Hungover at Hezbollah Headquarters

Saturday morning 09:30 pm, Beirut, Lebanon. I am brutally awoken from a drunken, dreamless sleep. “Get up, we’re leaving for Dahier in 15 minutes.” In quick succesion images from last night run trough my mind, the Basement, strobe lights, Anton Pieete, me hanging on to the speaker trying not to fall, puking. There’s definitely gaps, I know that. I get out of bed and walk to the toilet, and while taking these first unsteady steps of the day I realize two things. Firstly, I am still drunk, and secondly, I am completely naked. Why am I naked? Where are my clothes? How long did I sleep? 3 hours? 4? That’s not nearly enough time to get all that vodka out of my system. I’m in for at least 2 hours of blissful drunkenness before the real hangover kicks in. I decide to brush my teeth for my classmates sake, and while doing so I find most of my clothes in the shower. Strange.

I stand in the elevator to go down to the hotel lobby, my finger hovers in front of the button that says “0”. My hands are shaking uncontrollably and the inside of my head feels like a gyroscope gone mad. A voice in my head says ‘…go back to bed, sleep it off…’ It’s true, I can go back to bed. There is always a choice -I mean, its not like they can make you go or something… No! You must go, it’s a great opportunity, great material awaits! And above all, these media department people have no idea what to say to a Hezbollah spokesperson, they need some IR expertise.

An excruciating taxi ride later and we are in Dahier, the Hezbollah controlled part of Beirut. Here you can find pictures of martyrs displayed all around next to posters of Hassan Nasrallah smiling benevolently and advertisements that show female body parts are painted over with black paint. Everywhere there is construction going on. They’re still rebuilding the damage done by Israeli airstrikes and artillery attacks in the 2006 war. While waiting, my physical situation goes from terrible to abysmal. I can tell you now, the only thing worse than having a terrible hangover is having to experience the transition from being drunk to having a terrible hangover while being wide awake and experiencing every gruesome detail of it. To make things worse, we’re standing in a terribly hot and dusty alley in a very unfriendly part of town. The people that pass us give us scornful looks, and mumble arabic sentences that really don’t sound like ‘good morning’. My stomach is starting to feel slightly queazy, and I silently pray to Allah to help me keep the vomit down.

Finally the rest arrives, and we are taken to an inconspicuous building with equally inconspicuous looking men in green uniforms who are hanging around a little too discreetly. We go up some stairs and are brought to a room with comfortable chairs and couches by a friendly woman who asks if we would like some tea. Finally. Some much-needed liquid is on the way. Maybe I will survive this after all. We sit down, and are left alone for a little while. All around the room are Hezbollah flags and again posters of Nasrallah and his former second-in-command Imad Mughniyah -the man who killed the most Americans before 9/11. He died in an alleged Mossad conspired assassination in Damascus in 2008 (bomb in driver seat headrest). Meir Dagan, head of Mossad, was promptly declared “man of the year 2008” by Israeli Channel 2 News.
Julian and Andrew get their camera gear ready, and we pose in front of the Hezbollah flag while wearing sunglasses and looking really awesome. Giggles all around, until the door opens and an impressive man in a suit enters, followed by the woman with our tea. Our giggles our smothered, and we hastily scuttle back to our seats.
To my horror I see that the tea cups are about the size of a tequila shot glass (I know, bad comparison) That is not nearly going to be enough fluid for my raging thirst. Metaphors of droplets of water evaporating on cooking plates go through my mind, but I am brought back to the real world when the man in the suit starts speaking in perfect Oxfort English. He introduces himself as Dr. Ibrahim Mousawi, “Chief of Media Relations of Hezbollah”, he doesn’t fail to add. He starts by handing out several leaflets and books on Hezbollah and the 2006 war. Among those a book on weapons sales of EU countries and US to Israel, and Israel’s consecutive use of it. I leaf trough it. Apparently the Dutch government, together with a lot of other EU countries, have been busy little bees, selling all sorts of weaponry to Israel, including the infamous cluster bombs and phosphorus grenades. I continue reading, apparently these cluster bombs are rockets filled with 600-800 separate little bombs, each with a bright yellow or pink ribbon attached to it, so that when they fall to the earth and fail to explode (which is about 4 times out of 10), they’ll get stuck in trees and bushes, and make a great mine. In the final days of the 2006 war, the IDF dropped thousands (do the math: 1000×800/0,4=160000 unexploded cluster bombs) of those nasty things above Southern Lebanon, effectively making the place uninhabitable. Children are particularly drawn to these things and to prove this point the book also features pictures of little children without legs and/or arms, or terrible head wounds. In one picture an adorable little girl with bright green eyes stares into the camera. A large piece of her head is missing. The slight queasiness in my stomach now turns into violent nausea, and I have to put the book down. ‘Nose in, mouth out’… Ancient zen breathing techniques are needed to prevent myself from puking my guts out in the Lebanon Hezbollah headquarters.

