Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
A man practices walking on ropes near a set flag at Iran Garden, the park developed by an Iranian organisation that faces an Israeli settlement, seen in the background, in the border village of Maroun el Rass, Lebanon. Mohammed Zaatari / AP Photo
A man practices walking on ropes near a set flag at Iran Garden, the park developed by an Iranian organisation that faces an Israeli settlement, seen in the background, in the border village of Maroun el Rass, Lebanon. Mohammed Zaatari / AP Photo

Iran Garden, a little patch of Palestine in Lebanon

A gift to a Lebanese village from the people of Iran, the park, built after the 2006 war, is a symbol of resistance to the visitors who flock to its observation tower for a bird's-eye view of Israel.

MAROUN AL RAS // It is not just the replica of Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock, or Qubbat Al Sakhra, that makes the park in this Lebanese village special, even unique.

There is also the park's name, the Iran Garden, named after the country that funded its construction and dedicated during a visit to south Lebanon last year by its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Then there is the observation tower standing near the park's paintball course, from where people can get a bird's-eye view of the "Zionist entity" - Israel.

In other words, for the visitors who flock each weekend to the Iran Garden, located on a village on Lebanon's border with Israel, it is not your typical weekend in the country.

The savvy mayor of Maroun Al Ras knows how to sell the main attraction of his community, which achieved prominence in the 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon when Hizbollah forces engaged invading Israeli armour units in days of fierce fighting for control of its narrow, winding streets.

"The Iranians gave it [the park] as a gift for the martyrs of Maroun Al Ras," Ibrahim Allawi said. "The idea was to show the enemy that not only are we masters of war, but we are also masters of beauty. It's a spot where you feel pride that you can stand and reach out and grab Palestine with your hand."

The ability to "grab Palestine with your hand" is why, however, the Iran Garden could suddenly become a battlefield and any idyll there sour.

Cross-border incidents, such as Israeli reconnaissance flights violating Lebanese airspace, are routine. Troop manoeuvres take place along the Blue Line, the unofficial border to which Israel withdrew after its two-decade occupation of southern Lebanon. United Nations peacekeepers monitor the frontier for ceasefire violations.

In May, tens of thousands of protesters calling for the right of return for Palestinian refugees descended on Maroun Al Ras. Israeli troops opened fire when a few hundred protesters pushed down into the valley and approached the fence that runs along the Blue Line, killing six Palestinians. Israel claimed its soldiers fired warning shots after "rioters attempted to breach the border".

Sitting in the sunshine at the Iran Garden, the violence that has scarred the border region for decades appeared distant memories for visitors, including the Saloom family from the southern Lebanese city of Nabatieh.

"When we survived the July War [with Israel in 2006] we felt we achieved something. We are happy to be in a place that was occupied by Israel and now it's normal here," said Nada Saloom as her one-year-old daughter Mariam wriggled in her lap. "But we're used to being close to the border."

Firas Birjawi, a Canadian of Lebanese origin, however, found it more difficult to comprehend that he was gazing out into Israeli territory just a few hundred metres away.

"It feels good because before you probably couldn't just stand here," the 20-year-old law student said. "It feels a bit unreal, thinking about how the whole south [of Lebanon] was under occupation."

Maroun Al Ras wears its defiance proudly. Loudspeakers dotting the grounds of the Iran Garden crackle to life throughout the day, pounding out resistance anthems that echo into the valley. Pictures of the village's martyrs who died fighting Israel and the flags of Hizbollah and Amal, another Shiite group, adorn its streets - symbols of Lebanon's resistance against Israel.

Work on the Iran Garden started several months after the ceasefire in 2006 that brought an end to the 33-day war, which left much of Maroun Al Ras devastated.

"We are one of the villages that has stood steadfast against Israel," Mr Allawi said. "Believe me, as civilians, we feel so much pride being here - definitely more than people in the capital. When the victories happen, we see them happen on our land."

On the veranda of a yellow house being built on the side of the slope that runs down to a fence marking the border, Abbas Faris smoked a shisha pipe. A university student in Beirut, Mr Faris, 20, said he returns to his hometown whenever he can.

"We grow tobacco right by the fence, It doesn't bother us," he said. "We feel strong living here. Some people are afraid of being so close to the border. But we love the idea that one day we are going to Palestine from here."

zconstantine@thenational.ae

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National