'got point across' Pro-Hezbollah billboard down
Trevor Wilhelm, Windsor Star
Published: Tuesday, August 14, 2007
The controversial billboard depicting Hezbollah's leader has disappeared, but one of the men responsible for the sign says it's not because they're backing down from fierce public backlash. "Whatever we believe, we'll speak about it anytime," said Hussein Dabaja. "We will speak about human rights, about the truth, about Nasrallah. We're going to do it and nobody can stop us. "We'll talk about it anywhere, any place we have a chance."
The sign, erected Friday at Wyandotte Street and Marion Avenue, was quietly replaced Monday morning with an advertisement for a car dealership.
The controversial billboard immediately drew fire from the Windsor Jewish Community Centre, the Lebanese Christian political group Kataeb and others.
Among other Lebanese leaders, it prominently depicted Hassan Nasrallah, the head of the political and military group representing Shia Muslims. Hezbollah, considered a terrorist organization by the Canadian government, was created in 1982 primarily to resist the Israeli occupation of Lebanon that lasted two decades.
The billboard Dabaja said organizers took up a collection from community members to pay for the billboard, and many of them were willing to pay more to keep it up.
He said the company that owns the sign, CBS Outdoors, removed the billboard because the Lebanese community members only paid to have it up over the weekend. "We paid for the weekend and it's done," said Dabaja. "We have our message, and our message got the point across."
CBS Outdoor didn't return phone calls on Monday.
Dabaja said the billboard was meant to honour friends and family in Lebanon who died fighting against Israel, and promote peace.
He said the point of the message will be driven home today, when Nasrallah makes a speech in Beirut honouring Hezbollah's "victory" against the Israeli occupation.
Harvey Kessler, executive director of the Windsor Jewish Community Centre, said the sign was "the opposite of peace" and a message from terrorists.
"Hezbollah does not stand for peace," he said. "I don't think the billboard represents Lebanese and Arab communities. . . I'm pleased it is down. Hopefully, it leads to a discussion about the kind of community we want to live in. Also in the Lebanese and Arab communities, they need to talk about these issues as well, and the kind of community, the kind of Canada we live in. I hope it will generate a lot of discussion and some positive outcome."
Dabaja said he doesn't understand why Kessler and others are so upset. He has no quarrel with Jewish people, he said.
"I am Canadian, he is Canadian," he said. "The Jewish are not the enemy. When Hezbollah fights the Israeli army, they fight the Israeli occupation to Lebanon. We are not fighting them because they are Jewish."
Dabaja said he had considered putting pictures of coffins and the bodies of Lebanese people killed in the fighting on the billboard, but instead chose a more peaceful picture. "I chose something to show some respect," he said.
Elias Bejjani of the Lebanese Canadian Co-ordinating Council, a collection of non-profit groups focused on educating people about Lebanese issues, said there was more to it than that.
"It was a challenge," he said from Toronto. "They were testing the seriousness of the Canadian government to its anti-terrorist act. It was more than somebody putting up a billboard. It is symbolic. As Canadians we can not be neutral. There is no neutrality when it comes to terrorism."
Alan Halberstadt, city councillor for Ward 3 where the sign went up, said it was "hard to say" what he thought of the billboard's meaning and whether it should be there.
"Certainly, the Canadian government has indicated they define Hezbollah as a terrorist organization," said Halberstadt.
That would certainly lend a lot of weight to not displaying that sort of thing." He did say it's probably better that the sign is gone.
"Perhaps it is a good thing it is down, because it caused such a discord in Windsor," said Halberstadt. "We don't need that kind of discord."
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What readers had to say at windsorstar.com
Tracy: "This was clearly the right thing to do. I would expect the same for any group or individual that promotes peace through the use of violence."
Hassan: "You can remove it from the street, but, we will carry it in our hearts. Hassan Nasrallah is our pride ... We love peace, we want our land back, we don't use our force against innocents."
Mike: "This poster has no place in Canada! This is an example of sectarian politics that has absolutely no business in Windsor or any other Canadian city. It belongs in the Mideast, and that is where it should be left."
Rabih: "Shame on you Canada. Is this what you call democracy?"
© The Windsor Star 2007