Face to face with Hezbollah. A must read for any traveller

The video seemed innocent didn’t it? The story I’m about to tell you is real. For the safety of everyone involved I can only display the first minute and a half of the video and the last 35 second as we were filming for about 30 minutes in total and the footage in between these 2 edits has been deleted and cannot be recovered. The only footage I have in my possession is the edited film you just watched.

To hide the identity of who I was with, I’ve..

changed his name to Charlie. During our drive to the mechanics we were filming and talking about random shit. You know.. chicks, parties, beer.. random boy stuff I suppose. I was filming just random shit in the street as we were driving cos you must remember I’m new to the country and everything is new to me and interesting to film. While the camera was rolling we stopped and asked a random guy dressed in orange for directions to the mechanic Charlie was looking for. I played with the camera a bit filming the random orange guy then back to Charlie etc.. The directions he gave us were a bit dodgy and it led us to drive around in circles. We then stopped another guy but I didn’t really film him that much. I was more focused on the shop across the road selling pink chairs. I laughed about it to Charlie as I thought it was pretty weird that a shop in an Arab country sold only pink chairs. He probably got them for cheap so that he could make a bit more cash. The new directions from the second guy led us into the side streets on this bizarre, movie like neighborhood. The type of hood that you’ve seen in those war type movies like Green Zone if you’ve seen it? Picture this.. dusty, scattered people in the street walking on the side of the road, middle of the road, in and out of shops, everyone dressed in neutral toned colors, no footpaths, scooters everywhere, hectic traffic, car parts on the side of the road, kids on the street, ladies walking carrying things on their head, real third world country scenario.. That kinda scene. After driving through these narrow roads, that would make you wonder how the hell do they fit 2 cars here?, we get to this mechanic. I asked Charlie if it’s ok to film while we chat about his car to the mechanic and he said “yeah sure”. Big mistake. We get out and walk towards the mechanic. The mechanic then asks “why are you filming?” Charlie then replies “He’s from Australia he just got here he’s filming random things” or something to this degree. The mechanic tells us he doesn’t want us to film him so we said sorry and then switched off the camera and covered the lens with the cap.

