians in violation of international humanitarian law. Retaliatory and indiscriminate artillery barrages by Israeli and SLA forces, as well as attacks with Israeli helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, have killed and injured hundreds of Lebanese civilian men, women, and children, including the shelling near the U.N. compound in Qana on April 18, 1996, that killed over one hundred civilians. On the other side of the border, Israeli civilians periodically brace for and have been victims of Katyusha rockets fired by Lebanese guerrillas, who continue to use this indiscriminate weapon in illegal reprisal attacks following the killing, and sometimes the injury, of Lebanese civilians. Most recently, in June 1999, two Israeli civilians were killed in Kiryat Shemona during a rain of Katyusha rockets, bringing to nine the number of Israeli civilians who have been killed since 1985 at the border. The rockets were fired by Hizballah guerrillas in reprisal for a ten-hour bombing campaign by the Israeli air force of infrastructure in Beirut and other parts of Lebanon, in which nine Lebanese civilians lost their lives. This aerial assault itself was, according to Israeli officials, a reprisal for a previous launch of Katyushas into northern Israel, which Hizballah had said responded to Israeli/SLA attacks resulting in civilian casualties on the ground in Lebanon.
The expulsions and other forcible transfers of Lebanese civilians from the occupied zone are just one of the methods that the occupation authorities utilize to control the civilian population in that territory and thwart the anti-occupation guerrilla forces. The expulsion of civilians from their homes and villages in the zone, like the indiscriminate attacks launched by both sides, cannot be justified by reference to security threats. International humanitarian law categorically prohibits forcible transfers and deportations, which constitute grave breaches of the Geneva conventions and as such are war crimes.
There has been little in the way of international and Israeli domestic attention to these violations of the laws of war taking place in south Lebanon. Attempts to control civilian populations through the use of torture, intimidation, deportation, and forcible transfer have often been rationalized as a measure of self-defense by an occupying power, despite its absolute prohibition in international law. This is hardly unique to the conflict between Israel and Lebanon. It is precisely the ubiquity of such actions in military conflicts that led to the provisions in international humanitarian law that expressly bar and make punishable such actions.
Testimony from Expelled Lebanese Families
Individual Lebanese and entire families have been expelled in a summary, arbitrary, and often cruel manner, without even the pretense of due process of law. The victims were forced to leave without any advance notice and, with extremely rare exceptions, were not permitted to bring any personal possessions with them. The expulsions have been harrowing personal experiences for the victims, who have included young children:
In December 1989, Kamal Abdel Karim Yunes, a trader who lived in Markaba, was detained without charge for three days in the SLA security office in the village. Then he was informed that he and his family were being expelled and, according to his testimony, he was told they could not even "take a spoon" with them. Yunes said that an SLA militiaman accompanied him back to the family's house, where he was bundled into a car with his wife Aziza and two of their children, aged three and seven years old. "All we had were the clothes that we were wearing," Yunes told Human Rights Watch. The family was transported in a three-car convoy to the Kfar Tebnit crossing and expelled.
In September 1996, members of the Abdallah family in the village of Houla were awakened by an SLA militiaman who arrived at their home at 6:00 in the morning. Other soldiers surrounded the house. He instructed the family that they must report immediately to an SLA position in the nearby village of Markaba, and transported them there in an unmarked civilian car. "We stayed there for two and a half hours and no one talked to us. I thought that they were sending us to prison," said Khadija, the matriarch of the family. Finally, two militiamen told the family that they were being expelled. Khadija's request to bring some possessions from the house was denied. She was transported in another unmarked civilian car, along with her sixty-seven-year-old husband, Abdallah, and her two daughers, Miriam and Rima, to the Beit Yahoun crossing point, where the family was expelled.
In May 1998, an SLA security officer arrived at midnight at the home of sixty-four-year-old Muhamed Moussa in the village of Sheba'. He instructed Mr. Moussa and his twenty-nine-year-old daughter, Mona, who was a teacher at a local school, to report to the SLA security office in nearby Hasbaiya the next day. When they arrived at the office the next morning, with Mona's five-month-old daughter in tow, a security officer wearing civilian clothes asked them to identify themselves. He then informed Mona and her father that he had orders to expel them. "I told him that we did not have milk for the baby, or our identity cards," Mona told Human Rights Watch. "I asked to see Fares al-Hamra and Alameddin al-Badawi [two senior SLA security officials] to know what we did wrong. He said that we could not see them, and that the expulsion decision had been taken." They were transported to the Zumrayya crossing and expelled.
