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