683.84A/3–551: Telegram

The Consul at Jerusalem (Tyler) to the Department of State 1


162. Reference Deptel 94, February 27,2 General Riley furnished Consulate General following:

“Complaint submitted to MAC by Syria on February 21 alleging that Israelis not inhabitants demilitarized zone as authorized by general armistice agreement3 commenced important works on or about February 14 along western bank Jordan River [garble] belonging to Arabs in Mansoura sector south Lake Hula.4 This Israeli project [Page 589] (Hula concession) is in accordance with original agreement signed in June 1914 between Turkish Minister of Finance and two Beirut businessmen which authorizes individuals to drain marshes in Hula area. Concession agreed to give boundaries of lands on which Society holding concession had right to change, destroy or modify channels, dam up waterways, expropriate lands, buildings, et cetera owned by private individuals in accordance with expropriation law, occupy lands temporarily, indemnities to be paid to owners by Society through Imperial Government.

UN observer Captain Bouteille Belgian army in command with member of Israeli delegation contacted superintendent Palestine Land Development Company in charge of work project who produced photographs copy of certificate given on November 28, 1934 by Syrian-Ottoman Agricultural Company which read as follows:

‘Palestine Land Development Company took possession of Hula concession with all rights pertaining thereof.

Superintendent then stated that up to now (February 22, 1951) works have been started on ten to twelve dunams of Arab land in Mansoura sector. He also stated that Arab owners can get in touch with Mr. Horowitz (Israel) at Rumishmar Hayarieh police station to discuss and claim compensation for damages to their land thus incurred,

Some five or six months ago Israeli delegate requested and received approval of Syrian delegate to send a water survey team into demilitarized zone. In November Israelis repaired dam at southern end of Lake Hula which has raised slightly level of lake which has caused flooding of small amount of Arab land in northeast sector of lake. At present works project in demilitarized zone is straightening west bank of Jordan for distance about 4 kilos below Lake Hula. Israelis have requested permission from Syrian delegate to cross to east bank of Jordan still in demilitarized zone for purpose of performing similar type on that bank. Syrians refuse to grant permission. I fear Israelis will attempt to force issue which may result in difficult situation. Chairman of MAC has requested on numerous occasions that Israelis cease work now being performed in demilitarized zone until discussions in MAC are completed but Israelis refuse to abide by this request. Not only Colonel Ramati but Major Shoham as well have stated to chairman and one observer that entire matter has been discussed with State Department and that green light was given them to proceed with work. Therefore ‘they are not worried about what Syrian Government thinks as US controls UN’.

To my mind there are two problems involved:

Drainage of swamp area north of Lake Hula and drainage of Lake Hula itself which is outside demilitarized zone and
Preliminary work along River Jordan in demilitarized zone which must be accomplished before above project can commence.

These two projects, in my mind, when completed will cause changes in area not visualized at time Syrian-Israeli armistice agreement was signed. However, as this swamp area and Lake Hula are in Israeli controlled territory, I do not believe that Syria has any right to dictate what Israelis do in way of such drainage. When this project [Page 590] is completed Israelis will have reclaimed about 57,000 dunams of excellent farmland and there is no question that Israelis will establish in this reclaimed area many additional settlements.

Syrians maintain that these additional settlements will be inhabited by many ex-Israeli soldiers disguised as farmers and thus will give not only a political but a military advantage to Israelis. Due to the topographical features i.e. extremely high ground on Syrian side of border I am of opinion that Syrian guns will dominate this area to such an extent as to give Syria as much of a military advantage as will be accorded Israel when these settlements are established.

However in view of changed situation I cannot by any stretch of imagination see how Israelis can authorize Palestine Land Development Company to proceed with work in demilitarized zone under agreement given on November 28, 1934, by Syrian-Ottoman Agricultural Company which results in a destruction or expropriation of land, buildings, et cetera owned by private Arab individuals or which justifies them to occupy lands temporarily on understanding that indemnities will be paid to owners through Israeli Government.

Under terms of armistice agreement Israelis maintain that work being performed within demilitarized zone is in accordance with normal restoration of life within demilitarized zone. I agree with Qudsi, Prime Minister Syria that if this work along Jordan River is continued without a mutual agreement being reached between parties concerned, trouble may result.

Prime Minister Qudsi is perfectly correct in his statement that this affair brought out the danger of continuing neutral status of this area. For a number of months Israelis have continued to interfere materially with activities of refugee Arabs in demilitarized zone. In southern part of demilitarized zone Israelis have ploughed some 2,000 dunams of land that belong to Arab refugees. In northern sector of demilitarized zone Israelis in recent months have prevented Syrians who own land in demilitarized zone from crossing boundary and working their land. In central sector Israeli military police have interfered with Arab villagers in that area.

It must be realized only way we were able to complete negotiation of general armistice agreement between Syria and Israel was to propose a compromise plan which involved complete withdrawal of Syrian troops from area west of old international boundary which separated Syria from Palestine. Therefore Qudsi’s suggested plan for modus vivendi whereby Syria would administer part of demilitarized zone inhabited by Arabs and Israelis would administer remainder, will not be accepted by Israelis.

If Armistice agreement is carefully examined it will be found that although Syria signed armistice agreement it signed in name of refugee Arabs who under terms of armistice agreement would be returned to demilitarized zone. Under paragraph 5(e) of Article 5, chairman assumed authority that ordinarily would have been vested in hands of Syrian Government. However in view of lack of power chairman has no way of enforcing directive than is contained in that paragraph unless Israelis are willing to abide by his decision. Furthermore within demilitarized zone Arabs and Israelis are in settlements contiguous to each other and any possibility of drawing a line separating Arabs from Israelis within that area is not feasible. As for Qudsi’s statement that the Israeli plant to drain Hula will result in raising of level of [Page 591] Lake Tiberias thus flooding land farmed by Arabs is questionable. If this were to occur then Israeli settlement of Ein Gev on eastern bank of Lake Tiberias might also be flooded. I am quite sure that Israelis have checked this possibility.

I plan on discussing problem with Shiloah tomorrow March 5 and will attempt to get Israeli Government to stop work on the straightening of Jordan River until such time as the MAC has completed its discussion and possibly reach mutual agreement between parties themselves”.5

  1. Repeated to Damascus for information.
  2. Not printed.
  3. For text, see U.N. Doc. S/1353/Rev. 1.
  4. For background on the Huleh (Hula) dispute, see the memorandum of April 6 from Mr. Waldo to Mr. Kopper, p. 620.
  5. At the meeting of the Israel–Syria MAC held March 7 General Riley submitted a memorandum in which he stated that under the Syro-Israeli Armistice Agreement neither party enjoyed rights of sovereignty within the demilitarized zone. Hence concessionaires had no right to expropriate property or to force its owners to accept compensation. “There is no law of expropriation within demilitarized zone.”

    General Riley concluded:

    “In opinion of Chief of Staff Palestine Land Development Co. Ltd. should be instructed forthwith to cease all operations within demilitarized zone until such time as a mutual agreement is arranged through chairman between Syria and Israel for continuing this project.”

    U.N. Doc. S/2049 includes full text of this memorandum as well as details of the activities of the Israel–Syria MAC in the first months of 1951.

    Additional information regarding the Huleh dispute is in Yearbook of the United Nations, 1951, pp. 286–293.