During the latter half of 2022, there were two incidents of clashes between Christian residents of Rmeish, a town in the Bint Jbeil area of South Lebanon, and activists of the Lebanese NGO Green Without Borders (GWB). One of the clashes involved gunfire.
GWB describes itself as an environmental organization whose mission is to protect and develop the forests and green areas in Lebanon. It is one of several civil society organizations established by Hizbullah that claim to dispense services to the Lebanese public, but in fact serve as fronts for Hizbullah's military and financial activity. Some of the other organizations are Jihad Al-Binaa, Al-Qard Al-Hassan, and Waad Project, which are all designated by the U.S. as having ties with terrorist elements.
Christian residents of Rmeish claim that GWB has illegally taken over their land by leasing it from a local who is a co-owner of the land but who signed the lease without their knowledge or consent. GWB, they say, now treats the land as its own, threatens them, and prevents them from tending their fields, thus depriving them of their livelihood. They assess that its aim is to cause the Christians of the area to leave so as to take over all their land. They also claim that the GWB activists are not involved in protecting the environment but are in fact Hizbullah operatives concerned with security operations, whose presence in the area threatens their safety. They harshly criticize the Lebanese army and authorities, who they claim permit Hizbullah to operate freely in the region.
These claims by the residents corroborate complaints made by Israel to UNIFIL and the UN Security Council in recent years, that GWB serves as a cover for Hizbullah activity on the border. Such activity contravenes Security Council Resolution 1701 from 2006, which prohibits Hizbullah presence in this area. Israel has even bombed GWB facilities near the town of Rmeish, which it suspected were being used to conduct hostile activity.
Although the Security Council did not accept Israel's claim that GWB's presence in the border area is a violation of Resolution 1701, it implicitly mentioned this NGO in Resolution 2650 from August 31, 2022. Concerned with UNIFIL's mission, this resolution states that the Security Council regards "with concern the recent installation of containers along the Blue Line which restrict UNIFIL's access to, or visibility of, the Blue Line."
Using an NGO as a front to consolidate its presence in the border area is not Hizbullah's only method of challenging the authority of the Security Council, UNIFIL and the Lebanese government. In recent years there have been reports of multiple incidents in which Lebanese "civilians" prevented UNIFIL forces from fulfilling their mission. The most recent of them, on December 14, 2022, resulted in the death of an Irish UNIFIL soldier. Although Hizbullah denied any connection to this incident, many in Lebanon hold it responsible.
Hizbullah has dismissed the claims of the residents of Rmeish, insisting that GWB operates in accordance with the law and will continue to pursue its objectives. In other words, despite the friction with the locals, it seems that Hizbullah has no intention of halting the NGO's activities in the border area. Moreover, Hizbullah accuses the Lebanese Forces party, a Christian party led by Samir Geagea that opposes Hizbullah, of inflating the reports about the clashes and exploiting them for political purposes.
This report presents details on the incidents that occurred in the town of Rmeish.
Green Without Borders Operated In Close Collaboration With Hizbullah
Based in Nabatieh in South Lebanon, the National Society for the Protection and Development of the Green Spaces, the Environment and Wildlife," also known as Green Without Borders (GWB), was established on June 20, 2013. Its secretary general is Zuhair Nahle. According to its blog, its mission includes protecting Lebanon's green spaces, locating and fighting forest fires, running nurseries, planting trees and cleaning forested areas, in collaboration with the state authorities, civil society and international organizations. The blog also states that GWB has signed a memorandum of understanding and cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture, headed by Dr. Hussein Al-Hajj Hassan, a member of the Loyalty to the Resistance bloc, Hizbullah's political wing in the Lebanese parliament.
GWB logo (Akhdarbelahodod.blogspot.com, accessed January 26, 2023)
GWB's activity is concentrated in South Lebanon, particularly near the border with Israel. During the first years after its establishment it launched several projects, such as planting one million trees, and a project named "A Tree for Every Citizen." In addition to planting trees, the NGO also sets up watchtowers and centers, ostensibly for detection of forest fires and other threats to the forests. It is suspected that these towers and centers are used by Hizbullah to keep operatives in areas where their presence is prohibited by UN Resolution 1701 and to monitor the activity of the Israel Defense Forces.
