On my first mission in Syria i met a dude whom had just been to Lebanon. He said it was an amazing place to go, and really got me keen on the idea. However, at the time i had to get to Israel in a hurry to celebrate the hebrew new year. So I decided that I would go to Lebanon a couple of weeks later, when i had more time. WHile in syria i met a some germans who were studying Arabic in Damascus (capital of Syria). One of them had said at the time that she would like to join me for the trip to Beirut.
So from Jordan, i jumped on a bus back to Damascus and met up with Eva, and we then jumped on another bus to Beirut. Of all the decisions i have made on this trip, the decision to get on this bus was the one i was least certain about, because Lebanon is not exactly politically stable. However, i made a decision to go for it, and in the end my uncertainty was not warranted.
Beirut is one of the most interesting and surprising place i have been to. It is pretty much a western city. Its a big party city actually. Lots of great bars with live music, big dance clubs also. 50% of population is christian, 50% is muslim. This makes for an interesting social and political dynamic.
There are tanks, artilliary placements, and barbed wire installations all throughout the city, aimed at keeping Hezbollah members in line - Hezbollah are occupying (camping out on) public land in various places around the city, they are protesting for a change of government. But other than that, the streets in the city centre have a distinctly european feel to them.
THere were not many people around, other than the Hezbollah campers - apparently the locals are deterred by the military presence. The situation is terrible for the economy, the shops certainly didn't have much business, and nobody wants to invest money in Lebanese businesses because of the political unrest. Having said all that, it doesn't feel dangerous. It is too quiet and peaceful to be unnerving (the carm before the storm perhaps, lets hope not). It has nice beaches, made less nice by the rubbish on them.
Things are pretty tense between Israel and Lebanon, because Hezbollah wants to destroy Israel. Hezbollahs army (essentially a guerilla army) is much stronger than lebanons government army, which means the country is in a precarious political situation. I met some Hezbollah guys at one of their campsites in the city. Unfortunately they couldn't speak english very well, and my lebanese is a bit scratchy. They seemed pretty relaxed really.
Anyway, last year Hezbollah took a couple of Israeli soldiers hostage, and Israel responded by indiscriminately bombing cities in Southern lebanon, and killing 10 civilians for every 'terrorist' that is put to rest. THey used cluster bombs, but the clusters have a 90% failure rate for immediate explosion. Many of them blow up later, when kids are playing soccer nearby or something. Israel use of these weapons (which are US made) in civilian areas attracted strong criticism from the international community last year. The Israeli hostages are still being held by Hezbollah.
The christians and sunni muslim political wings are supported by the US and western powers, while the Shia muslims are propped up by syria and iran. There is a lot of money here. But you only have to cross town to see that there is also rampant poverty. From what i picked up, the poverty is experienced by both muslims and christians, and there are rich people in both groups as well.
I was asking lots of questions, and people were happy to talk, but no one really knows why there is fighting. Most suggested that Lebanon is used as a stage for a battle between the arabs and the west (kind of like the Vietnam war was a proxy war between the US vrs the soviet union). Its hard to understand why they live like this when they dont even know the motivations behind it.
At one stage Eva and I were taken into custody by the army for an hour or so because i was spotted taking a photo that had a military post in the background. We had to hand over our passports and cameras etc. Then I had to delete that photo, and show the guy all of my other photos, to prove that i wasnt an israeli spy. At the end i asked my interviewer if he knew a good place to get some lunch.
After Beirut i undertook a massive mission back to Israel, through syria and Jordan. And then jumped on a flight to London. THe next chapter of my journey.