In January 1999, twenty-five members of one extended family were expelled from Sheba', including the family's sixty-year-old matriarch and sixteen children between the ages of nine months and thirteen years old. Qassem Naba', twenty-five years old and the father of two of the children, said that at 4:30 one afternoon, as the families were preparing food for the fast-breaking iftar meal during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a joint force of Israeli and SLA security forces arrived at their houses in threeunmarked civilian cars. "They said that all of us had to come with them to Hasbaiya,"Qassem told Human Rights Watch. The large group was brought to the SLA security office there. "We stayed outside in the cold for one hour, until about 6:30," Qassem said. "Then Alameddin al-Badawi and Fares al-Hamra told my brother Ahmad that they were expelling us. Ahmad asked why, and he was hit with a Kalashnikov on his back. Then four militamen beat him in front of us for five minutes. He was bleeding from his face." The twenty-five adults and children were then crammed into two cars, including the trunks, and expelled at the Zumrayya crossing point.
In January 1989, Qassem Ali Shahrour and three of his children were expelled from the village of Kfar Hamam. Mr. Shahrour, whose wife Youmna had been expelled the previous month, described how the expulsion was carried out: "They woke us up and 3:30 in the morning. There were tanks and many cars, and soldiers on the upper floor of our neighbor's house," recounted Mr. Shahrour, now sixty-nine years old. "They searched the house and told us that we were going to be expelled. It was a mixed group, and Arabic was spoken. But there were Israelis with them. Alameddin al-Badawi was in our house, speaking with an Israeli in Hebrew." He added that Badawi and an Israeli officer appeared to be in charge of the operation. Mr. Shahrour's youngest daughter, Nejla, thirteen years old at this time, was expelled wearing only her pajamas.
Taleb Ahmed Saad, a twenty-seven-year-old construction worker from the town of Khiam, came under pressure in 1998 to work as an informer for the SLA security apparatus. He was approached three times, and always refused. In July 1998, he was detained without charge in Khiam prison and held for forty-two days. Saad told Human Rights Watch that he was released on August 17, 1998 at 4:00 in the afternoon, and moved to the SLA security office in Khiam, where he was held overnight. The next morning, two SLA security officers came to him. "I thought that they were taking me home," Saad said. Instead, he was transported to the Kfar Tebnit crossing and expelled. He recalled that the officers told him that the expulsion was an Israeli decision.
As the testimony in this report indicates, many of the expelled families left behind productive agricultural land, livestock, and small businesses, in addition to the homes that they owned. The abrupt dispossession has imposed difficult and enduring economic hardships on expelled families. Human Rights Watch found former homeowners living in small, overcrowded rented apartments in the suburbs of greater Beirut and other urban centers. They said that their houses in the occupied zone sat empty, or in some cases were occupied rent-free by SLA militiamen. Families lost all personal possessions, including clothing, home furnishings, and vehicles. Valuable income-producing livestock, most typically sheep, chickens, and cows, had to be left behind. Women who worked as farmers expressed sadness and anger at having lost not only sources of self-sufficiency and livelihood, but the fields and orchards that they cultivated and loved.
Many expelled families have been reduced to poverty because of lost income from agricultural land and small businesses in their villages. Farmers expressed deep concern about the deterioration of their idle land, particularly olive groves and orchards, from lack of care. Those men and women who managed to find some type of employment in Beirut earned meager salaries that did not match former earnings in the occupied zone, and their standard of living has been dramatically reduced. This was particularly true for families who were farmers and had been largely self-sufficient. Every expelled resident whom Human Rights Watch interviewed in March and April 1999 for this report was profoundly bitter, and many were indignant that there has been little attention to their plight, in Lebanon and internationally.
This report is not a comprehensive historical survey of the expulsions. The cases of expulsion and other forcible transfers described in the report occurred in villages and towns across the occupied zone, from Tair Harfa and Chihine in the southwest to Kfar Hamam and Sheba' in the northeast, between 1985 and 1999. The report is based primarily on the personal testimonies of expelled individuals and families whom Human Rights Watch interviewed in Lebanon. It notes additional expulsions that the Lebanese media and Beirut-based international news agencies reported.