After a few minutes talking to the mechanic I walked to the street to simply look around and really absorb where I was as I had just landed and i was like wow.. I’m really in Lebanon! In the distance I saw 2 men running in my direction from down the street we drove in from. I can’t remember what I thought of it at the time but it wasn’t much. About 10-15 seconds later both of the men surrounded me and one of the men grabbed my camera with one hand and had his phone in his other hand while the other man ran behind me. I held the camera tight and put my other hand on top of his hand to hold the camera tighter at the same time looked back and forth between the 2 men and was thinking “oh shit here we go”. The man aggressively starts speaking in Arabic and because of my poor Arabic skills I couldn’t understand what he was saying but I did understand the words “why, why”. Charlie ran up to the situation and said “he’s with me and he doesn’t speak Arabic, what do you want from him?” the man said to Charlie the same thing he was saying to me which was “why are you filming here?” the man’s grip on my camera became tighter as he was trying to yank the camera off me. I mean why were we filming right? How can you explain to someone why or what you were filming if you weren’t filming anything in particular? I kept turning my head back and forth to the guy behind me and tried to turn so that I had both guys in front of me rather than one of them behind me. The man behind me move also so that he stayed behind me and had a serious look on his face as if to make sure I wouldn’t run off. Charlie said to the man we are filming because i had just come off the plane from Australia. The man repeated himself with the same question “why are you filming here?” Charlie then repeated his same answer. It seemed the man didn’t like the answer we gave him. He turned to me and said in broken English “what for you are filming?” I really didn’t know what to say to this guy!? so I said “because I’m a Australian and it’s my first day in Lebanon, let go of my camera” I turn to the man behind me and turn back at the man holding my camera then looked at Charlie and say “what the fuck is going on here?” I thought do I hit the guy trying to take my camera? Do I kick the guy behind me first? This guy is trying to take my camera what the fuck do I do? In Australia some guy tried to steal my camera while it was still rolling so I gave him a nice elbow to his eye and he let go quick smart. Do I hit him now? I thought. I looked at Charlie and said “dude what the fuck’s going on”? Charlie then asked the man why he was trying to take the camera and who he was? The man then told us that he was Hezbollah.street As soon as I heard the word Hezbollah I thought holy shit! Hezbollah? WTF? In Australia all we hear on the American news is Hezbollah bad, Hezbollah evil, Hezbollah! Hezbollah! So of course I was thinking the worst. It seemed that we were in a Hezbollah area and clearly filming was not allowed. They had suspected we were Israeli spies. The man demanded I let go of the camera” I want to see your camera” I turned at Charlie and thought is this guy for real? Who says that? “Charlie, this guy wants my camera? I’m not giving him my camera Charlie” the guy demanded again to let go of the camera.. How do i know this guy is who he says he is? Sounds like some guy trying to steal my camera to me.. His phone rang and he answered it. At this point Charlie told me to let go of the camera so I did but was ready for this guy to run off with it. Trust me here guys I was ready to start swinging punches. I didn’t believe this guy! It sounded so fake – like he was trying to scam a tourists camera! Let’s just say I’m lucky I stayed calm. With-in 2 minutes 2 more Hezbollah came to the location. This time the men were older. With my eyes on the man with my camera frantically walking around talking into his phone, I was then questioned by the new Hezbollah who seemed to be more serious than the first 2. He asked why I was filming and we gave them the same story. “I’d just gotten off the plane from Australia and we were simply filming my first steps in Lebanon”. He asked us for the specifics. What time did you leave ?, What streets did you use?, Why did you go through that street when you could’ve gone through another street ? Where do you live? Why do you live over there and you are searching for a mechanic here? I’m talking full on specific questions. The camera was given to the 2 men that have just arrived.

More phones were ringing and within 5 minutes more Hezbollah came to the scene. At this point I started shaking with fear. I was thinking “fuck me dead this is a serious situation” can you imagine if I started hitting that guy? I would’ve died for sure. Every time men came to the scene they seemed to be older and older. Before you knew it we were surrounded by about 9-10 men questioning us about why we were filming. 1 guy asked to see my passport so I showed him and he took it off me and handed it to another. I looked at Charlie and said “man my camera and now my passport?” Charlie said to just cooperate. They then asked for Charlie’s ID so he handed it over. They asked me for more ID which was my Australian driver’s license so I handed it over. They asked us for our phones and I thought” OMG are you for real? No ID and NO phone to call for help!? Did I have a choice? I handed it over. Before you knew it there were about 12-14 men watching the footage over and over, making phone calls. It seemed that men were guarding corners and surrounding all openings and at any given time there would’ve been at least 3 or 4 men on the phone talking with someone. This is not a happy place for me right now. The man with my passport and ID had run off behind a building and I couldn’t see where he went. I carefully merged to the road trying not to look like I was trying to escape as we were kinda on some property lot where a building hasn’t been built yet so I merged to the road so that I could perhaps see where my passport was going but couldn’t see him. At this stage we were about 50 meters from the original scene which is where the car was and of course where my luggage was! At this point I was thinking they were trying to lure us away from the car to take my luggage! So standing in the middle of some street in Lebanon watching men surround my camera, trying to locate the guy with my passport, and keeping my eye on the car, I was thinking how the fuck did i get from being happy to fearing for my life in the space of 20 minutes? The men kept on move further and further away from the car.

