BEIRUT – Militants carrying assault weapons clear the area around a street, shouting in Arabic for people to get out of the way. A jeep pulls up: The worlds No. 1 jihadi has arrived for a meeting with top Hezbollah commanders. On rooftops, U.S. snipers crouch unseen, the kingpin in their crosshairs at last.
The scene, from a recent episode of Showtimes hit U.S. series Homeland, is supposed to be Beirut. But it is really in Israel, a country similar enough in some areas to stand in for Lebanon, yet a world away in most other respects.
The show about Arab terrorists and American turncoats has inadvertently become a tale of two cities.
Some Beirutis are angry because the depiction of their city as swarming with militiamen is misleading and because they see Israel as the enemy. And in Israel, some are peeved that Haifa and even Tel Aviv – a self-styled nightlife capital and high-tech hub – apparently appear, to outsiders at least, to be Middle Eastern after all.
Lebanese Tourism Minister Fadi Abboud told The Associated Press hes so upset about the portrayal of Beirut that hes considering a lawsuit.
The information minister is studying media laws to see what can be done, he said.
Abboud pointed to the scene with the snipers. Hamra Street in West Beirut is portrayed as a hotbed of violence, but it is actually a lively neighborhood packed with cafés, book shops and pubs.
It showed Hamra Street with militia roaming in it. This does not reflect reality, he said. It was not filmed in Beirut and does not portray the real image of Beirut.
Hamed Moussa, an engineering student at the American University of Beirut, said its not a problem that Israelis are portraying Lebanese. In fact, he said, Lebanese often play Israeli characters in Lebanese soap operas.
But Ghada Jaber, a 60-year-old housewife, said Israel should never stand in for Lebanon.
It is very insulting, she said as she walked along Hamra Street. Israel destroyed our country. Israel invaded and occupied our country.
Homeland, based on the Israeli series Prisoners of War, is about a U.S. Marine named Nick Brody who was a POW for years in the Middle East. The federal government and the public see Brody as a war hero, but a CIA operative played by Claire Danes believes he was turned by the enemy and is now a threat to the U.S.
The second season began last month, and some urban scenes are shot in Tel Aviv, the Israeli metropolis about 150 miles south of Beirut.
Jaffa, a popular mixed Jewish and Arab neighborhood of Tel Aviv, was an Arab town before Israel gained independence in 1948, and its Levantine architecture, mosques and minarets, situated along the Mediterranean, allowed the creators of Homeland to present a plausible version of Beirut.
The reactions to the show in Lebanon and Israel reflect the tremendous divergence of narratives between the two peoples – each seeing the other as aggressor, each seeing itself as a victim.
Many Lebanese cannot forget the massive destruction Israel inflicted on Beirut during a 1982 invasion when it succeeded in routing the Palestine Liberation Organization from the country. They resent the 18-year occupation of south Lebanon that followed, and their leaders in any case reject the existence of the Jewish state.
But to Israel, Lebanon has been a perennial staging ground for missile strikes and other attacks on Israel, more than justifying the massive Israeli operations there that have occurred in every decade since the 1970s.
Eytan Schwartz, a spokesman for Tel Avivs mayor, said the Lebanese should, if anything, be pleased at the TV shows choice for a stand-in.
If I were Lebanese, with all due respect, Id be very flattered that a city, and a world heritage site, thanks to its incredible architecture, and residents who were named among the top 10 most beautiful people in the world (ranked by Travelers Digest magazine in 2012) could pass as Lebanese, he said.
All we can do is pray for a day when the Lebanese regime will allow our Lebanese friends to visit us and see for themselves, Schwartz said.