Journal: The signs of turf

Fellows Fall 2004

By Julie Goodman

June 02, 2009

A painting on a wall in a southern suburb of Beirut shows a gun bursting through a Star of David with the words,

A painting on a wall in a southern suburb of Beirut shows a gun bursting through a Star of David with the words, "We're coming," emblazoned across a banner in Hezbollah colors.

In the United States, it is not unusual to see neighborhoods plastered with campaign signs during election season, each community revealing its candidate of choice.

In Lebanon, you only have to poke your head outside the car window and scan the roadside or boulevard to determine whose turf you're on, any time of the year.

Just about anywhere you go, the stoic faces of well-known men, both political and spiritual leaders, beam down at you from billboards, flags and posters, often accompanied by party rhetoric or anti-Israeli slogans.

Hezbollah, which looks to Iran for its spiritual leader, will often post images of the Ayatollah Khomeini in its strongholds; one banner with his likeness bears the words, "Israel should cease to exist."

The smiling face of Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah can be found on prominent roadside billboards. Sometimes a more somber image of him is displayed, flanked by the faces of young men who died fighting Israel.

At another turn, you might see the face of Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, who leads a Shiite rival to Hezbollah, Amal, whose name translates into "hope." One billboard bears Berri's smiling face with the words "You are the hope," next to an advertisement for Nivea lotion for men.

Other signs show the face of Imam Musa Sadr, a beloved Shiite cleric who disappeared in 1978.

And a billboard in Beirut shows a pensive looking Syrian President Bashar Assad, who has come under intense scrutiny for interfering with Lebanese politics.

Green flags designate Amal territory; yellow ones represent Hezbollah. In some areas, the flags compete for attention.

Black flags of mourning were hung after Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's death.

And as you approach the Israeli border, and venture into land which Lebanon fought for, a sign will greet you with the words, "Welcome to liberated land."