If you want to know how the Hizbollah could drive one of the most well-equipped armies in the world out of south Lebanon, you have to understand the dedication of men like Khalid Saad.
Khalid is a simple 24-year-old from this scruffy village close to the Israeli border, a soft-spoken Muslim who is still quick with a smile despite living almost his entire life under a hated Israeli occupation.
He does not drink alcohol, have a girlfriend, or read the newspapers enough to have a grasp of international politics -- or really do much of anything except follow the Hizbollah.
At home he listens only to Hizbollah radio. At work he plays a cassette of Hizbollah songs, muscular war melodies whose lyrics glorify the "martyrs" who lost their lives in the bitter struggle against Israel.
And his conversation is smattered with a grab-bag of Hizbollah slogans and opinions taken just about verbatim from the leader of the movement, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah.
"The Hizbollah led by Sheikh Nasrallah have made south Lebanon free," he says, "paying the price of freedom with the blood of their sacrifice."
It is not the way you might normally expect a young bachelor to talk, but after 22 years of Israeli occupation -- and the bloody civil war that tore apart the nation -- very little in south Lebanon is "normal."
Like other villages in the occupied south, Bent Jbail was witness to years of brutality and violence, the attacks and bombings and murders leaving their unmistakable mark on the psyche of people like Khalid.
He says his father and uncle were killed in a bomb attack, while he himself spent years being hassled and threatened by the South Lebanon Army (SLA), Israel's surrogate militia during the occupation.
"One day an SLA officer pulled me over in my car, ordered me out and told me to get down on my knees and shine his shoes," Khalid says. "I refused -- and after that the trouble began."
He was carted off to the notorious SLA-run prison in Khiam, where like countless others he was held without due process -- and gradually came around to the Hizbollah way of ultimate "resistance" against Israel.
After his release two months later, he says, he was a changed man and also a marked man, a target for continuing harassment by the SLA fighters who helped Israel control Bent Jbail.
"They would post a guard outside my house to watch me coming and going. If I saw a friend in the street and started talking, they would come over and order us -- at gunpoint -- to break it up."
The indignity of the occupation and the humiliations of daily life in the village only served to strengthen the determination of Khalid, and thousands like him, to follow the path of the Hizbollah.
They became the men who pledged their loyalty to the resistance, the men who, even if they did not actually carry out armed attacks on the Israelis, gave the fighter the unwavering support for their campaign.
Khalid seems almost ashamed when he admits that his SLA watchdogs never left him free enough so that he could actually join the resistance group, but speaks proudly when he says other family members did.
Yet though his total dedication to Hizbollah is of the kind often seen in the West as fanatical, Khalid quite happily claims he would like to move to the United States, where his sister already lives.
In America he believes he could find a decent job, save some money and build for the future. But, for the present, his life revolves around the Hizbollah.
Even though the SLA always refused to grant him a permit to visit Beirut, when offered his first-ever trip to the capital he has no interest in the beach, or the restaurants, or any of the other sights.
He wants only one thing -- to pay homage to the Hizbollah with a visit to the Al-Rassoul mosque, the group's ideological stronghold in downtown Beirut.
"Let me just kiss the ground here," he pleads, as the car pulls up before the elegant blue dome of Al-Rassoul. "Then I want to go home again." -- BENT JBAIL, Lebanon (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)