Earth moves for Israelis

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The Independent Online
ISRAEL OCCUPIES Arab land: most of the Palestinian West Bank, part of the Gaza Strip, all of the Syrian Golan Heights and 10 per cent of Lebanon. But now, it turns out, Israel is taking the land of Lebanon - quite literally - to Israel.

The world may applaud the Wye Agreement and the new chances of a Middle East "peace process", but thousands of tons of Lebanese soil are being secretly trucked over the border into Israel from the south of Lebanon to fertilise the farmlands of Israeli Galilee.

Israeli bulldozers are stripping the topsoil off Lebanese farmland outside the villages of Khiam and Marjayoun, deep inside Israeli-occupied Lebanon, to help Israeli farmers two miles further south - on the other side of the border - to grow tomatoes and olives.

Lebanon, far from being a land of milk and honey, is drenched in the blood of tens of thousands of Lebanese and hundreds of Israelis, but the government of Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, seems oblivious to the political implications of its decision.

If Lebanon is Israel's Vietnam - three more of its proxy South Lebanon Army militia were killed yesterday by the pro-Iranian Hizbollah - the land, it seems, can become Israeli, whatever the cost. And there seems to be no cost at all, save for the petrol used by the scores of Israeli lorries that have carried six feet of topsoil from 3,000 square metres of southern Lebanon into Israel.

The United Nations, which has more than 4,000 peacekeepers in southern Lebanon, confirms that Lebanese earth is being trucked over the border.

And the Lebanese government, needless to say, has vainly complained to both the UN and the European Union about the theft.

Occupation is one thing - but nobody has ever before heard of moving a country, physically, across an international frontier.

Military maps clearly show that the fertile red earth has been taken from fields north of the 1948 UN ceasefire line - accepted as the Lebanese- Israeli border - but within a zone marked off by a stretch of barbed wire (known as the "technical fence") laid down by the Israelis without explanation 15 years ago.

Locals say the land is owned by two Lebanese families. Other stories say the land was owned by a Lebanese Jew who emigrated to Israel.

Either way, there's some corner of a foreign field that is forever Lebanon - and it now lies in Israel.