Hezbollah, Her Protector

For one year from 2007-2008, Amar traveled around the world reporting on how people from all walks of life view the United States through text and video.  The following is one of a number of posts from Lebanon. For more, click here.

Beirut - Last weekend Amena N. took me through her home in Haret Hreik, a predominantly Shia part of town in the southern suburbs of Beirut. With days to go until the presidential elections, she complained that America would rather break Lebanon's fragile democracy in two than respect her political party --Hezbollah.

"When America calls us terrorists," Amena says, "I lose hope for the U.S….I support Hezbollah, my family does too…but we do not want war."

There is no clear threshold between the Hezbollah-dominated southern suburbs of Beirut and the rest of the city. As you drive south, the buildings just move closer together, the piles of rubble stack up, and the wires between apartments grow more densely intertwined.

Unexpected images pop up. A Kentucky Fried Chicken and then a poster of Ayatollah Khomeini; a Microsoft-authorized testing center, then a poster of a Hezbollah tank under which the words "Israeli Destroyer" are printed. Hezbollah's leader Hassan Nasrallah appears on doors, over alleyways, and on towering buildings.

Before I can start filming, I have to go through the Hezbollah Press Office, situated in a shopping area above a women's fashion store. A plump lady asks me about my project and reviews my credentials. She knows Amena's family, which makes the approval process relatively painless. Amena is a twenty-three-year-old masters student in communications engineering at the American University of Beirut. And Amena's father is a Shia Islamic scholar who believes strongly in pan-Islamism, and supports Hezbollah fully.

Regardless, I'm appointed a "minder" who's supposed to make sure I don't film anything deemed sensitive. This includes the traffic police (who are provided by Hezbollah, not the Lebanese state), the site of Hassan Nasrallah's charred old house, and close-ups of Hezbollah party members.

Amena takes me to the site where her apartment once stood. In the July War of 2006 it was flattened by Israeli bombs. While the Lebanese government reeled from the strikes, and the international community stayed back, Hezbollah stepped in and paid for a full year of rent for her family, she claims. Now Hezbollah is helping finance the reconstruction of the entire apartment building. Huge signs tower among dozens of cranes and hundreds of hard-hatted workers that read, "We will build it better than before."

Reconstructing in the evening.

How can this party, which rescued her family in times of hardship, and which claims adherents from her family and her close friends be a "terrorist group" for America? she asks me.

I bring up the abduction of Israeli soldiers that ostensibly precipitated the July War. She calls it legitimate resistance. And when I push, her voice quivers and she turns to what she knows: her family, her friends, her coffee-vendor with an image of a "martyred" soldier on the window -- all people who turn to the party when they feel most powerless.

"We all support Hezbollah and we all really share the values of the Americans too -- we all believe in peace, loving life, in education,” she said. “But we need safety and rights too."

We walked past the hall where Hassan Nasrallah used to speak. Amena had listened to him there: "When you hear him you feel you are strong, you feel you are right," she says.

"What about reports that Iran has written Hezbollah a blank check to rebuild the southern suburbs?"

Amena tackles this with force: "It's not true. Any of the money that comes through Iran or wherever [is passed along] directly by people paying Zakat," she says, referring to the obligatory charitable donations required of all Muslims.

Amena says that "defending Lebanon against Israel," is her main interest and she believes America is curbing Hezbollah in order to advance the interests of Israel.

“It is not time for Hezbollah to disarm yet. We need them for security from Israel," she says.

Amena also objects to what she believes is American meddling in her country’s affairs. Nasrallah, “describes many American interferences…like the ambassador of America making visits to many politicians these days….It's offensive. How come he [the U.S. ambassador] thinks himself eligible to be part of our political life?" Her pride is hurt. "Lebanon is for us to decide.”

LebanonAmar Bakshi