Visit Hezbollah’s Base Camp

Harit Thariq area forbidden for government soldier.

The opportunity emerged when I visited Lebanon in February 2007. A member of Hezbollah namely Hajj Abu Ali asked me to wait at 13.00 pm in front of the office of Shiite Supreme Council, Harit Thariq, Beirut. I went there with a Mercedes Benz belongs to the Embassy of Indonesia.

After waiting for ten minutes, a young man in black came by motorcycle to me. “Indonesia?” he asked. I nodded and then he went away. I followed him and then in five minutes we stopped in a damaged building.

We came in from beside of the building through a path that only enough for one car. We found a green Mercedes parked there. I think it’s may be owned by Muhammad Hasan Ra’ad, a Hezbollah senior leader. We walked up the stairs to the fourth floor. And then came into a room that I saw four Hezbollah members. After waiting for 15 minutes, I met Hasan Ra’ad.

A day before, I also visited Hezbollah base camp in this area. At that time, I was taken by a man namely Adnan Husaini. We stopped at a building under construction. We also went up to the fourth floor. My purpose at that time is applying for interview with Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, I filled a form and then my passpord and press card scanned by Wafa Hutait, woman in charge.

Wafa reaffirmed what I wrote on the form. A side of interview, I want to stay a night in Nasrallah’s secret place. I desire to describe his daily activities. But until now, the opportunity is not coming yet. “We have submitted your application, waiting for his answer,” Wafa said many times I called her.

I always admire in my twice opportunity visited Hezbollah base camp. I admired on the bravely and proudly young men with their M-16 and AK-47. I saw on their faces pride as patriots bravely fighting against Israeli military.

Unstable political situation made Hasan Ra’ad and other Lebanese political elites their appearances in public. Off course they don’t want to die like Rafiq Hariri, a former Lebanese prime minister killed by a car bomb on 14 February 2005. Since that, five people murdered, including two journalists and Industry Minister Pierre Gamayel.

Era of 1975 – 1990 is a bad dream for Lebanese people. The civil war caused by fighting between a Lebanese man and a gourp of Palestinians in Ain ar-Rumanah, Beirut, April 1975. There are five massacres during the war, included Israeli strike against Sabra and Shatila refugee camp. The 15 years war killed 100,000 and force 14,000 exiled abroad.

Remains of war, such as destroyed buildings and without settlers can be seen in Beirut, particularly in the border of Muslim and Christian communities. There also a number of bus wreckages collected in a field at roadside of the street to the office of foreign ministry. A great war erupted again in that country of four million people on 12 July – 14 August 2006. It caused by Hezbollah refusal to give two Israeli soldiers they abducted.

It caused about 2,000 civilians died and Lebanon lost US$ 11.4 billion, especially from tourism sector. Foreign tourists visit Lebanon every summer (May – September). “Hezbollah has damaged everything. Today, nobody wants to come to Lebanon,” said Patricia Khoder, 34, from Beirut.

Hezbollah strong base in south Lebanon is the most damaged caused by the war. The highway from Beirut to southern areas is difficult to pass. Bridges and damages buildings can be seen in Tyre, Nabatiyeh, and Qana.

In Qana – could be reached two hours by car from Beirut – Israeli military massacred civilian for the second time. Previously, on 19 April 1996, 107 people and 50 the UN staff were killed. At this time, Israeli air strike has killed 29 people, included 24 children. The victims aged form 9 months – 75 years old are from two big families, 11 from Mahmud Ibrahim Hashim’s family and the rest of Hasan Susain Salhub’s family.

According to Sana, daughter of Ahmad Mahmud Salhub, the bombings started from 01.00 on 31 July 2006. Her grand father, Mahmud Salhub, asked Sana her two sisters stay in their house and not followed the others evacuated.

They couldn’t sleep along that night. “In one night, I heard six explosions,” said Jamil Salami, 40 years. At tomorrow, Sana acknowledged her father, grandfather and her families killed under building debris. All victims could be buried on 17 August after cease-fire.

To handle her longing, now days Sana only can look at her family pictures hang on the wall at the living room. Her house faces a valley full of olive trees. “If I meet Israelis, I will slice them slowly,” said this 14 year old girl with grievance seemed at her face.

In Beirut, the worst damage area in Harit Thariq, a settlement of Shiite Hezbollah. At least, there have been five places full of building ruins. Three of them had a big hole. Most of buildings were damaged in Harit zone.

