His eyes are multi-layered green that bounce back olive and light when he speaks. He will not reveal his age, but I gather it is older than his face which breaks into a grin at innocent provocation.
The face draws you into a gaze that picks up everything like radar, in which years of seeing things most ordinary people don’t has added a maturity of expression.
| Rida, the Hizb Allah Muqawim |
He speaks in broken but educated English in the back of a car on a winding road, of world economies and the interplay of global forces on nation states and their peoples’ fate.
This man is wanted. By women perhaps but harder to fathom are the governments that may be after him. The unshaven look is more Tom Cruise than Taliban. He is not wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the Axis of Evil logo.
If this is the terrorist of tomorrow, after the Ba’athists of today are captured, killed or become Iraq’s old-new security force, then the United States has its work cut out. Start hunting determined young men in western jeans and blue sweaters who would melt seamlessly into any modern metropolis scene. Shoot before you ask questions or seek understanding in answers.
The only way to catch Rida I conclude, is to read his mind. But as that technology is light years away, better to set up a police state of informants in every country where there are those who resist the new colonialism. In Vietnam they bombed the village to save it. In the new Arab world order, the war calling for the spread of freedom and democracy may end up sacrificing both.
We are in South Lebanon. A beautiful place that is steeped in history and complex energy the way Jerusalem feels, but with less stress. Less at least since Israel withdrew its forces in May 2000. This through compulsion rather than benign good will, fighting an irregular army that turned South Lebanon into Israelis’ quick-sand.
Medieval crusader fortresses cling in suspended animation on cliffs that plunge into the eastern Mediterranean coastline. Well-watered valleys with the best food served in restaurants line river banks, while streams cascade playfully in the backdrop. It is a part of the world that is deeply scarred but not unforgiving.
In the landscape of the South, you see at once why Israel could never win its actual or psychological war for the control of hearts, minds, territory and fresh water resources. There are too many places to hide, too much weather variation that doesn't co-operate with the latest search and destroy technology, abundant natural camouflage, too many civilians who will not leave their homes and depopulate the South, making it the world’s perfect free-fire zone.
Villagers would rather die in the rubble of their homes, as thousands did during a twenty-two year long occupation, than end up third-class refugees living in Israeli compounds. This was the fate of a number of Lebanese who actively collaborated with the occupation and fled the South with the Israeli Army. From here Israel, the neighbour still remembered here as Palestine, is seen as the region’s greatest threat.
Rida’s inner identity and deepest love is revealed in a four-by-four on a rocky hillside. At first I don't notice him in the back of the car flanked by two uniformed colleagues. It is dark though broad daylight. My eyes are focused on the freezing rain pelting windscreen wipers that can’t clear a view ahead. Rain so hard, it’s as though the heavens were breaking the earth with rocks. Targeted by the elements, we are off-road, driving between boulders and rubble, headed towards the trees.
Then he asks me a question and I turn my head to look. He is in military fatigues looking very much the part. There is an aura of authority but it is much more innocent and modest than menacing. Rida is not alone in his line of work. There are thousands like him - he says many that are better than him. Here they are called Muqawimeen or Mujahideen. In this part of the world, fighters for freedom. But the interview did not start here and neither does the story.
(..........continue to Next Chapter: Israel in Lebanon............)