One of the Hezbollah walked over to me and informed me that they were taking my camera and i was not getting it back. I said what the hell man? Delete the footage if you are so worried about what I filmed! I just arrived in Lebanon and now this is happening? He said no we cannot be sure if the footage is deleted. I said can I at least take my $300 lens off the camera before you take it? I was then called to the side of the road by one of the elder Hezbollah as he questioned me again. At this point i had said the same story about 30 times and each time being more specific about my story. Where I came from, where the stop over’s where, how long the stop over’s were, everything. “I left Melbourne at 9:30pm and arrived in Dubai 14:15hrs later and we stopped in Dubai for 3 hrs then I arrived in Beirut then I walked to the airport store and bought a phone card then walked to the payphone and made a phone call to Charlie then walked across the road to wait for him. 10 minutes later Charlie picked me up and we drove off and I started filming in the car while he was looking for a mechanic. We stopped 1 guy and asked for directions then drove around some more. We then stopped another guy and asked for more directions. we then drove into the side streets and parked the car and walked to the mechanic. The mechanic said we weren’t allowed to film so we said sorry and switched it off” It seemed when I gave more details about my story they jumped on the phones.. Were they checking the airport cameras to verify my walking over to the payphone?? Thank god the mechanic verified the end of the story where we ‘co-operated’ with his request. But there was a glitch in my story.. My passport did not have the Dubai stamp on it which caused a rage between the Hezbollah elders. My credibility dropped because of this fucking stamp. You’ve got to be fucking kidding me i thought.. I was then questioned about this stamp for a further 20 minutes. “but how can you say you were in Dubai if there is no stamp?” He was right! Why wasn’t there a stamp? The only reason i thought of was because it was a stop over and there was no need to leave the airport!? i was asked to get my stickers from my luggage that showed Dubai. I carefully walked to the car to get it. Once i got to the car I looked up and Charlie was walking back towards me. In his hands were my camera, my passport, our IDs and both phones. They believed us? Are we free to go Charlie? He said “dude let’s get the fuck out of here” I’m like holy shit lets go. We drove off and I never heard from the Hezbollah again.

I‘m not upset at Hezbollah at all. They were not mean. They didn’t treat us like garbage. Yes they were forceful but they were civil. They interrogated us as a part of their job. You see Lebanon and Israel are not friendly towards each other and have had many wars and they have been fighting for years. The Hezbollah were making sure that there was no doubt in their mind that we were who we said we were. Hezbollah had their safety and the safety of Lebanon in their best interest and there is nothing wrong with that at all. It’s just a shame that I thought i was going to die that day for the sake of their healthy paranoia. Like I said before, what if I started hitting that guy thinking it was some robber trying to steal my camera? What would you’ve done? The fault of this by every ones opinion and my own was Charlie’s and he holds himself accountable for it which I feel is very honorable on his part. It was Charlie who said i could film in this area without him thinking about what area we were in.

He should’ve known better.

I also hold myself accountable because I was stupid enough to listen to him. He’s not a police officer is he!? He’s not a member of government!? What the fuck would he know and what the fuck was i thinking? Telling me that i can film and all that shit – putting my life in danger.. Life is too precious to be making stupid mistakes especially when it’s someone elses life you’re dealing with. As I got to know Charlie over the next few weeks after this incident I learned that he was one massive story telling liar. My life could have been compromised that day or i could’ve been seriously hurt if I didn’t think rationally and all because I was hanging out with the wrong dude.

Remember, not all of Lebanon is like this. Lebanon can be quite nice (when you’re not getting ripped off by taxi drivers, electronic stores or anywhere for that matter) It has the purest Arabian scenes, views, houses and way of life. It’s just so cool. But we just happened to be driving through the wrong area to be filming out of a car. We are to blame. Not them.

My advice to any traveler is to ONLY ask the authorities and no-one else if it’s ok to film or take pictures whether its an army personal or a police officer, know who you’re hanging out with and for fuck sakes make sure every country you go to stamps your passport.

This is a real life story and there will be plenty more real stories from around the world. Hopefully not like this. Please subscribe to my blog as I’ll be touring the world and will update this blog regularly.

Thanks for reading my story.