Even though, the passers weren’t concerned. So far, there was no reconstruction projects even the war was over. “The negotiation between Hezbollah and Lebanese government are on going process,” said Muhammad Zainal Aziz, a local staff of the Embassy of Indonesia.

But it’s not easy for foreigners to capture damaged buildings from outside. A shop keeper threatened to destroy my camera when I tried to take pictures. “We can’t take picture on Hezbollah soldiers,” Aziz said. Therefore, I took picture from inside the car.

They were also suspicious on foreigners tried to approach Hezbollah figures. It happened to me when while I visited a shop owned by Abdullah. That shop sell souvenirs related to Hezbollah and Shiite, such as posters, shirts, and key holders with picture of Hassan Nasrallah.

Several men passed there and back in front of the shop. They watched me suspiciously when I selected the souvenirs. I also saw another three young men at the other side of street. I became a little worried while two young men with automatic weapons looked at me.

“He (Abdullah) was a leader of Hezbollah in this area,” said Muhammad Arkan, an Indonesian who lived near this area. I was convinced when an older man in white asked Abdullah’s help to drive out a group of young men who disturb his sleep.

In this country, weapons spread freely. As I saw In the noon, a young man with automatic weapon walked relax on the busy street. In the previous night, I found Hasan who owned a barbers shop brought a gun behind his jacket.

I have also witnessed weapon sell liberate, like in Ahmad’s shop, a Shiite. His bullet factory bombed by Israeli jets on July last year. “In this country, everyone can have a weapon without permission, said Habib Karouth, a Christian.

Socially and politically, Lebanese divided based on religion and sect, especially after civil war. There are 17 religion with many sects: 5 Islam (Shiite, Sunni, Druze, Ismail, Alawite), 10 Christian (Ortodox-Armenia, Greek, Syria, Nestoria-Assyiria, Catholic-Armenia, Syria, Caldea, Romawi, Maronite, Protestan), and Jewish. Ethnically, Lebanon consists of Arabs, Armenia, and Kurds.

Each settlement area has characteristic. In Shiite-Hezbollah area, we can see big posters of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, Abbas al-Musawi, or Musa Sadr. In Shiite-Amal, the pictures of those Shiite imams companied by poster of Nabih Berri, chairman of Amal Movement party and speaker of parliament. Poster of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora dominated Sunni area.

This polarization reemerged in the June 2005 election. Establishment of new majority that coalition of Islam Sunni – Druze – Christian and dominated by pro-Hariri supporters are not strong enough to all political process in Lebanon.

There were two another groups for political balance: Christian majority led by retired general Michael Aoun and Shiite block that combined of Amal Movement (Nabih Berri) and Hezbollah (Hassan Nasrallah).

These two groups cooperated to response strategic issues, such as supporting President Emile Lahud. Other, the pro-Hariri group thought Lahud’s position was illegal because his term expired since 2004 but expanded by pro-Syrian faction until 2007. Shiite ministers accused their colleagues weren’t objective tended to suspicious on Syrian involvement.

The division in cabinet also happened in response against UN Security Council Resolution 1559 that demanded disarms all militias in Lebanon. The resolution referred to Hezbollah. Whereas according to Shiite ministers, only Hezbollah can be reliable to end and handle Israeli strike.

Due to the 34 days war, the coalition of Aoun, Nasrallah, and Berri has accused the government wasn’t proactive to address the loss of war. Finally five Shiite ministers and three ministers from Aoun faction withdrew from the government. The opposition also held big demonstration that attracted around one million people in Martyr Square, central of Beirut.,since 8 March 2006. In the next six days turned to pro-government group that held protest.

According to Muhammad Hasan Ra’ad, chairman of Hezbollah faction in parliament, demonstration will be continued until the national unity government can be established. He opposed the accusation that opposition plan to topple the government. “We demanded expansion of government that Siniora still be a prime minister and opposition has enough roles in making common decision,” he said.

Tense situation force government soldiers built check points in the border of Sunni – Shiite and Islam – Christian. Each of them placed a tank and five soldiers. Prime Minister Siniora wouldn’t take risk civil war will erupt again.

The war frequently happen in Lebanon made its people bored. “I was disgusted at war. I want to live peace and secure,” said Ali Jabir, a Shiite in Beirut. His wish is in line with government campaign. They inserted advertise boards in Arabic and English that said “I Love Live”.

But remember, it’s only temporary. The new war could be erupted in Lebanon. “They (Israel) always say will strike again in the next summer,” Ra’ad said.

Faisal Assegaf (Beirut, February 2007)








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