The view from Jabal Mohsen

In part 4 of 'Stories from a forgotten city,' part of MENASSAT's multimedia and acting workshops in Tripoli, we focus on Jabal Mohsen, the Alawite Shia neighborhood that has been at odds with the adjacent Sunni neighborhood of Bab El Tabaneh.
TRIPOLI, November 22, 2008 (MENASSAT) – In all there were some 15 participants taking part in this third workshop with the youth from Tripoli's Jabal Mohsen neighborhood. Jabal Mohsen, which is home to Tripoli's Alawite Shia minority, is positioned on the hill above their rivals in the Sunni neighborhood of Bab al Tabaneh.

The kids – aged 12 to 22 – had all come as a part of a football club, and their chaperon, a 40-something man, Abu Khalil, made sure the kids were well-behaved all the time.

Abu Khalil is ex-military – he is a former officer in the Lebanese army – and the kids respect his authority. He consented to an interview with MENASSAT as the kids were filming scenes along the waterfront in the El-Mina port district of Tripoli.

Later, Ali Abdallah, a 21-year-old college student whose parents own a small dukane (grocery store) in Jabal Mohsen, spoke candidly about his desires to tell Jabal Mohsen's story with the camera techniques he was picking up.

Ali is a 19-year-old student at a technical college. He told MENASSAT that his neighborhood, Jabal Mohsen, is completely misunderstood by the people in Beirut.

The following are excerpts from their interviews.

Abu Khalil

"My name is Bismat [but people call me Abu Khalil.] During the civil war I held a high-ranking position in my organization, and I almost went to the next level, but then I decided to join the Army. For us, since we have been raised in an environment full of war and violence, the only way to survive is to maintain a sense of discipline and order in the community. I'm a natural born leader and whenever I am organizing activities for the youth in the community they are always successfully completed because I am respected and good at what I do.

"In the past, our families went through a lot of suffering because outsiders have always been trying to kick us off our lands. But our parents taught us the importance of holding on to our land and we will teach this to our descendants so that they will not only protect our lands but also use their youthful ambitions to create jobs, reconstruction of our homes and a better life for the next generation.

"That's why the experience from this workshop is so important, for the kids, because they are learning new ways of expressing what they are feeling inside and it also gives them the opportunity to paint the real image of Jabal Mohsen. Also, through media they are able to release their anger and pain.

"The media has played a major role in presenting a negative image of Jabal Mohsen to the rest of the Lebanese as well as to the outside world as being a war zone where people are violent and we have lots of weapons. But this is not true. So by teaching our kids digital techniques equips them with the ability to counter these negative stereotypes by expressing what is really happening on the ground and in their lives.

"One can never deny the importance of media because the entire world is viewed via the media and the media is like a small village where you can get glimpses of different areas through the news or any other form of media. However, politicians strictly control the media and they are the real culprits who portray Jabal Mohsen as a nightmare whereas I could give you an image that Jabal Mohsen is a paradise."


Ali Abdallah

"My name is Ali Abdallah and I am from Jabal Mohsen. I would like to make a movie similar to Sous les bombes (Under the Bombs).

"I like conducting little interviews because it's nice to learn about these things. Today, we are learning about framing the camera and different ways of telling our story that we will shoot on Thursday. I want to make a short film about war and destruction. During the recent fighting, three shells hit our house and I want to document it.

"Now, there hasn't been any fighting but the issue of sectarianism is always there and there is very little work and I don't like to see the place where I was born and live getting destroyed.

"But you know, it's shameful for someone from our neighborhood to follow another neighborhood because for us in Jabal Mohsen our sect, religion and the people in our community is the most important. So we have to be loyal to our own hoods. And maybe in the eyes of an outsider our hood may seem small, but in my eyes it's big. The leader of Jabal Mohsen is Ali Eid and he represents the entire Alawite tribe.

"I believe that there can be peace in Lebanon, but we need a stable government that won't run away every time they hear bullets. I want peace because our people don't need any more explosions, but also we don't want the hand of evil to come to Lebanon.

"Our military and police are strong enough to protect the country, and America never provides for the people but rather for those that are working in their interest. So you can't make peace with foreign countries because they have never been just in their relations with us. One day, they are with you and the next, they are against you. And although they may provide weapons for our military, they never give us the full capacity to defend ourselves.

"Everyone knows the relationship between Israel and America and that they are the ones that destroy our homes and land and then try to offer support to rebuild. And lets not forget that the Arab countries are the main culprits in destroying our country. So we only deal with Hezbollah and Syria because they are the only ones that have provided genuine assistance to Lebanon.

"We don't want Israel to invade Lebanon again and we don't want Lebanon to become like Iraq."


"My name is Ali and I am attending this workshop because you asked us to come and learn about the camera, how to make interviews and how to express our feelings freely. I am happy that today we are doing the workshop on the Corniche because for me this is a holy view and I like it very much.

"For my film, I would like to show others what is the real community life in Jabal Mohsen. How we take care and treat one another as a brother or family. Nobody forgets the other and if we see that anyone is in trouble, then we always extend a hand to assist him or her. My goal is to correct the negative image of Jabal Mohsen."