Hezbollah Wishes You Safe and Peaceful Journey

A 1000 word article


Bill Hartley



East of the Lebanese fishing port of Tyre lies the country now described as the

Liberated Territory. Climbing into the hills above the town, the political iconography

changes. Down on the coast they display pictures of Rafik Hariri the recently

assassinated former prime minister. A few miles to the west are to be found the black

flags and slogans of Hezbollah, interspersed with pictures of Syrian prime minister

Bashir Assad, his late father and ‘martyrs’ who have died in operations against Israel.

The Shiite villages were once dominated by the Israelis whose occupation of the ten

kilometre deep ‘security zone’ from 1985 to 2000 yielded little benefit but caused a

great deal of bloodshed.


A security zone sounds fine in theory but to fit the description the power that creates

it needs to be able to dominate the country and this Israel never did. The topography

of the zone consists of steep hills interspersed with deep valleys. Israel it seems never

managed to fully exert control on the ground, a difficult and dangerous job requiring

troops of a high calibre. Instead it chose to hold the heights and watch for movement.

This was safer of course but a long way from being dominant. It allowed Hezbollah a

disciplined and committed guerrilla force to continue its operations. Finally Israel

decided that it could no longer accept the steady trickle of casualties and withdrew.

They have since been replaced by troops of the Lebanese army, together with amiable

Canadians and Africans belonging to the UN. Interestingly the UN have adopted the

same methods as the Israelis; occupying fixed posts around the zone where they can

do no more than monitor road traffic. One senses that if Hezbollah isn’t doing

anything at the moment then it is because they don’t want to. Certainly attacks on

Israel positions haven’t ceased but Hezbollah seems to see benefits in claiming most

parts of the Liberated Territory as its peaceful fiefdom. This is reflected in the duality

of the signage to be found at roadsides. On the one hand Hezbollah likes to chalk up

figures about the number of Israeli troops killed and the amount of successful raids

launched. On the other they come across like a nannyish local authority encouraging

the traveller to have, ‘safe and peaceful journey’.


Most parties would agree that the key to consolidating peace in the area is economic

development. So far little has been done to make this a reality. Which isn’t to say

that nothing is happening here. For a former war zone the scars of conflict aren’t

much in evidence and there is a reason for this. The one thing the Lebanese seem to

want to do is put up houses and fast. Unfortunately with no local administration in

place willing or able to regulate developments, this rather attractive hill country is

being ruined by unsympathetic developments. It is the equivalent of open season for

house building in the Yorkshire Dales. The Lebanese love hill top locations and

despite the lack of infrastructure the skyline is dotted with the concrete skeletons of

quick build properties, overlooking older houses that have been built more sensibly in

closer proximity to the road network.

The most dominant feature on the landscape in these parts is the old crusader fortress


of Beaufort Castle. It was the Israelis who were the first in modern times to curse the

castle building skills of the crusaders. Beaufort stands at an elevation of 710m and

overlooks the main road running south through the hills. Back in the 1970s it was the

PLO who took control of the castle and prompted those surreal television images of

Israeli Phantom jets attacking a medieval fortress. It took a combination of air raid

and commando assault to dislodge them, after which the Israelis occupied the place

and imitated the crusaders by becoming an alien presence in a hostile landscape.

Subsequently they added concrete fortifications and nervously sat there for twenty

years. It was a dangerous spot as the casualty roll helpfully provided by Hezbollah

explains. With the Israelis gone their opponent’s green flag now flies above the



Across the valley from Beaufort lies the hilltop village of Khiam. This is the place

where the Israelis built their notorious detention camp. Today it is a forlorn spot

and even bright sunshine and spectacular views over to the Golan Heights fail to

dispel the sinister aura. There are photographs on the walls of men who died there,

field telephones used to administer electric shocks are still in interrogation rooms and

a T shaped structure is described as once having been used as a gallows. Many of the

detainees were held here for years in appallingly overcrowded conditions. Few

visitors are prepared to negotiate the tortuous hill roads to reach the place, which is a

pity since the camp pays eloquent testimony to the viciousness of the conflict.

Hezbollah has turned the place into a museum and perhaps this supports the notion

that peace has come to the Liberated Territory. The place is run by former detainees

and anyone with experience of prisons and prisoners would know that they were

meeting men who have done some very hard jail time. When the Israelis pulled out

they did so hurriedly, abandoning the camp in such haste that the detainees were left

in their cells and it took the local villagers to come in and free them.


Addressing the unresolved issues in Southern Lebanon involving Israel, Hezbollah

and of course Syria, seems no closer to being achieved. For the Liberated

Territory perhaps second best will have to do. If Hezbollah wishes to continue to

enjoy the reputation of being the liberator then it can only do this by maintaining the

position it currently enjoys. This means not upsetting the equilibrium. Unrestricted

house building may not be an attractive sight but it suggests that the local people

appreciate this too. Investing in a home is perhaps the best sign of confidence in a

peaceful future.


1000 words

Bill Hartley

21, The Porch




DL10 6LG

Tel 01325 377027