A new tourist attraction in southern Lebanon is causing controversy. It's dedicated to the political party and Shi'ite militia Hezbollah, which controls large swaths of southern Lebanon. Hezbollah fought a month-long war with Israel in 2006, firing deadly rockets at Israeli towns and cities. The museum opened three months ago and already has attracted more than 300,000 visitors. Some critics, though, say it's propaganda.
An exterior photo of the Shi'ite militia Hezbollah's Resistance Museum in Lebanon, Aug 2010
The tanks on display once belonged to the Israeli army. They were abandoned by Israeli soldiers and are now museum pieces, just a few of the so called attractions at Lebanon's Resistance Museum in the mountain town of Mlita. The museum was built by the militant Shi'ite group Hezbollah on a hilltop about 90 kilometers from the Israeli border.
Guns, ammunition, and other equipment, dating to Israel's 1978 incursion into Lebanon, are meticulously displayed, along with detailed maps of former Israeli military positions, and flowcharts of its army's rankings.
Mohammad Kawtharani, a spokesman for Hezbollah, said, "The history of the people of this country is filled up with disasters and sadness and celebrating and taking hope is something new that we are trying to establish."
Hezbollah, the political party, holds two cabinet posts in Lebanon's government. It also provides services like education and healthcare to thousands of Lebanese Shiites. Additionally, it's an armed militia that the U.S. labels a terrorist organization.
In 2006, in a war with Israel, it proved it was a serious fighting force, lobbing deadly rockets into northern Israel.
Now, the group is moving into tourism. The museum cost more than $4 million. It extends more than 60,000 square meters and includes a hilltop forest that Hezbollah fighters once occupied, their likenesses re-created. Many of their original weapons remain intact.
A bunker once used as a war room is displayed, and tourists are encouraged to pray where former Hezbollah Chief Sayyed Abbas Moussawi once sat. He was assassinated by Israel in 1992.
An interior photo of the Shi'ite militia Hezbollah's Resistance Museum in Lebanon, Aug 2010
One tourist brought her two children. She said the museum is a great honor. "I came to see the resisters, their lives, how they sat, how they fought, how they defeated Israel, how they sacrificed their lives for us."
In the 2006 war, more than 1,200 people in Lebanon were killed and Israel flattened several villages in southern Lebanon before agreeing to a U.N.-backed ceasefire.
Not all Lebanese are happy with the museum. Lokman Slim, director of Hayya Bina, a pro-democracy organization, says the museum sanitizes war and is polarizing.
"There is no trace of pain, no trace of suffering, of how much war could be awful," said Slim. "It's a kind of superman land."
Slim says many secular Lebanese also died fighting the Israelis, which Hezbollah doesn't address.
Israel has condemned such museums, saying they promote hatred.
Kawtharani says the museum eventually will expand to include a hotel, restaurant, swimming pool and cable car.