Hizbullah and GWB do not conceal the close cooperation between them. In December 2021, for example, it launched the "Green on the Border" initiative in collaboration with Hizbullah's Rural Activities Administration. On December 6, 2022, Hizbullah's Al-Manar television channel reported that GWB and the Rural Activities Administration in the Jabal Amil region had launched GWB's annual forestation initiative in the area. A member of the administration described the cooperation between Hizbullah and the NGO, explaining that the towns submit requests to the administration, which reviews them with GWB, after which GWB selects the most suitable trees for each area.
Official In Rmeish Municipality: Hizbullah Is Trying To Turn The Town Into A Military Outpost
GWB's activity in the border area worries only Israel but also local residents, especially the Christian population. As stated, during the second half of 2022 there were two clashes between GWB activists and locals in Rmeish, which has a Maronite Christian majority. These incidents shed light on the NGO's activity in the area.
According to the head of the Rmeish town council, Milad Al-'Alam, GWB first became active in the town in 2017, when a local who co-owns agricultural land in the area leased it to GWB without the knowledge or consent of the other owners. GWB built two offices on the land, and when the lease ran out it refused to leave.
Locals claim that disagreements with GWB are a frequent occurrence. But an incident in July 2022 was unusual in that it involved gunfire. According to local sources, GWB confiscated timber that a local had cut down on his own land, and when it refused to give it back, locals gathered outside the organization's offices. Armed members of Hizbullah then arrived on the scene and clashes ensued, during which shots were fired. The army was also called in and tried to settle the dispute. Town council head Al-'Alam noted that, two days earlier, a similar incident had taken place, but was quickly resolved. The town council issued a statement urging the state authorities to remove the "illegal" structures on the outskirts of the town. It also expressed harsh criticism of authorities for not fulfilling their obligations and enforcing the law.
In early December 2022 another disagreement broke out after, according to locals, GWB erected temporary structures and started building a road and on their land without permission. Greenhouses were torched and the army had to intervene.
Path cleared by GWB through private land in Rmeish in preparation for paving a road (image: Almodon.com, December 17, 2022)
A statement from local residents, posted on the town council's Facebook page, said that "the de facto powers," i.e. Hizbullah, were threatening landowners and harming them by uprooting trees, clearing wide areas and using heavy construction machinery on their private land – and all this "in full view of the Lebanese Armed Forces, which operate in the region in accordance with Resolution 1701, and despite significant opposition from the residents." The locals called on Lebanon's political and religious leaders, starting with the Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi, to take swift action to stop "the provocations and the aggression" against them and their property, to stop all the attacks that undermine coexistence and prevent additional escalation. The locals also published documents which they claim prove their ownership of the land where GWB is active.
According to Rmeish town priest Najib Al-'Amil, Hizbullah has positions in the town, located behind army posts and one even adjacent to a UNIFIL position. He says that "a short while ago the NGO began cutting down old oak trees and planting carob trees instead, and we – the owners of the land – are prohibited from going there… I live in Qatmoun on the border; there is a Hizbullah position there. In the guise of protecting the environment, they have managed to pave roads and uproot trees. They have been working [there], especially recently. They sent people who spoke to the locals on behalf of Hizbullah, pressuring them to sign leases. [But] no one is likely to agree to it this time."
An unnamed town dignitary told the Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat that "the purpose of Hizbullah's activity is to transform Rmeish into a military outpost for the organization. He added that Hizbullah operatives have been building a military road through the green areas around the town, to gain access to the border with Israel. "The residents of Rmeish will not allow this aggression toward their lands and property to continue, and will not let their safe town become a violent military area," he said.
The locals claim that the army did not heed their requests to prevent GWB from taking over their lands, but refused to intervene, on the grounds that the NGO had legally leased the land in question.
According to the Lebanese website Daraj, a local saw Hizbullah bringing weapons into the area, which may be the reason for the locals' anger. Another report claims that GWB threatens locals who photograph its activities, and that it recently erected a new position, about 30 meters from the Blue Line. Its activists travel armed, in vehicles without license plates, and they have fired at locals on several occasions.
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Yet another Lebanese website claims that Hizbullah increased its activity in the area following a decrease in local support for its Christian ally, the Free Patriotic Movement party, and a clear rise in support for the rival Christian party, Samir Geagea's Lebanese Forces party, which opposes Hizbullah. The website speculates that Hizbullah is disrupting the lives of Christian in the border villages in an attempt to force them to abandon their land. To this end it blocks roads, dumps trash and rubble in residential and agricultural areas, and so on. It employs similar tactics against the Sunnis in the area, specifically in the border towns of Yarine and Marwahin.
