Josh Wood

A journalist's observations on Lebanon and elsewhere

Resistance for all the family

with 2 comments

A woman takes a photo of a piece of field artillery at Hezbollah's "educational park" at Mlita, June 2010. Photo courtesy of Sam Tarling/Executive Magazine

In May and June I took a couple of trips down to Mlita – a former base of guerrilla operations for Hezbollah that the Islamist organization has now turned into an “educational park” – working on an article on tourism in southern Lebanon for Executive Magazine.

A lot of people in the West’s media were quick to slam the park as a “Jihadi theme park” – bringing to ming ghastly images.  Rather though, what Mlita is, is an opportunity to see up close how Hezbollah’s armed wing acts as a guerrilla force.  The thing that struck me the most was Mlita is in a lot of ways (one of the very few) museums dedicated to war that is not over, meaning that the depth the visitor gains from a visit is a little heavier than a trip to the mock bomb shelters at the Imperial War Museum in London.

The weaponry on display is impressive and it’s assumed that what is shown is all weapons that the organization doesn’t necessarily need.  They even have an American-made TOW missile system, which my guides declined to comment on.  The bunkers and firing positions on the hilltop at Mlita are striking in that they still exist, despite Mlita being one of the most bombed bases in the “Tofah” region behind Nabitiyeh where Hezbollah mounted raids and attacks on the Israeli-occupied areas of southern Lebanon up until Israel’s 2000 withdrawal.

There are healthy doses of propaganda though, especially from the appointed guides (one of mine also happened to be a Celtics fan!) and inside of a building that boasts tins of captured Israeli tuna fish and a map detailing strategic points of interest within Israel.

The thing is though, Mlita is put together well, in a way that few museums or sites in this region are.  Besides the propaganda (which was slightly more thoughtful than say, what you get at the military museum in downtown Damascus or at Port Said’s museum paying tribute to Egyptian troops) Mlita clearly stands apart.  This wasn’t put together hastily.

The “educational park” is just the beginning though.  What do we have in store?  Well, I was told that a hotel, telefrique cable car (just like in Jounieh!) and a paintball facility among other things are in the works.  These projects underline Hezbollah again working to provide for the citizens of southern Lebanon what they do not have.  While most of this work goes into hospitals and schools, now it’s being turned to entertainment, saving residents a long and costly trip up north to Beirut or further.

So far, Mlita has seemingly been quite popular and looks to continue to be so.

While the officials there told me that they want to get more Westerners to visit, there are going to have to be some changes to get Mlita listed in Lonely Planet.  On my first trip down there with freelancer Theo May (who is, by the way, walking the route of Alexander the Great’s conquests, including the rough spots.  He’s currently in Gaza and Baghdad bound in a few months) we decided to take the scenic route cutting south from Jezzine.  Wrong decision.  Someplace in the vicinity of Sojud (where Hassan Nasrallah’s son Hadi was killed by an Israeli mortar round in 1997) we stopped our little rental Picante and asked directions from a local man who turned out to be Amal.  As we were detained for quite a while while they sifted through our cameras and Theo’s laptop and demanded to know what we were doing there, a minivan pulled up and asked the same question, but alas as they weren’t obviously foreign were shown right along.  You can read an account of all this up at Theo’s blog here.

The southern route taking the major highways to Nabitiyeh is clearly marked and most likely less problematic.  Just don’t make a wrong turn if you’re not local.

I’ve got some more pictures of Mlita and will upload when Lebanon’s awesome internet speeds allow.


Written by woodenbeirut

July 29, 2010 at 11:03 am

2 Responses

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  1. Just found your blog today. Excellent post, and thank you for linking to your other friend’s blog as well! Makes me feel like I need to stop being such an American explore things outside of Hamra!

    I will be back to read your previous posts! Good work.. 🙂


    July 29, 2010 at 5:10 pm

  2. […] pictures of Hezbollah’s “educational park” at Mlita in southern Lebanon which I blogged about a while back.  I’m bad at getting my own photos up on the site for two […]

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