After the War, Nasrallah Takes to the Airwaves

I just returned from a short trip to Beirut -- my first since the ceasefire was implemented on Aug. 13, 2006. Apart from the roads and bridges damaged by Israel on the Damascus-Beirut road, everything seemed fine and normal in Lebanon. Malls were busy, offering 60 percent discounts, and so were clubs, casinos, hotels, and restaurants. Commercial billboards, usually reserved for advertising, were all booked by Hezbollah and showed signs praising the Lebanese resistance and its leader Hasan Nasrallah. One notable billboard showed a huge picture of Israeli troops carrying the coffin of a slain soldier, draped with the Israeli Flag, at a funeral in Israel. It read: "A graveyard for the Enemy!"

Hezbollah has always been good at waging media war, and the biggest example of this is its al-Manar TV. Apart from the usual programs, which range from Arabic sitcoms to documentaries and political talk shows, it also broadcasts inflammatory speeches by Nasrallah, along with patriotic anthems and images of Israeli soldiers killed in combat with Hezbollah. It also repeats detailed footage of Hezbollah operations in northern Israel and South Lebanon. As a policy, al-Manar never shows images of killed Arabs, nor does it mention Arab defeats like the Arab-Israeli War of 1967. It only talks about events it considers heroic to the Arabs, such as the liberation of South Lebanon in 2000, and the "stone throwing" children in Palestine. Many of its programs are subtitled in Hebrew to reach audiences inside Israel.

However, Hezbollah's media does not always target Israel. It is often aimed at domestic Lebanese public opinion to pacify anti-Hezbollah sentiment among certain groups in the Sunni and Christian communities of Lebanon. Hezbollah has given broad coverage to its reconstruction efforts in South Lebanon since the war ended two weeks ago. The rubble left behind and damaged buildings were all covered with big red signs reading: "Made in America." Almost immediately, at the orders of Nasrallah, Hezbollah civil servants, wearing caps that read "Jihad for Reconstruction," began removing the rubble and helping inhabitants return to what remained of their homes in the Beirut suburbs and South Lebanon. Hezbollah has promised to rebuild by 2009 what Israel destroyed. The money being used for reconstruction is mostly Iranian; Tehran has offered up to $150 million to help reconstruct South Lebanon. Hours after the ceasefire went into effect, Hezbollah set up offices across the South, giving out cash to citizens whose homes were destroyed by the Israeli War. Any person who owned a house that was destroyed was given $12,000 and up to $8,000 for furniture. Those who had rented homes received $8,000 each.

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