Fearscapes: Walking in Lebanon

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I stood within an enchanting rocky terrain, hesitant to walk left or right afraid of possible landmines following a pleasant weekend wedding in the mountains of the south of Lebanon. After the festivities were over, a couple of friends and I decided to follow some road signs, letting them lead us wherever they may, before we head back to Beirut. Beirut is too tiring these days, and any excuse to stall our journey back was welcome.

Leaving our hotel in Jezzine, we took a right turn reaching an army checkpoint. Earlier on, we were told that this was the Israeli barrier between sovereign and occupied territories before the liberation of the south of Lebanon from Israeli occupation in 2000. For days we were driving smoothly back and forth between once-occupied territories and the rest of Lebanon to reach the festivities from our hotel. The idea of this crossing was both morbid and surreal.

Throughout my frequent trips to the south, I have involuntarily turned a blind eye to the fact that the grounds I walk on were once stolen by an enemy state. For some reason, I took the land for granted, but at every moment of crossing that specific checkpoint, I got goose bumps resulting from a sense of agitation and undeserved pride, having had nothing to do with the liberation myself.

Why does this checkpoint still even exist? It’s almost a monument, nothing more and nothing less. It is a reminder of a former war border. It acts as a gate within a continuous breathtaking landscape I can call home until something bad happens. Something bad always happens in Lebanon to the extent that we can’t reach the point of appreciating our situation at any given time without a hint of fear. We drive beyond the checkpoint, aimlessly cruising across the mountain landscape.

A rusty, old blue sign pointing uphill reads, “Niha,” and for no intelligible reason, we follow it. We drive up a twirling, narrowing road stuffed between dense pine trees until we reach another sign, “Niha Fortress,” pointing towards a junction we ignore, and keep going up until we reach the top of the hill and the end of asphalted roads. The air was fresh and Beirut was nowhere in sight. It was breathtaking. We took turns at making jokes at how the Lebanese always say that “Lebanon is beautiful” as if it’s part of their obligations as tortured citizens, but when confronted by how beautiful it actually is, a surprised “Lebanon is beautiful indeed!” reaction is unanimously cheered.

It was indeed one of the most beautiful sights I had seen in a while. I walked along the raw pebbled path past the asphalt as the rest of my adventure comrades smoked a few cigarettes near the car. As they disappeared behind me and the sound of the world became more mute, I froze for a second. I stood within an enchanting rocky terrain, hesitant to walk left or right. I was afraid. “Israel has been here,” I thought, not sure of whether I was exaggerating the situation or not. In retrospect, I most probably was. I couldn’t convince myself that the grounds were safe, that the land is no longer violent, and that there was no chance of stepping on a leftover landmine, explode and die. I shamefully walked back watching every step, taking pictures of the slopes instead of climbing them, and reached the car where my friends hadn’t moved because they too had no trust whatsoever in this land.

During the drive back, the shame didn’t wear off. It somehow escalated because whether I would like to admit it or not, my little incident in the mountains is a template of how we are brought up to perceive different parts of our country. A big amount of the Lebanese population do not trust their land for both valid reasons and not. We fear the landscape we supposedly own.

A lot of Lebanese citizens have never been to Tripoli because of its Muslim fundamentalist stigma, and others seem to have removed it from their map of destinations after the ongoing events. Some have never been to the South. In their heads, it’s still a warzone, too extremist, or too close to Gaza. Within Beirut, the streets are marked and the neighborhoods are territorialized. Taxi drivers bluntly tell you they would rather stay in ‘their’ areas long after the civil war should have ended. One would not casually go to Dahiyeh or Tarik al-Jdideh, both rival Shiite and Sunni areas respectively, unless they’re from the area or seeking something very specific. One could not walk from point A to point B without taking into consideration that something bad will happen. Something bad always happens in Lebanon to the extent that we are no longer able to trust this land that is in fact our own.

Raafat Majzoub is an architect, author and artist living in Beirut


"I shamefully walked back....."
You make it sound like you are a coward.
Are you a in fact coward, therefore ?
I personally like my children to have the gumption to ask - before hand - so as to know where the landmines actually are - so as to purposefully step on one - a souvenir of the day trip - recounting the days events to me would go something like this.
"hey ma, look what I got in my travels to the country side of Lebanon today"
" gee ma, I lost both my legs today - oh & one eye & half the side of my head" - " how cool an experience is that - hey ma "

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