The total number of Lebanese civilians who have been expelled from the occupied zone over the years is unknown. According to the Arqoub Citizens Committee, a Lebanese nongovernmental organization, between February 1987 and January 1999 approximately 250 residents were expelled from the Arqoub region of the northwestern section of the occupied zone, which includes the villages of Sheba', Kfar Hamam, Hebbariyeh, Kfar Shouba, and Rashaiya el-Foukar. Human Rights Watch learned that forty-six Lebanese who were expelled in 1998 reported their cases to local offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The U.S. State Department, in sharp contrast, noted only four cases of expulsion in its 1998 Lebanon report on human rights practices, involving twelve residents: five women, four children, and three men. For three of the four cases, the State Deparment did not confirm the expulsions but said that the victims were "reportedly" expelled.
A Lebanese foreign ministry official in Beirut informed Human Rights Watch in April 1999 that the government did not maintain comprehensive statistics about the expulsions, due to a lack of resources, but that it hoped to do so in the future. We learned that in advance of our March-April 1999 mission the government sought the assistance of several small Lebanese nongovernmental organizations to compile data about the expellees, but this information was not available during the mission or by the time this report went to press. Human Rights Watch requested information from the Council of the South (majlis al-janoub, in Arabic), an arm of the state that has provided financial asssistance to expelled families since 1996. As this report went to press, this information had not been made available.
The Council of the South is a Lebanese government institution established in 1970 to help residents of south Lebanon and the western Beka' valley affected by Israeli actions, its director Qabalan Qabalan told Human Rights Watch during an interview in Beirut in April 1999. Using government funds, it undertakes infrastructure development and social services projects, and provides ongoing financial assistance to families of Lebanese held in Khiam prison or prisons inside Israel. The Council of the South is also the conduit for one-time payments of LL20 million (about US$13,300) to families whose children have been killed in military operations; and lump-sum and other payments to released prisoners. Mr. Qabalan said that in late 1996, the prime minister issued an administrative decree that provided for LL3 million in assistance for each expelled family, as well as full medical assistance for the duration of the expulsion. He noted that additional needs of the families are dealt with on a case-by-case basis and require approval of the Council of Ministers (the cabinet). Human Rights Watch requested a copy of the administrative decree; but as of this writing, it had not been made available.
Some expelled families interviewed by Human Rights Watch complained about the Council of the South, and reported that its guidelines for receipt of financial assistance were unclear. In some cases, families were not aware of the amount of compensation that they were entitled to receive, and said that they had been offered lesser sums. Some said that they only received payment after complaining publicly in the Lebanese media.
Several Lebanese who were expelled between 1997 and 1999 were reluctant to have their names published in this report because they were holding out hope that they would be permitted to return to their villages. Others did not want their names to be known because they feared that relatives who remained behind in the occupied zone might be harassed. Still others expressed fear that if their names were published their houses in the occupied zonemight be demolished. Throughout the report, we have indicated the cases for which Human Rights Watch has names on file but individuals requested anonymity, and those cases in which interviewees declined to supply their names.
Life for Residents of the Occupied Zone
Families opposed to the occupation who chose to continue living in the zone found it difficult to carry on their lives with any semblance of normality. Information obtained from families interviewed for this report provides glimpses of this harsh reality of daily life under the occupation for residents who did not ally themselves with Israel and the SLA, or who openly or tacitly opposed the occupation. For these Lebanese, there were constant reminders of the occupation: massively depopulated villages, harassment and pressure from SLA and Israeli security forces, arbitrary restrictions on freedom of movement out of and back in to the zone, and the constant worry about relatives who were arbitrarily detained without charge and tortured in the occupied territory's Khiam prison. Children were also detained in Khiam prison, some of them taken and held for months to put pressure on their parents or older siblings. Women prisoners were tortured as interrogators attempted to gather information from them and as occupation security authorities hoped to pressure male family members to join or return to the SLA or, because the male relatives were known or suspected members of the Lebanese military resistance to the occupation.
In villages throughout the occupied zone, members of some families have been hounded for months or years to serve as informers for the ubiquitous security apparatus that is maintained by the occupation authorities through the SLA and with the participation and oversight of Israeli intelligence. For those men and women who refused to succumb to the pressure, expulsion has been a last and punishing resort. In one case described in the report, a man's refusal to collaborate resulted in his own expulsion and that of his wife and two young children, making the punishment collective in nature. In many other cases, the sustained pressure that occupation security officials have applied on targeted men and women has literally forced them to flee their villages out of fear, political principle, and often a combination of both. While most of these individuals described themselves to Human Rights Watch as "expelled," we have distinguished these individuals who have fled the territory from those expelled or otherwise forcibly transferred.
