By BASSEM MROUE and ELIZABETH A. KENNEDY, Associated Press
BEIRUT (AP) — 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 world's 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 the hit U.S. Showtime 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 on Thursday that he's so upset about the portrayal of Beirut that he's 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 cafes, 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."
Twentieth Century Fox Television refused to comment.
Several Lebanese interviewed by the AP said they have never heard of the show. When a reporter described the plot and said it was shot in Israel, the reactions ranged from anger to blithe acceptance that filmmaking is an imperfect art.
Hamed Moussa, an engineering student at the American University of Beirut, said it's 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 of the urban scenes are shot in Tel Aviv, the Israeli metropolis about 250 kilometers (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.
To the average viewer, the Beirut scenes may appear authentic. But to the discerning viewer, hints of Israel are everywhere: cars with blurred yellow Israeli license plates, red-and-white curbs that designate no-parking zones, an Israeli-style traffic circle, and a well-known minaret and clock tower in Jaffa.
In one rooftop scene, parts of the Tel Aviv skyline, with hotels lining the Mediterranean and the iconic "Shalom Tower" skyscraper, can be seen in the distance.
In one publicity shot released by Showtime from the recent "Back to Beirut" episode, Danes' character is walking through a Beirut open market and passes a stall selling two Israeli T-shirts: one red with the white Coca-Cola logo in large Hebrew letters, the other a yellow jersey of a Jerusalem soccer team with the name in Hebrew, Beitar Yerushalayim, and a menorah. In a fast-paced chase that actually aired, however, there were no traces of Israel.