Christian Leaders: The State Is Helpless To Oppose Hizbullah
Not surprisingly, the Christian political and religious leadership that opposes Hizbullah took the side of the residents and harshly criticized the conduct of the security apparatuses and the state authorities in this affair. Following the clash in July 2022, the political bureau of the Kataeb Party (also known as the Phalanges), led by Samy Gemayel, condemned the "acts of intimidation by the 'black shirts' under the guise of environmental activities" in the Rmeish area and stated that the use of weapons against locals "is another example of Hizbullah's intimidation and use of force to protect its interests." The party called on the state institutions to end this threat to the citizens' security.
Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi also responded to the incidents. During Sunday service on July 31, 2022 he "expressed sorrow about the incident" that had occurred between "armed members of a certain party" [i.e., Hizbullah] and locals from Rmeish, and called on the security apparatuses to do their job and protect "our sons" so that they "feel they belong to a country that protects them… in accordance with Security Council Resolution 1701, which forbids the presence of any armed force in their area."
The Patriarch also responded to the clash in December. During Sunday services on December 18, he expressed sorrow about the harassment of town residents by "operatives of the de facto forces belonging to one of the parties in the region," and again urged the security apparatuses to fulfil their role and protect the locals' property, remove illegal structures and expel the "foreign elements" from the town. On a separate occasion, he asserted that the attacks on the lands in Rmeish were unacceptable. The locals, he said, had appealed to the appropriate authorities but the latter professed helplessness to stop the attacks. In response to the locals' questions, the authorities admitted that the attacks were illegal, but said that they were unable to enforce the law.
In a statement it issued on December 17, the Bint Jbeil branch of Geagea's Lebanese Forces party stated that all the Lebanese officials must recognize and understand the implications of these infractions, i.e., the infringement on the residents' property, the uprooting of trees, the building of roads and the recurring threats to local residents and landowners by "partisan elements whose allegiance and objectives are known." Among these objectives are "taking over [the locals'] ancestral land and changing the identity of the area by compelling them to relinquish their rights, in the absence of a deterring government that enforces the law and punishes the aggressors," the party said. It warned against the implications of these developments, which could provoke "impulsive and unexpected responses," and urged the security and judicial systems to do their job and to stop all the violations of the residents' rights.
Hizbullah: There Is No Dispute With The Locals; GWB Will Continue Its Activities In The Area
Following each of the clashes in 2022, Hizbullah attempted to restore calm and sent representatives to the area to speak with the locals. However, at the same time, Hizbullah and GWB insisted that the NGO would continue its activity in the area. Following the incident in July, a GWB source told the Lebanese online daily Al-Mudun that the altercation had occurred after GWB activists attempted to prevent locals from felling trees. The organization is working to protect the green spaces in the area and in other parts of South Lebanon, and is determined to prevent deforestation, he said.
In an effort to alleviate the conflict a meeting was held between representatives of the Rmeish municipality, the Lebanese army and Hizbullah. According to the Al-Janoubia website, Hizbullah's representatives conceded that their operatives had been out of line and promised to hold them accountable. A similar meeting was held following the incident in December. According to Hizbullah and the news sites affiliated with it, the organization made efforts to defuse the situation and the locals appreciated the efforts. These sites also accused the Lebanese Forces party of attempting to escalate the situation. Hizbullah's Al-Ahed website reported that a delegation of local Hizbullah officials had met with municipal leaders, the head of the church, and representatives of the residents, and that the matter was settled immediately to the satisfaction of all sides. Al-Ahed added that the information disseminated about the affair on social media and by other media outlets was grossly exaggerated. The website quoted Rmeish town priest Najib Al-'Amil as welcoming the visit of the Hizbullah delegation and saying that there had been no attack on the towns' lands and that the entire incident was "meaningless." According to the site, Al-'Amil said that the people of Rmeish "welcome and encourage anyone who wants to defend the borders or plant trees," and that the locals had agreed to maintain contact with Hizbullah in order to prevent such incidents in the future.
The meeting between Hizbullah representatives and locals (Alahednews.com.lb, December 21, 2022)
Al-'Amil, for his part, denied the Al-Ahed report and gave his own account of the incident: He arrived at the site of the incident and asked the GWB activists to stop what they were doing, but they refused and even threatened some of the locals present. To prevent a clash Al-'Amil tried to pacify the locals and promised them he would try to resolve the crisis. In the meeting with the Hizbullah representatives, the latter said that the purpose of GWB's activity was to defend the border. He assured them this was unnecessary, since the Lebanese army has a position in the area from which "it is possible to see all the way to Haifa," and UNIFIL has a position in the area as well. He also told them that GWB had not planted a single tree in the area for six years; on the contrary, it had ignored the felling of trees and perhaps "even took part in selling the timber." A Hizbullah representative promised that the GWB tent would be removed and that the landowners would be allowed access to their land; he also claimed that the GWB facilities had been built in coordination with the army.
