All Roads Lead to Lebanon: Part II

October 26, 2011

Uncategorized

All Roads Lead to Lebanon: Part II

The Beqaa Valley

The bus picked up speed as we rolled earthward along the mountain’s declining edge. It was turning out to be a sunny day despite the polluted haze that settled in the bottom of the gorge. I was finally face to face with the sprawling Beqaa Valley. Today, the area serves as Lebanon’s main agricultural provider as well as the world headquarters for Hezbollah. I had felt somewhat confined, sandwiched between the mountain ranges that flank the valley. Yet despite the imposing topography, the Beqaa has developed into an unlikely international hub. Hezbollah’s presence is responsible for a large share of the traffic. There is a clandestine ebb and flow of Iranian and Syrian agents, along with the more overt dispersal of refugees throughout the divide. On our way to our destination we passed no less than three displacement camps baking under the sun. An estimated 20% of the Beqaa’s infrastructure was destroyed in the 2006 Hezbollah-Israeli war, but even among the debris the camps were unmistakable. Floorless tents were strung up alongside tin shacks so that they more resembled card castles than homes. I searched for clues as to where the displaced may have come from. The Beqaa has an unfortunate diversity of refugees, tho one camp sat next to a large picture of Hassan Nasrallah, (Hezbollah’s Secretary General), suggesting that the inhabitants may have actually been Lebanese.

Since the beginning of the bloody Syrian revolution, Lebanon has seen a surge of Syrian refugees. Almost all of us have encountered some, usually in the form of new cabbies who never quite know where to take us. However, for every few people moving into the Beqaa, there are also those moving out. Lebanese officials recently commandeered vehicles full of weapons, bound for Syrian hands. The valley has also become the primary operating ground for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). It would seem that the basin’s vacant space was accounted for but somehow the Beqaa’s plethora of militant groups seems to grow by the year. Last summer an alleged new group, the Movement for Renaissance and Reform, abducted seven Estonians in the valley.  Yet no presence is as supreme as Hezbollah’s, whose flags lined the highway we had been traveling on. Between our game of slug bug I tried to keep tally of the Hezbi martyr’s posters along the road but quickly gave up count.

The Party of God

Today, Hezbollah is considered the world’s most disciplined  guerilla movement. Some countries, including America, go as far as to classify them as a terrorist organization. While they are at the height of their political and military capacity, (more deadly now than the Lebanese army), Hezbollah plays a role that is often overlooked. In the Beqaa Valley alone, the group runs at least 27 of 30 municipalities. Iranian funding has allowed them to open up schools, health care institutions, dental clinics, hospitals, garbage services, and provide scholarships for the poor. On top of that they also dispense a good deal of zero interest loans, more annually than the Catholic Carnitas Organization, as well as offer vocational schools for girls. Additionally, Hezbollah works closely with the Beqaa’s struggling agricultural sector. Many farmers in the valley have turned to cultivating large marijuana plantations as a result of a tough market and foreign competition. At one point, a cartel of only 30 families peddled five million dollars worth of hashish each year.

Hezbollah today has become an effective state within a state. After the 5000 airstrikes of 2006 the organization spent an estimated $281 million in reconstruction and compensation, handing out $12,000 cash to each of the displaced families.

Baalbek

Right in the middle of the Hezbollah capital lies what should be the considered 8th wonder of the world. The ruins of Baalbek make up the largest and most important temple of the Roman Empire.  If you haven’t heard of it your not alone. We were nearly the only tourists there that day and I felt as if we had the whole sanctuary to ourselves. After leaving the bus I was immediately confronted by men selling Hezbollah tee shirts. I pushed past them, got my ticket, and climbed the large stone staircase that led into the temple. Once inside, my friends and were dwarfed by the enormity of the ruins. Balbeck and its monumental architecture was unlike anything I had ever seen. Only the massive Egyptian temple of Karnak could compare.

The temple archeology demonstrates the fluidity of human civilization; Kane, Nimrod, Phoenicians, Kainites, Egyptians, Assyrians, Israelites, Macedonians, the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Byzantines, Crusaders, and Ottomans, all left their mark on the site.

Somewhere in the hills is the alleged area where the American journalist Terry Anderson was kidnapped and held.

This is the Jupiter Temple, its seen everything from drunken Roman orgies to human sacrifice

Baalbek contains the three largest stone blocks ever used by man, even the biggest modern cranes would barely lift them

This museum is located in the basement of the temple

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One Comment on “All Roads Lead to Lebanon: Part II”

  1. mschristiner Says:

    Those photos are epic! and I thought the Roman Forum ruins were magnificent, this just looks amazing!

    Reply

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