In a quest to get to better know members of the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon, four Western journalists and a former U.S. Army Ranger last year arranged to play paintball in Beirut with some men who said they were among the group's fighters.
Meeting Hezbollah on the paintball playing field.
In his account of the experience, journalist Mitchell Prothero writes that "my motivation for brokering the match was largely driven by the simple journalistic need to better understand the group."
The journalists and former Ranger Andrew Exum fared well, winning four games to the Hezbollah fighters' three. The two sides seemed to respect each other, judging from Prothero's account. During a break they shared some laughs. But, Prothero writes:
"At the very end of the evening, things take a chilling turn. The Boss [from team Hezbollah] walks over and takes Ben's gun away from him while criticizing his marksmanship. In an exemplary display, the Boss takes careful aim at a rope hanging on the other side of the arena and fires shot after shot, squarely hitting the rope each time while chanting Yahoud ('Jew') on each pull of the trigger. He seems to think it's funny, but no one else laughs."
A month later, Prothero reports, he was with the Boss again:
"I press him on what he thinks could stop this cycle of violence in the south. What if the Israelis left Lebanese lands, made peace with the Palestinians, and never threatened Lebanon again?
" 'Some guys would consider violence the solution to the religious questions, like liberating Jerusalem. But doing so would mean the end of the Resistance,' he says.
" 'So, peace?' I ask.
"He thinks for a second. 'Sure,' he replies, without much conviction in his voice."
"A group that's killed Americans, that's killed Israelis, that is committed to the destruction of Israel ... but then you and some other people hit on a rather unusual way to get to know Hezbollah," Steve began.
"I was in a bar in Beirut, talking with a bunch of journalists — many of whom had been frustrated by the inability to get to know Hezbollah at the unofficial level," Exum said. They came up with the paintball challenge.
One thing he now believes, Exum said, is that "at the human level" the men he met were "just very similar to ... the 18- and 19-year-old Americans that I led into combat."
We'll add the as-broadcast version of Steve's conversation with Exum to the top of this post after it has aired.