BASSEM MROUE and ELIZABETH A. KENNEDY, The Associated Press
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.
"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 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 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.
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.
The local reactions to the show reflect the tremendous divergence of narratives between the two peoples.
Many Lebanese cannot forget the 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.
To Israel, Lebanon has been a perennial staging ground for missile strikes and other attacks on Israel, justifying the Israeli operations there that have occurred in every decade since the 1970s.
Eytan Schwartz, a spokesman for Tel Aviv's mayor, said the Lebanese should, if anything, be pleased at the TV show's choice for a stand-in.
"If I were Lebanese, with all due respect, I'd 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 could pass as Lebanese," he said.
Nir Rubinstein, an who fought in Beirut as a young soldier 30 years ago, said he understood the Lebanese anger, but also how Israelis might be insulted as well.
"This sort of diminishes Tel Aviv and Jaffa, which are more modern than Beirut," said Rubinstein.
Beirut has developed impressively in the two decades since its civil war ended, and its growing renown as a party city in its own right is a source of some fascination to Israelis who are barred from going there.
But the portrayal of Lebanon as swarming with guns is hardly unreasonable.
The country has dozens of armed militias that still flourish, and an alarming number of private individuals have weapons in their homes. The biggest militia of all, Iranian-backed Hezbollah, has gained so much powe over the years that it's now part of the government, wielding virtual veto power.
Despite its popularity, "Homeland" does not appear to have reached Hezbollah's radar.
"I have no idea what you are talking about," Hezbollah spokesman Ibrahim al-Moussawi told the AP when asked about the show. "This is the first I'm hearing about it."
Still, he described Abboud's plan to sue the producers as "a good step" and said Hezbollah will probably study the issue and put out a statement if needed.