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Panoramic Views > El Nabatieh > Hasbaya > Shebaa Town and Mills

Shebaa Village and its Mills

During recent years there has been much talk about the farms of Shebaa, but a little study is needed if one is to understand the subject with all its implications.

There is in fact a Lebanese village called Shebaa which together with its neighboring farms has been occupied by Israel since 1967. This region is still under control of Israel even after the withdrawal of its forces from the rest of South Lebanon in the year 2000.

The farms are situated on the western slopes of Mount Hermon under Israeli occupation since the war of 1967, a war in which Lebanon played no part. These farms are considered as part of the land on the slopes of Golan and extend along the frontier separating Lebanon and Syria, defined during the period 1919-1943 when both were under French mandate. They have abundant water and are rich in agricultural produce and fruit such as grapes, olives and almonds.

This frontier follows a line of summits that show clearly on a map as being to the east of Shebaa village. Innumerable springs gush down the beds of the streams feeding in particular the Upper Jordan known as Wadi el Assal. The farms are strategically placed in the region bordering, Lebanon, Syria and Israel, which has been occupied in turn by French and Syrian armed forces.

The problem has been put before the United Nations Organization, which has tried to bring the farms back under Lebanese authority. Any number of resolutions have been passed, numbers 425, 426, 1701 and others as well. This area of 40 sq. km. should be reintegrated into Lebanon; the local inhabitants possess Lebanese nationality and pay their taxes to the Lebanese government, which for its part has presented the United Nations secretariat with deeds of possession of the land, the public survey projections and the copies of agreements reached between Lebanon and Syria during the nineteen-sixties. Moreover, the President of Lebanon affirms possession of an official American map confirming the Lebanese attachment of the farms. Israeli withdrawal is awaited to allow the correct delimitation of the frontier, following the arc of a circle between two summits and two slopes of Mount Hermon, where runs Wadi el Jaouz, which joins the Jenaïm course at Shebaa between the contours at 2465, 2269, 2224 and 1974 meters.

The President of Syria declared himself ready to establish diplomatic relations with Lebanon (already done), to be followed by exact delimitation of all the frontier. He has conceded that Shebaa is Lebanese territory.

In the year 2006 the French government called on Israel to evacuate the territory in question, for the maps of the French General Staff showed the area to be in fact Lebanese. The farms of Shebaa are a first-class tourist attraction, rich in running water and orchards. Mount Hermon is of great natural beauty, and in times of peace it is from Shebaa that hikers can most easily reach the top of Mount Hermon by recognized paths. Five hours on foot take one to breath-taking view-points, 2805 meters above the Mediterranean but 3200 counted from Ghor, El Taïm valley.

The village of Shebaa itself is 145km from Beirut and lies at an altitude of just over 1000 meters, being reached by road from the town of Hasbaya 15km away. It was invaded by the Israelis in 1982 after Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had made it part of his “Fatehland”. It was freed in 2006 by the Lebanese Army after the Israeli withdrawal amidst great rejoicing. The return of the Lebanese soldiers on August 18th was an occasion joyfully celebrated with dance, songs, folklore and slaughter of sheep, with the V for Victory sign everywhere. With the returning Lebanese Army came the return of calm, serenity, confidence and above all hope.

The village of Shebaa is a group of houses built without any plan or infrastructure, very poor and with no outstanding history. The houses are scattered over the heights without any show of taste. There are schools, agricultural groups, cooperatives, a police station, medical dispensaries and so on. The winters are very cold but communication with Beirut is always open, with the roads always cleared of snow. Agriculture is flourishing, thanks to the rich soil and plentiful water. There are small-scale industries such as pottery, carpentry, weaving and food conserves.

There is at Shebaa a historic water-mill of considerable importance. In every village where there are springs of water such mills are to be found, From the technical point of view they are composed of two round flat stones, placed horizontally one on top of the other, turning on a hydraulic system and governed by the friction between the stones. They grind the wheat and crush olives for their oil and grapes for their juice, giving excellent wine.

Water-mills have been known since earliest antiquity, being particularly used by the Phoenicians. There were two kinds, one with a vertical wheel and the other with a horizontal one. To judge by certain references, the great majority in the southern and eastern Mediterranean lands had horizontal wheels. There are reasons for believing that the horizontal paddle-wheels were first developed in the Middle East, in Lebanon, Syria and Palestine. It is generally admitted that according to research the first water wheels were developed at Tyre and Sidon and used in Phoenicia, the mountains of Galilee and the coastal plain between Sidon and Acre, before they made their appearance in Greece.

These wheels seem to have been inspired by the potter’s wheel, which also revolves horizontally. So this method of using water power is the result of the local traditions of agriculture (for the olive press), irrigation and crafts such as pottery. The horizontal wheel was common around Hasbaya and Rashaya el Fokhar, where pottery (fokhar) is still widely produced. In Lebanon, where there were over five hundred mills, there existed six variations of the horizontal wheel. At Shebaa there are two of these variants, one for dry seed and the other for extracting the olive grounds known as matruf. Research indicates that the mills go back five thousand years and were the most primitive of all those found in Lebanon.

Traditionally, the mill was a center of economic activity, with people buying and selling their wares. Service of the mill was paid by 12.5% of the wheat or of the raw material ground. It was a center of social life, a place where men and women from different communities and villages could meet, dancing, eating, singing and exchanging ideas. It was said that the last man to operate a mill in Shebaa had met and fallen in love there with the woman who was to be his wife.

Visit Shebaa, see the remains of this unique, historic and typical mill, contemplate it, and you will be reliving the past. Fifteen kilometers south-east of Hasbaya, Shebaa is a large Shiite Muslim village of two thousand inhabitants, where meet the two torrents descending from Hermon, Jenaïm and Wadi el Jaouz, in the midst of verdant scenery of vineyards and olive and almond groves.

Joseph Matar - Translation from the French: K.J. Mortimer

- Read the second article: Shebaa’s Water Mills by Moheb Nader Chanesaz
- Read the third article: Shebaa's Water Mills

- Shebaa Town: >> View Movie << (2009-10-15)

- Shebaa’s Water Mills: >> View Movie << (2009-10-15)



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