A daily bulletin of news & opinion

23 August 2010

While many Lebanese hit the beach on weekends, some head to museums. Opened to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon in the small town of Mlita (south Lebanon) is Hezbollah’s latest museum. It is an impressive but surreal affair, unmatched in size and breadth by any other political party’s propaganda apparatus.

From its scenic standpoint, the museum overlooks both the western mountain range of the Bekaa Valley and the Mediterranean Sea. In a Frank Gehry-like structure, the Shi’a political group, which has exerted considerable power on Lebanese politics in recent years, offers visitors its take on its role as Lebanon’s preeminent Islamic resistance to Israel.

Visitors must pay a little under two euros for entry and as one visitor points out, “The museum is always open because the Resistance doesn’t close down for lunch or holiday.”

Upon entering the manicured grounds, you are guided towards a park filled with reproductions of Israeli Merkava tanks. From there, you can follow a secret trail once used by Hezbollah’s combatants. Mannequins dressed in army fatigues are placed in the surrounding mountain terrain along with Katyusha rockets, “Raad 1″ missiles and prayer books stashed behind trees and rocks. According to the information boards, written in both Arabic and English, missiles were fired into north Israel from this very spot during the 2006 war.

Further on, visitors can wander around the museum’s exhibition room, where even the air conditioners don a “guerilla look” covered in green camouflage material. Military paraphernalia belonging to the enemy is exhibited in glass boxes. On the wall, a complicated chart of the Israeli army’s hierarchal divisions implies Hezbollah’s knowledge of how its enemy operates.

Move on to the cinema room, where a film with a galvanizing music score is shown around the clock. The editing is quick, focusing on combat scenes and explosions interspersed with speeches by Hezbollah’s leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, a fiery orator with a sense of repartee.

Until now, the museum has attracted a steady crowd, largely Shi’a Hezbollah supporters, as well as followers of the Free Patriotic Movement, the Christian opposition party led by General Michel Aoun, which has sided with Hezbollah (although a close aide was recently discovered to be spying for Israel). But there are also foreigners: Iranian tourists, whose government heavily backs Lebanon’s Islamic Resistance.

A restaurant and a souvenir shop are being built to complement the experience. Looking at the young children playing in the central fountain, some dressed in military outfits, you wonder if they wouldn’t have preferred a day at the beach after all.


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