“Colors of an Oasis” is a fascinating recreation of life in downtown Beirut. It mixes archival footage of Beirut’s ancient souks with modern day footage shot in front of and inside the UEA building. The film shows vendors trading in pre-war times, then shows a bustling downtown square with shopkeepers pushing their wares from tiny alleys to enormous multi-story shopping malls. This is the city where you’ll find international cuisine and traditional crafts, such as jewelry made from pearl oysters, that were popular not only during the time of the Crusades but into the Mideast and beyond.
“Colors of an Oasis” also chronicles the colorful side of Beirut just a short drive from the World Bank and the French quarter. As one drives through the old part of town, vendors spring up selling everything from fresh vegetables to ancient carpets. This vibrant quarter has been completely renovated, with storefronts, parks, malls, and public spaces, all of which showcase everything from local art to elaborate rugs made by skilled imitators of the ufa breed. Interspersed between scenes of the everyday hustle and bustle are brief scenes of Hezbollah fighters Manning checkpoints and facing off with Israel forces. Although Hezbollah has denied any role in the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanese territory, the Free Syrian Army has gained a foothold in the areas around the occupied Golan Heights and Eastern Ghouta.
“Colors of an Oasis” is narrated by Beirut locals interviewed over coffee and sandwiches as they recount their lives. It reveals a side of Beirut not seen by tourists or visitors, something most have never seen before. Some interviews show apparent resentment towards Hezbollah, the radical Islamic group that rules the country and takes over areas it does not want as part of its raider program. But other conversations are about the good life, boasting about their pools, bowling alleys, friendly restaurants, and the relative affordability of gambling at several of the city’s top casinos.
Many of the sportbooks in the area also claim to be members of thezbollah. However, despite the apparent hostility towards the group in the city, many sportbooks owners say that Hezbollah does not operate any gambling facilities in the city. “The problem with Hezbollah is not with the sportbooks, they’re very helpful,” says Ayman Bahney, owner of the establishment that is the country’s only fully operational Hezbollah-free sportbook. “We helped them out a few times with things like getting their logos on our equipment, things of that nature. They always make a payment on time.”
Hezbollah, which refuses to acknowledge its military role in the bloody battle in neighboring Lebanon, portrays itself as a champion defender of the Sayyaf family. The group’s fighters are said to number in the hundreds of thousands, although most of the foreign fighters who have joined the fight appear to come from Chechnya and Afghanistan. Some sportbooks have even opened their doors to customers from Hezbollah and other radical groups in an effort to bolster the group’s image in the public consciousness.
A Hezbollah fighter’s choice of a sportbook may seem strange to some people, given the group’s reputation. The group’s propaganda media portrays its fighters as free spirits, trying to do their own thing, even if that means breaking the rules. Some sportbooks companies have taken heat for not screening their customers, for fear of being branded accomplices in the group’s attacks on Israel. While it remains unclear whether Hezbollah has ever used its clout to get the sportbooks to help it, the Hezbollah war against Israel does seem to be encouraging some would-be attackers to try their luck at a sportbook.