BBC confuses armistice lines with borders yet again

Kibbutz Ein Gev, circa 1937

In the BBC’s profile of the Golan Heights which appears in the Middle East section of the BBC News website we find that once more 1949 Armistice Lines are mistakenly presented as borders. Addressing the subject of past talks between Israel and Syria, the profile states:

“But the main sticking point during the 1999 talks is also likely to bedevil any future discussions. Syria wants a full Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 border. This would give Damascus control of the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee – Israel’s main source of fresh water.

Israel wishes to retain control of Galilee [sic] and says the border is located a few hundred metres to the east of the shore.”

That “pre-1967 border” is actually the 1949 Armistice Line which was specifically defined as not being a border. Article V of the agreement states:

“1. It is emphasized that the following arrangements for the Armistice Demarcation Line between the Israeli and Syrian armed forces and for the Demilitarized Zone are not to be interpreted as having any relation whatsoever to ultimate territorial arrangements affecting the two Parties to this Agreement.

2. In pursuance of the spirit of the Security Council resolution of 16 November 1948, the Armistice Demarcation Line and the demilitarized Zone have been defined with a view toward separating the armed forces of the two Parties in such manner as to minimize the possibility of friction and incident, while providing for the gradual restoration of normal civilian life in the area of the Demilitarized Zone, without prejudice to the ultimate settlement.”

Prior to 1949, the most recent recognized border in the area was the one agreed between the mandatory powers Britain and France in 1923 after several alterations had been made in 1922 to the original territory assigned to the Jewish national home. 

1920 map

1922 map

1922 2 map

The 1923 Franco-British Boundary Agreement came about after the British High Commissioner at the time, Herbert Samuel, demanded and got full control of the Sea of Galilee and the Upper Jordan River. The border was set 100 meters to the east of the Jordan River, with a ten meter-wide strip at the north-eastern side of the lake and a broader strip at its south-eastern side included in the territory of the Mandate for Palestine. 

Syrian - Israel frontier

In 1948, the two year-old Syrian state took part in the attack against the nascent State of Israel, with that conflict ending in the 1949 Armistice Agreement which established an Armistice line and a series of demilitarized zones which did not constitute an international border. 

The BBC’s claim that a return to a “pre-1967 border” would “give Damascus control of the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee” is therefore inaccurate as the only border in existence prior to 1967 was the one agreed upon in 1923 by France and Britain which left access to the lake within the borders of Mandate Palestine. 

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