Author: Victor Argo
May 23, 2013
LEBANESE PATCHWORK Victor Argo has
visited Mleeta and a Hezbollah theme park to find the soul of South
Lebanon. It is best described with one single word: resistance.
Mleeta is easier to find than I imagined. I take the Nabatieh exit on
the Saida–Tyr coastal highway and later turn left in Habboush and follow
the signs that direct me to the “resistance landmark” in Mleeta. On a
hilltop, at more than 1000 meters above sea level, a former Hezbollah
military outpost has been turned into a theme park. It presents the
conflict that the people of South Lebanon have fought over the years
with “Israel” and the victorious role Hezbollah has played in it.
At the park's entrance, I am awaited by Dareen and Mhamad, both locals
from the Mleeta area. I had been introduced to Dareen through a friend
of mine who is a relative of her. Mhamad is Dareen's cousin; a math
teacher who takes pride in his clear thinking and logical arguments.
South Lebanese people are political analysts by definition. They not
only talk about politics, they live politics, even geopolitics. Dareen
and Mhamad are no exceptions. They have first hand experience of the
aftermath of World War II, the Cold War and the times before and after
9/11. It was during these very different historical periods when
“Israel” – in their eyes – was made into a tool for Western powers to
control the Middle East and to subdue its people.
And it is on their land, in South Lebanon, where “Israel” has made its
most prominent mark in the Middle East outside of Palestine. The Israeli
army made an incursion all the way to Beirut in 1982, occupying the
southern part of a country torn and divided by a civil war. By 1984, the
popular resistance in South Lebanon started acting under the name of
Hezbollah, following the leadership of Sayyed Abbas Mousawi (killed in
1992), Imad Mughniyeh (killed in 2008), and Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah,
alive and very much adored.
By the year 2000, the south of Lebanon was free again, liberated by the
force of its own people. To this day, Hezbollah remains heavily armed
and they plan to keep it this way for the foreseeable future.
“After the 2006 summer war,” Mhamad says, “Israel knows that it can't
defeat Hezbollah militarily.” Therefore, he explains, the Israelis work
directly or indirectly on the political front to have Hezbollah disarmed
through a political scheme made in Beirut. “Beirut is full of
collaborators with Israel,” Mhamad goes on. “South Lebanon doesn't
figure in these people's business plans. However in South Lebanon, we
don't intend to fall into this Israeli trap.”
The Mleeta site is an amazing mixture of architecture, art and religion.
Like a well-planned military operation, nothing looks random. Everything
is loaded with symbolism and follows a well-crafted concept. In a vast
circular area in the center of the landmark, Israeli military vehicles,
bombs and guns, captured from the enemy, are exhibited. Helmets of
Israeli soldiers are placed accurately next to these artifacts. The
grandiose work of military art is called “the abyss.” It aims to
represent the political and military swamp into which “Israel”
supposedly has fallen in its confrontation with Hezbollah.
We walk down a bushy trail past places where Hezbollah fighters fought
and ordinary people had become martyrs. We enter a bunker system and
arrive at hidden rooms that served as sleeping quarters, field kitchens
or communication centers. Leaving the cave, we step onto a platform with
a magnificent outlook over South Lebanon, from the hills of Mleeta to
the Mediterranean Sea.
Dareen is moved. “I bring my children to the resistance landmark every
now and then, to teach them the history of our land and how we were able
to make it our own. Watching Israeli soldiers occupying our land and
Israeli planes bombing our villages has made me what I am: a devoted
member of the resistance, no matter what they say about Hezbollah in
London, Paris or Washington.”
We continue the trail and arrive at Sujud Bunker, a barricade from where
Israel's Sujud outpost less than one kilometer away was monitored and
“What about Israel?” I ask Mhamad. “What is Israel?” he replies. “Why
not having the Jewish state in Argentina, in Uganda – as it was once
planned – or in Eastern Europe? Why here in Palestine, where Israel is
like an alien element which is vehemently rejected by its surrounding
Between 1945 and 1954, the liberal Lebanese thinker and journalist
Michel Chiha warned how the creation of “Israel” would overwhelm liberal
impulses in the Arab world. “There is no other country,” Chiha also
wrote, “that recruits its population this way, by giving strangers
wherever they come from, and only because they are Jewish, the right to
In 2013, Mhamad gives more details to these early warnings: “Jews from
Ethiopia – newcomers! - are more legitimate citizens of Israel and
inhabitants of Palestine than Palestinians? Please!”
“And why was the Lebanese resistance able to kick Israel out while the
Palestinians were not?” I go on asking. Mhamad tries to say it
diplomatically: “these days, Hamas fights in Syria alongside the rebels,
against the best friend they ever had. That's why.”
We stroll back to the main square of the resistance landmark, past
various types of weapons that are displayed along the way. The most
intriguing piece is the Kornet-E anti-tank guided missile system.
Hezbollah used this weapon to stop and destroy Israeli tanks in the 2006
war. Even the Russian manufacturers were surprised that their product
would work so lethally on the Merkavas.
Everything is for sale it seems, except Hezbollah. Or rather: except the
resistance? The word “Hezbollah” is rarely mentioned in Mleeta. However,
there are plenty of references to “resistance.” Hezbollah may be the
party, the army, the organization. But resistance is the entire people
of South Lebanon. And this is what makes Hezbollah strong.
Some contemptuously dub Mleeta “the Hezbollah Disneyland.” However,
Mleeta is much less and much more than this. Less, because this is not a
place of exuberant fantasies. Mleeta is the reality. More, because
Mleeta is not a fun thing, but a serious reflection, with the occasional
heroic exaggeration, on the experiences made by the people of South
Lebanon. Everything is possible when you believe and fight for it.
Elsewhere, they call this the American dream.
Mleeta is unique. Hezbollah shouldn't jeopardize its legacy lightly.