The SLA practice of forced conscription of teenaged boys who live in the zone has also been a long-standing nightmare for families who are opposed to the occupation and despise Israel's surrogate militia. Some families moved out of the zone on their own initiative to ensure that their sons would not be forced into SLA service. Others stayed in their villages but sent their sons out when they reached fourteen or fifteen years of age. According to testimony, children have been forcibly pressed into service. "They take them at fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen years old," said a woman from the village of Markaba, whose own son was forcibly conscripted at sixteen. She told Human Rights Watch that a neighbor's son was forcibly taken at fourteen.
Farmers and other residents who earned their livelihoods in the occupied zone also recounted massive corruption within the top ranks of the occupation security apparatus, in the form of arbitrary "taxes" on business purchases, harvests, and other income. Some families also said that they directly paid cash to SLA security officials to secure the release of sons from the militia or to ensure that these young men and boys would be spared conscription. By several first-hand accounts, militiamen who conducted searches of residents' homes also "confiscated" - looted - cash, gold, and vehicles, resulting in losses equivalent to thousands of U.S. dollars.
Despite the omnipresent stress, residents who remained in the zone were determined to educate their children, farm the land, maintain local jobs as Lebanese government employees, and manage small, private businesses in their villages. These men and women who did not flee used their own savings, and the moneyprovided by family members who worked abroad or in Beirut and other Lebanese cities, to invest in their homes, agricultural land, and enterprises in the zone. It is in this broader context that the punishing consequences of any family's expulsion and permanent dispossession should be understood.
The Israeli Role in the Occupied Zone
The Israeli-occupied zone, which borders Israel and comprises about 10 percent of Lebanese territory, has within it over one hundred villages and towns in the south of the country. The zone's current boundaries took shape in 1985, when the Israeli military withdrew in stages from areas of Lebanon that its troops had occupied to the north, following Israel's invasion of the country in June 1982. After Israel's invasion in March 1978, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 425, which called upon Israel "immediately to cease its military action against Lebanese territorial integrity and withdraw forthwith its forces from all Lebanese territory." The resolution remains in force.
The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) maintain a headquarters in a former Lebanese army barracks in the town of Marjayoun, inside the zone. An Israeli flag, with Lebanese flags on either side of it, flies atop the group of buildings in which the barracks is located. Heavily fortified IDF military positions throughout the zone, strategically located on the highest hilltops, such as the position at the imposing Crusader-era Beaufort Castle which towers above the village of Arnoun, also fly Israeli flags. "We have thousands of soldiers and officers doing the day-to-day work in Lebanon, risking their lives," then-Israeli defense minister Moshe Arens told the Jerusalem Post in March 1999.
Israel controls the occupied zone with its own military and security forces as well as with those of its auxiliary militia, the South Lebanon Army (SLA). The SLA, while composed of Lebanese recruits, is armed and financed directly by Israel. Successive Israeli governments have persistently argued that, while Israel coordinates with and has influence over SLA, the militia is autonomous and Israel is not responsible for the SLA's conduct in the zone, such as the operation of the notorious Khiam prison and the torture of detainees there. The international community takes a different view. In twice-yearly reports to the U.N. Security Council, the U.N. secretary-general does not even mention the SLA by name. Rather, the militia has been consistently decribed in these reports as "de facto forces" and named as the "local Lebanese auxiliary" of the IDF. It is in part through the deployment and use of the SLA as its surrogate that Israel has maintained the occupation. The IDF Liaison Unit to Lebanon, commanded by an Israeli military officer with the rank of brigadier general, reportedly directs Israeli and SLA military activities in the occupied zone.
In April 1998, the government of then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged "IDF control" over the territory that Israel occupies in southern Lebanon. On April 1, 1998, the Israeli Ministerial Committee for National Security announced that Israel was accepting U.N. Resolution 425 "so that the IDF will leave Lebanon," and called on the Lebanese government "to begin negotiations...to restore its effective control over territories currently under IDF control..." (italics added). Israeli officials continue to evade accountability for the actions of the IDF's Lebanese auxiliaries in the occupied zone, however, and to maintain that Israeli influence falls short of "effective control." This notwithstanding, Human Rights Watch shares the view of the international community that Israel is the Occupying Power in the Lebanese territory it refers to as its "security zone," and is ultimately responsible for its own actions and those of its local Lebanese auxiliary there.