“This is …the Dahiya.”
The road out of the Downtown Beirut snakes through an underpass. Going further into the urban area, the buildings start to crumble. The electric wiring is hanging off the tenements and the structures are peppered by bullet marks. It’s as if a stone-eating strain of leprosy has infected South Beirut. The streets are full of filth and heavy with dust.
“This is…is Hezbollah-city.”
A group of men in brown fatigues are checking people’s documents under an over-pass. Arabic graffiti curls along the walls, the lettering turning into a fist holding a Kalashnikov. The emblem of Hezbollah. Posters of a soldier in the shadows stamping on the Star of David hang from roof-tops. Veiled and bearded crowds are bustling past.
“They don’t look like policemen.” They have uniforms here, like anywhere else.
“No…No…they are Hezbollah. Helping…with traf-fic.”
The brown slum blocks suddenly give way to a vast rubble square.
“That’s where Hezbollah HQ was…and over there…was where Iman Fadlallah lived…and…”
I’m not listening. As we drive through the maze-like streets we see spaces where whole apartment blocks just aren’t there anymore.
“But we’ll build it better than before…the Jews better realise…we’ll take out all their Tel Aviv…in time…”
Anas is my taxi-driver. He has one arm and cranes round the wheel to show me around his part of town. The other arm was blown up by the IDF during skirmishes in the ‘90s – he tells me.
“My two brothers are dead fighting the Ya-hoodi…I love Hassan Nasrallah…I take you meet my brother.”
The old BMW swerves slightly and we file through traffic down a main street. On the lampposts hang placards each bearing the stern faces of martyrs. We pull up by a petrol-station and stop.
I look around at the pumps and a laughing teenage mechanic juggling with a spanner. Anas grabs me, gruffly – and points at a lamppost placard above my head.
“There he is.”