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07 April 2007

Welcome to Hizbullahland

medium_hezbollah.2.jpgThe Lebanese army is partly controlled by Syria, not like before 1975," Henry said. "Before 1975 the Lebanese army was pro-Western and neutral toward Israel."

POSTED BY(http://www.jpost.com)A SHORT WHILE after we passed through the conservative Sunni coastal city of Saida, a young man stood in the middle of an intersection and waved glossy pamphlets at cars. Said pulled alongside him and said something in Arabic.

"What is he handing out?" Noah asked and rolled down his window.

"Hizbullah propaganda," Henry replied.

Said stepped on the accelerator.

Noah tried to grab one of the pamphlets.

"I want one of those," he said. But the Hizbullah man kept the pamphlets tightly clutched in his fingers.

"He is selling them," Said said, "not giving them away."

"Oops," Noah said. "I wasn't trying to steal one."

"He doesn't care about money or propaganda," Said said. "He is watching. This is the beginning of their territory. He reports on who is coming and what they are doing."

"Whenever you see something blown up from here," Henry said, "it is because it was owned by Hizbullah people or because Hizbullah had something to do with it."

If you're familiar with Lebanese politics, it's obvious whose territory you're in just by looking at roadside political adverts and posters. The Shi'ite regions are divided between the Hizbullah and Amal parties. Amal, also known as the Movement of the Disinherited, is Hizbullah's sometime rival and sometime ally. It's a secular party that was founded by the Iranian cleric Moussa Sadr to advance the interests of the long-neglected and voiceless Shi'ites, the poorest and most marginalized Lebanese sect. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri is the chief of Amal today, and he has forged an uneasy alliance with Hizbullah and with the Syrians. Berri's face is plastered up everywhere in Amal strongholds, and Nasrallah's face is even more ubiquitous in Hizbullah territory. Occasionally you'll see both Berri and Nasrallah together.

What you rarely see in either Hizbullah or Amal areas are Lebanese flags. The Sunni, Druse and Christian parts of Lebanon are blanketed with the national cedar-tree flag, as well as those of various political parties and movements. Only the Shi'ite towns and villages are bereft of noticeable signs of patriotism.

Another striking difference between the Shi'ite regions and the rest is which kind of "martyrs" are famous. Hizbullah and Amal strongholds venerate "resistance" fighters killed in battles with Israel.

You never see anything like this in the Sunni, Christian or Druse parts of the country. Instead you'll see portraits of more liberal and moderate Lebanese who were car-bombed by the Syrians.

Billboards in and around Beirut say "No war, teach peace" and "I love life." Hizbullah would never allow anything of the sort to be erected in its parts of Lebanon, even though I know lots of Shi'ites who agree with those sentiments.

WE VENTURED deeper into the south, into the steep rolling hills that make up the region known as Upper Galilee.

"It's beautiful here," Noah said, and kept saying. He had never been there before. "This would be a great place for an artist's retreat if it weren't so dangerous."

"Beautiful country, fanatic people," Said said.

Most of the villages and towns were more or less intact.

We did, however, drive past the occasional damaged house or places where buildings recently stood and that now were fields of cleared rubble.

"Can we get out and talk to people around here?" I asked.

"I do not recommend it," Said answered. "They cannot talk freely. The watchers will come up to us if we get out of the car, and they will make sure anyone who talks to us only tells us what they are supposed to say."


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