Sunday, 25 February 2007

Khiam, Dead Museum of the Dead

Driving through Qantara. Pissing down with rain. Lost on the way to Khiam, we were told we had to go through this valley – we said we’ll go around it, but in the end we couldn’t avoid it. I looks beautiful, some sharp hills, occasionally we see caves (we assume these are the Hezbollah hideouts we've heard so much about) On the dirt roads, some sections are completely washed away. Olive groves to the right, to the left grey cubic houses.

Along the Israeli border, passing Fatma’s Gate. Still pissing with rain, everything looks dark and overbearing. All along the way two parallele sets of fences, one electrified and one fortified. Stations along the way, watch towers. At the end, a Lebanese village facing the Israeli settlement. The Lebanese side looks like it was made by hand. Across a lush valleys, agricultural land, a settlement that looks like lego land, white cubes, red pitched roof.

In the village of Khiam, stop in a falafel place just to get out of the rain. Ali Deeb, a civil engineer from Khiam, approaches us and we started talking about the point of the film. He's extremely, almost aggresively passionate about his ideas. He's welcoming to us, then "this is the message you have to give to Europeans" (ten minute monologue).

"People that talk about human rights are the ones supporting things like Israel, violating Palestinian human rights. We have no problem with people of America, Jews, people of Israel. It’s the governments we have problems with, governments are interested only in money. Halliburton, Iraq, who's lining their pockets with money? They don’t have the peoples’ interests in mind. People are starving in Somalia and Ethiopia but they’re also throwing food away to keep prices up and lining their pockets. (I nod occasionally) Arabs have the right to live freely on their own land."

Ali was bon here, lived here his entire life. He remembers, as a child, surviving Israeli bombings. "You must tell Europeans that we have the right to live on our own land." There’s a difference between political life and actual life.

He's very nicely dressed, clean shaven, tie, jacket, clean shoes. But around him the roads are torrents and buildings crumbling. He says “I wish your friend could understand,” pointing to Federico.

"If Jews want to live here, it’s not a problem, but to kick someone out of their place and then say this is my land is unacceptable, whoever you are."

Later, in Khiam, I ask the care-taker Abu-Ali about the museum. "It's not a museum, it's a detention centre." Secret Israeli prison, secret tortures, disappearences. He was a prisoner here for 5 years, tortured, he has to take 6 medicines every day.

Abu-Ali is in his Early 40’s, round face, moustache, his eyes unaligned. He's very serious in the interview. He says he's sick, that’s why he’s wearing track suit bottoms, so please only film him from the waist up.

He says they get more tourists now then they did in the days of the original museum, before it was destroyed. When it was first "liberated", Khiam because a tourist attraction, "See where Israel secretly held and electrocuted the testicles of thousands of kidnapped Lebanese." Then it was bombed in the summer war, destroyed, and became and even bigger tourist attraction.

The whole thing is a monument to the detention centre, to the torture. Abu-Ali explains the younger guys there are working to keep the memory alive because they understand how important it is.
"Will you restore it?"
"After the last war, the brothers decided there was no choice but to leave it like this. It was previously a place of torture and hatred and barbarism, and now it’s the same thing: it’s still about torture and destruction."
He lost friends here, five killed inside, others died after leaving.

I ask the old familiar question, and get the same familiar answer. "How are things in Khiam now?" (it was bombed, again).
"The situation in Khiam is great, people want the resistance because the resistance defends their honour and their dignity."

We're offered Hezbollah DVDs, live footage of their operations during the war, a history of the prison, testimonials.

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