I finish the tea in one tiny gulp, and I wonder how they manage to get that much sugar into such a small quantity of tea. Impressive. Dr. Mousawi in the meantime has started a monologue following each question we ask. He is now talking about the “new strategy” that Hezbollah is implementing on the streets of Lebanon. They have stopped showing weapons openly, in an attempt to get rid of their paramilitary image. Dr. Mousawi tells about an event that occurred last year, when Sunni militants had opened fire on Hezbollah members in a sectarian dispute. “Not a single bullet we fired in return!” he proudly exclaims. “Well, that’s pretty impressive for the organisation that invented suicide bombing.” I can’t help to think. Before the 2006 wars, Hezbollah was proudly parading Katyusha-122 rockets through the streets of Dahier, but today things have changed, apparently. Hezbollah is still considered to be one of the strongest military forces in the area, with more rockets and weaponry than most countries in the area. But in Beirut, you will not see any of that. They are struggling to change their image. They have suffered a tremendous blow in public support after the 2006 war and many Lebanese blame Hezbollah for provoking the IDF with their “Operation Truthful Promise” which lead to the invasion of Southern Lebanon and the bombardment of Beirut.

I realize something. What if we are part of that strategy? What if we are supposed to go out to our countries and spread stories of moderate looking, Oxfort educated men in suits that serve you ultra sugary tea and hand out neat looking leaflets written by western journalists? Dr. Mousawi knows that in our countries his organisation, the resistance, is described as a terrorist organisation. Perhaps he hopes to change that through us.
Well, he has a point. There is definitely some changes needed in our perception of Hezbollah. Hezbollah is political party, it is a school, a university, a television and radio station, it’s a labour union, a housing project, and yes, it is also a paramilitary force. People that work for Hezbollah are teachers, students, presenters, street makers, traffic wardens, farmers, journalists, and yes, militants. In our media the only Hezbollah members we get to see are the ones holding AK 47’s burning Israeli flags and chanting “down with the Zionists!” I mean, let’s get some facts straight: Hezbollah condemned Al-Qaeda for the 9/11 attacks on civilians, in an interview with the Washington Post, Nasrallah condemned violence against American citizens, and Hezbollah has not committed any suicide attacks since the IDF withdrew from Lebanese territory. And above all, the majority of Lebanese people consider Hezbollah’s existence and presence in Lebanon justified.

After Dr. Mousawi has finished, we leave our comfortable airconditioned room, and head back into Dahier, under supervision of a dangerous looking man with scars on his face and a walkie-talkie in his right hand. We walk through Dahier, and are allowed to take pictures on several occasions. At one point we see a butcher shop, with a skinned, but nevertheless intact cow hanging from his anus by a hook. The butcher himself stand next to it and grins. Yes. This is exactly what you want to see when having the most inappropriate hangover in you life. We are shown the former Hezbollah tv-station (a giant hole in the ground), and we walk through the streets, where most buildings are still under construction. We are told all of the projects are paid for by Hezbollah. I can’t stop thinking  that all that money was once Iranian oil, or Syrian taxes. And the bombs that destroyed the buildings in the first place are perhaps my fathers tax euros. The world is a strange place. Now that I know that, can we go find some aspirin please?


4 Responses to “Hungover at Hezbollah Headquarters”

  1. 1 Myke 16/06/2010 at 3:05 pm

    Every story has two truths. At least two agressors and at least two or more victims. Depending on the point of view there will allways be the outcome of one sides to choose. Which story, or side do you empathise with? And why? If I may ask?

  2. 2 kallechy 17/04/2012 at 9:50 am

    Thats crazy dude, you got a lot more balls then I have, walking into Hezbolah’s headquarters without a brick of symtex strapped to your chest, JUST IN CASE xD

  3. 3 Nathaniel 05/06/2013 at 7:39 pm

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  4. 4 Online Reputation Management 06/08/2013 at 2:59 pm

    WOW just what I was looking for. Came here by searching for creating a positive online image.

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