We figured they’d cheat; they were Hezbollah, after all. But none of us—a team of four Western journalists—thought we’d be dodging military-grade flash bangs when we initiated this “friendly” paintball match.
The battle takes place underground in a grungy, bunker-like basement underneath a Beirut strip mall. When the grenades go off it’s like being caught out in a ferocious thunderstorm: blinding flashes of hot white light, blasts of sound that reverberate deep inside my ears.
As my eyesight returns and readjusts to the dim arena light, I poke out from my position behind a low cinder-block wall. Two large men in green jumpsuits are bearing down on me. I have them right in my sights, but they seem unfazed—even as I open fire from close range, peppering each with several clear, obvious hits. I expect them to freeze, maybe even acknowledge that this softie American journalist handily overcame their flash-bang trickery and knocked them out of the game. Perhaps they’ll even smile and pat me on the back as they walk off the playing field in a display of good sportsmanship (after cheating, of course).
Instead, they shoot me three times, point-blank, right in the groin.
From this distance (well within the 15-foot “safety zone”), paintballs feel like bee stings. I raise my hands in pain and confusion, signaling to the referee that I’m leaving the game. But the bigger one—a tall, muscular farm boy from the deep south of Lebanon who tonight is going by the name Khodor—isn’t finished with me yet: He wraps his giant hands around my body and tries to throw me over his shoulder with the kind of deftness that only comes from practice. I’m quick enough to break free and flee, but my teammate Ben isn’t so lucky. Khodor and his partner move past me in perfect military formation, plunging deeper into our defenses. Soon they apprehend Ben, pushing him ahead of them, human shield-style.