The Hezbollah South

Nabatiye Travel Blog

 › entry 6 of 10 › view all entries
An old Israeli armored vehicle displayed prominently at the entrance to Nabatiya.

7/26/06: Update to this entry. I guess most of Nabatiya is destroyed now and the roads I took down to the border are lethal and littered with wrecked cars hit by missiles. So strange ... just last year at about this time. And Al-Khyam which I mention below -- it's destroyed too. The south of Lebanon is such a tiny area and as you can see by the photo - escape by car offers no cover. I suppose I'm fortunate not to have been stuck down there at this ugly time.
On the road to the Hezbollah controlled Lebanese border with Israel.
The south will likely be off-limits for years and years to come.

8/28/05: We slept in fairly late considering the big plans we had for the day -- a trip to the border areas in southern Lebanon. We got as far as Qana in 1999, (site of an infamous episode in 1996 which one may research if they choose to) but the area was under Israeli occupation then and we couldn't pass the U.N. checkpoint. So, I made it downstairs in time for the free breakfast and sauntered out by 11:30 am or so, cabbing it to the "Coca-Cola" terminal where you can find transport from Beirut to anywhere in the country. We both caught a nice AC'd bus to the coastal city of Sidon and transferred to a mini-bus inland to the town of Nabatiya.
Just a few meters from the electric border fence separating Lebanon from Israel. That's an Israeli gunner's nest on the little hill.
Along the roadside I noticed more and more Hezbollah banners, political billboards and photos of their members killed in clashes with Israel during and possibly after the occupation. Upon entering Nabatiya the first thing you see is an old Israeli armored transport sitting in the median in the middle of the main road into town. This is probably a leftover from the occupation and now is a Hezbollah trophy displayed proudly here. We checked it out and took some pictures all the while feeling super conspicuous there in the center of everything, obviously both tourists since we had backpacks and were snapping pictures of the thing while taking turns standing in front of it. A guy on the other side of the street was watching us, probably entertained, and motioned for us to come over and talk with him. We made some small talk and the conversation naturally went to where we lived.
Hezbollah banner in memory of one of their dead fighters.
 We tried to wind around having to answer that one but eventually admitted we were from California and the stranger welcomed us anyway. Nonetheless we decided to expedite our departure and walked back to the taxi area via a different route.

Back at the cab lot my friend negotiated (he has vastly superior Arabic skills) with a driver for a small tour that would take us to the border area, Beaufort Castle, and Al-Khiyam prison. First we needed permission from the Lebanese army post in town so we walked across the road to a concrete building where our driver asked for our passports to bring to the officer inside. We entered the dark little room where there sat at a desk one man in fatigues. We sat on chairs against the wall, hot in the dim green flourescent light of this bunker-like room while our driver argued with the officer for several minutes as the man stared down at our passports. All I was able to understand was from the constant head shaking (No!) of the officer as he held our passports and basically implied, "No, and there's nothing I can do about it." At this point I figured we weren't going anywhere but we left and were motioned toward the car to start our little trip. I think there may have been a bribe involved, but who knows. We left Nabatiya and after a mile or so came to another Lebanese army checkpoint where the driver again took our passports and left the car to speak with a soldier. He was back a couple minutes later and said that it would be the last checkpoint but that we couldn't visit Beaufort Castle (a previous strategic outpost during the Israeli occupation and really cool crusader castle on a mountain top) because the UN was helping to clear mines in the area. It was advised not to walk off any roads because the southern area is still yet to be cleared them. The army guy wanted to take down our names in order to keep track of us and be sure we got out of the area safely later in the afternoon. That just added to the to intensity of the whole thing. It was still, however -- good times!

We wound our way down toward the border and knew we were close and could see the little Israeli fortified condos on the hill way in the distance. Our driver literally parked right at the fence maybe 30 feet or so away. As we walked along the border, Hezbollah on one side separated by an electric fence with Israeli bunkers maybe 30 feet away on the other side I thought about how much my Mom would want to kill me if she knew where I was right now. Our driver laughed at me and put his hand on my chest to display how fast he thought my heart must have been beating. I of course denied it and took more pictures with my overly large Canon circa 1984. As I pointed my camera at the Israeli side he mentioned that I was likely having my photo taken as well. So much for my trip to Jerusalem in two days as I envisioned sophisticated facial recognition systems being used to compare my passport photo at the border crossing from Jordan into Israel. I certainly wanted no part in any extra questioning but figured that I was now officially doomed.

As the afternoon wore on I noticed an increasingly parched feeling and as a non-smoker accepting the constant and generous offer of strong Winston cigarettes from my driver, that didn't help. Snaking along the road, still flanked by Hezbollah banners, we made our way back to Nabatiya after one more stop at a prison called Al-Khyam. This truly dismal place was used by the Israelis to hold prisoners during the occupation of the south, which ended in 2000. It was very depressing and gave me a dizzy feeling when combined with the weirdness I was already feeling from the two meals I'd skipped by now. We met a Palestinan family who was also touring the prison. The Grandmother of the family was from Jenin and said a lot to me, though I could barely make out any of the words.

So, an hour or so later, I was glad to be back in Nabatiya where we found a microbus leaving for Beirut. I was of course scrunched in the middle again, between my 6'4" friend and a Lebanese soldier, but I was happy to be back in Beirut where I felt safe and and relaxed compared to earlier in the day.

ophirh says:
well, first of all I agree with you about the land mines. I saw it in Burma, I saw it in africa, and I saw it in some parts of Israel and it's really bad. Second, I don't know why you are suprised about the US not signing it, if you'll look at most treaties led by Europe you'll see that the US did not sign them including the Kyoto one.
Posted on: Jul 28, 2006
MikeSF says:
I don't know who put them there and I didn't ask, but I support a full international ban on mines. Interestingly enough, the United States is one of only a few countries (Cuba the only other in the Western Hemishpere) who did not sign the ban put forth in Ottawa.
Posted on: Jul 27, 2006
ophirh says:
I have to state something here - as far as I know, and I wasn't in Lebanon but my friends were, all of those mines were put by the Hizballah terrorists and it's sad because in the end they are a threat for the Lebanese people who are supposed to be their own people (although in reality the Hizballah don't give a damn about the Lebanese people and use them as human shields)
Posted on: Jul 27, 2006
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An old Israeli armored vehicle dis…
An old Israeli armored vehicle di…
On the road to the Hezbollah contr…
On the road to the Hezbollah cont…
Just a few meters from the electri…
Just a few meters from the electr…
Hezbollah banner in memory of one …
Hezbollah banner in memory of one…
photo by: MikeSF