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LEBANON: Hezbollah exhibition glorifies military commander

August 22, 2008 |  1:31 pm

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From a giant representation of the olive-green cap he wore in the battlefield, to his personal assault rifle, his comb and the mat he prayed on, an exhibition commemorating the second anniversary of Hezbollah's latest war with Israel centered on the group's slain military commander, Imad Mughniyah.

Displaying charred remains of captured Israeli gear and equipment along with some of Mughniyah's personal belongings, the exhibition seeks to glorify the man and what the Lebanese Shiite militant group regards as his greatest achievement, the "divine victory" of the summer 2006 war.

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Before his obscure assassination last February in Damascus, Mughniyah was among the most wanted figures on U.S. and Israeli lists of terrorists for allegedly masterminding a series of bloody attacks in different parts of the world in the 1980s and 1990s. In Lebanon, he was a mysterious man always on the run and rarely mentioned in the media. Before his death, his physical appearance was only known to few people.

"When one of us dies as a martyr, everything he owned becomes sanctified," said Imad Awada, the director of the exhibition, which is set in a large car park in the southern town of Nabatieh. "His clothes, his prayer rug, his rifle are turned into holy objects, " he added.   

The recently inaugurated exhibition, somewhere between kitsch and symbolism, has already attracted about 40,000 Lebanese visitors and tourists, according to the organizers.

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As they enter the exhibition space, visitors are immersed in the ambiance of Hezbollah's battle with Israel with a light show and thundering recorded sounds of explosions, gunfire and military commanders giving orders to open fire.

The visit starts at the "victory bridge," which bears sides lined with gold-painted artillery shells, and moves into the "square of defeat," where a large "cemetery" with Hebrew inscriptions symbolizes the "downfall" of the Israeli army. All around are displayed samples of military objects left by the Israelis during recent and earlier confrontations with Hezbollah, including helmets with bullet holes, soldier boots, uniforms, ammunition and even tuna cans and other food reserves.

On one side, a coffin holds a fake skeleton dressed in an Israeli military uniform and is supposed to be a parody of what Hezbollah says is Israel's claim of having an undefeatable army.

On another side, lies an Israeli Merkava tank with smoke and fire-like lights erupting from it every once and a while. The shell of an Israeli military chopper allegedly shot down during the war is hanging.

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A large poster bearing a photo of Mughniyah reads, "the blood of the martyr Imad Mughniyah will get them out of existence if god wills."

Through a tunnel representing a gun's barrel, visitors move into the so-called idyllic space of the "resistance" and its "martyrs." There, are displayed the clothes Mughniyah was supposedly wearing when he was assassinated: a raincoat, a scarf, black pants and shoes, with shrapnel-produced holes and faint blood stains.

Mughniyah's desk, leather bag, Koran and other personal objects are exhibited.

To access the last part of the exhibition, visitors descend into a makeshift military hideout lined with sand bags and are led to a dimly lit hall saturated with a fake smell of flowers. Thousands of artificial flowers surround a representation of Mughniyah's dead body as "his soul ascends to heaven", says Ali, one of the tour guides. Video clips lauding the "glories" of Mughniyah are projected at the center of a golden-painted window. 

At the exit, a souvenir shop sells posters of Mughniyah as well as mugs and lighters bearing his photo and that of Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah.

"Here, I feel proud of all the sacrifices and achievements of Hezbollah," said Ali Khalil, a 35-year-old businessman. "The likes of Mughniyah make us live in dignity. We didn't know him before this because he was not working for his own glory but for that of the whole nation."

-- Raed Rafei in Nabatieh, Southern Lebanon

Photos: Views from Hezbollah's exhibition in commemoration of the second anniversary of the war with Israel. Credit: Raed Rafei / For the Los Angeles Times.

P.S. The Los Angeles Times issues a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from all over the Middle East, as well as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can subscribe by logging in at the website here, clicking on the box for "LA Times updates," and then clicking on the "World: Mideast" box.

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