*N. Moses is a research fellow at MEMRI.
 Jihad Al-Binaa is a Hizbullah-owned construction company which has been designated by the U.S. as a Foreign Terrorist Organization since 2007. According to the U.S. Treasury, it is funded directly by Iran and is subordinate to Hizbullah's Shura Council, headed by the organization's secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah (Treasury.gov, February 20, 2007).
 Al-Qard Al-Hassan (AQAH) was established in 1982. Its website states that it provides small interest-free loans with convenient terms. According to a report it published in 2014, the association had given out 123,696 loans valued at $276,532 (Qardhasan.org, accessed May 2, 2019). The organization is suspected of being a cover for Hizbullah's financial operations and was designated by the U.S. as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in July 2007 (Treasury.gov).
 Waad Project is a Hizbullah-owned construction company which was established after the war with Israel in 2006. The U.S. Treasury imposed sanctions on it in 2009 (Treasury.gov, June 1, 2009).
 Unscr.com/en/resolutions/2650, August 31, 2022. Deputy U.S. Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Richard Mills explained that the containers in question belonged to GWB, saying: "The proliferation of prefabricated containers placed by Green Without Borders obstructs UNIFIL’s access to the Blue Line and is heightening tensions in the area, further demonstrating that this so-called environmental group is acting on Hizballah’s behalf" (usun.usmission.gov, August 31, 2022).
 See for example MEMRI JTTM reports: Hizbullah Escalates Its Threats To UNIFIL Following UN Resolution To Extend Its Mandate For Another Year And Expand Its Authority, September 13, 2022;
 See MEMRI Report: Lebanese Journalists: Hizbullah Responsible For Death Of Irish UNIFIL Soldier, December 22, 2022.
 Akhdarbelahodod.blogspot.com, accessed January 26, 2023.
 Http://188.8.131.52, June 20, 2013.
 Idf.il, June 22, 2017.
 Alahednews.com.lb, December 4, 2021.
 Almanar.com.lb, December 6, 2022.
 Al-Nahhar (Lebanon), July 30, 2022.
 Al-Nahhar (Lebanon), July 30, 2022.
 Janoubia.com, July 30, 2022.
 Imlebanon.org, December 9, 2022.
 Almarkazia.com, December 19, 2022.
 Facebook.com/BaladietRmeich, December 17, 2022.
 Nidaalwatan.com, December 21, 2022.
 Sawtbeirut.com, December 22, 2022.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London) December 18, 2022.
 Nidaalwatan.com, December 21, 2022.
 Daraj.media, December 20, 2022.
 The Blue Line between Lebanon and Israel, delineated by the UN in 2000 following the withdrawal of the IDF forces from southern Lebanon, extends for 120 km.
 Sawtbeirut.com, December 22, 2022.
 Nidaalwatan.com, December 21, 2022.
 'The black shirts' is a name for Hizbullah supporters, who tend to wear black to the organization's rallies and other shows of support. For instance, on January 19, 2011, hundreds of black-clad Hizbullah activists held a show of force in Beirut and in other Lebanese cities following the publication of some of the findings of the committee that looked into the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri.
 Aliwaa.com.lb, August 2, 2022.
 Aljoumhouria.com, July 31, 2022.
 Al-Nahhar (Lebanon), December 18, 2022.
 Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), December 28, 2022.
 Aliwaa.com.lb, December 19, 2022.
 Almodon.com, July 30, 2022.
 Janoubia.com, July 30, 2022.
 For example, the Pro-Hizbullah daily Al-Akhbar claimed that the Lebanese Forces party was trying to enflame the situation for political purposes. According to the daily, the area in question used to suffer from Israeli violations, drug smuggling and illegal deforestation, and GWB put an end to this. It also initiated a workshop on forestation in the area, which required building a road through an area part of which is pasture whose ownership is unclear, while another part is land whose ownership is in dispute. The Lebanese Forces party, claimed the daily, exploited this dispute to organize protests in the area and also set fire to a GWB tent. Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), December 19, 2022.
 Alahednews.com.lb, December 21, 2022.
 Facebook.com/HarakatAlArd, December 22, 2022.