“If they (Jews) all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.” – Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, October 23, 2002
BEIRUT – After Hezbollah mounted a protest aimed at bringing down Lebanon’s elected government, several thousand demonstrators remained downtown and camped out in tents, effectively occupying the center of the city. They first tried to seize and occupy Prime Minister Fouad Seniora’s office in the Ottoman-era Serail. But Seniora warned Hezbollah that if his office were taken he could not control his “street.” Translation: If you seize the state’s institutions, the Sunni Muslims of Lebanon are going to kill you. Hezbollah knew this was true, and so they backed off. It didn’t hurt that the government of Saudi Arabia backed up Seniora on this point. But Hezbollah’s occupation of the neutral parts of downtown continues even into 2007.
I ventured downtown myself the day after the made-for-TV protest was over, when Hezbollah and friends no longer wanted attention from foreign media. Their lack of interest, if I could call it that, was instantly obvious. Ubiquitous security agents with the tell-tale sunglasses and earpieces stared at me coldly and turned their heads as I walked past.
Hundreds of tents were set up in parks, parking lots, and squares downtown, most of them made of white canvass. I snapped a few pictures, and nobody stepped in to stop me.
One group of tents in a parking lot across from the Hariri mosque were all made of black canvas. What’s up with the black tents, I wondered. So I walked over and lifted my camera to my face.
Five ear-pieced Hezbollah agents aggressively pounced on me at once. They surrounded me and screamed “No!” Then they physically pushed me away from the tents and got in my face so I could not see behind them.
I’ve been accused of spying many times while in Lebanon, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if this is what the Hezbollah agents thought I was doing. Many Lebanese are paranoid – often with good reason – but no one is nearly as paranoid as Hezbollah. (As a side note, one Lebanese man who suspected I worked for the CIA literally begged me to get him a job.)