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ON A DAY THIS WEEK, IN SEPTEMBER 1982 The Sabra & Shatila Massacre

Over the course of just under three days, from late on Thursday the 16th September, 1982, to early morning, Saturday the 18th, the brutal, seemingly-endless, probably-43-hour-long slaughter of between 762 and 3,500 civilians (the exact number of victims is disputed)… mostly Palestinians and Lebanese Shiites

People were scared, people got worried, and I remember my mother’s words that day in Arabic, she said “God protect us from what’s coming…” Nabil Ahmed (BBC Panorama, 2001)

 

The armies of flies, the smell of decomposition. These things one remembers...” Robert Fisk

 

“I don’t want to miss the nightmare bus that goes to Sabra and Shatila.” Najwan Darwish

 

Over the course of just under three days, from late on Thursday the 16th September, 1982, to early morning, Saturday the 18th, the brutal, seemingly-endless, probably-43-hour-long slaughter of between 762 and 3,500 civilians (the exact number of victims is disputed)…

 

…mostly Palestinians and Lebanese Shiites (“…in the massacre of Sabra and Shatila, perhaps a quarter of the slain were actually Shiites, not Palestinians.” David Hirst)…

 

…by the Christian Phalange (a right-wing militia close to the Lebanese Kataeb Party) killers of Elie Hobeika,  began…

 

…under the eyes and, as we know now, with the active collusion of their allies, the Israeli Defense Forces…

 

They came in through the roof

They closed the doors and windows

They stuffed a fistful of sand into her mouth and

nostrils, Fatima.

Their hands ripped her stomach

blood pooled

they urinated on her face.

Fatima took the statue’s hand

and walked lightly between the trees and the

sleeping children.

She reached the sea

her body raised above death

 

…Tahar Ben Jelloun, the Moroccon poet, later wrote of the dead, in ‘Fatima Abou Mayyala’

 

Palestinians first arrived in Sabra and Shatila following the great exodus in 1948. The Shatila refugee camp close by Sabra Street in west Beirut was one of the first camps to be founded in Beirut, with most of its residents coming “originally from the Palestine coast and Upper Galilee, being among those forced to seek refuge in Lebanon, either by sea to the nearest harbours or by land over the Palestine–Lebanon border, in the wake of the 1948 war…the War of al-Nakba (Disaster).” (Bayan Nuwayhed al-Hout)

 

Now, 36 years later, on a day this week, Sabra and Shatila (“a crime for which Israel will be condemned for eternity“) – are two words that still open up a universe of pain and horror and a nightmare from which any sane world would willingly devote uncountable resources to wake from. Sadly, not this one. The one we currently inhabit; not yet, not here, not now, like the strangers we surely must be, forcibly evicted from paradise.

 

In the days following this week of horrors:

 

“Journalists descended on Sabra and Shatila to find the hundreds of bodies which the Phalangists had not had time to bury, the limbs which protruded from the hastily dug graves of those they had, the naked women with ‘hands and feet tied behind their backs, the victims of car-dragging, one of them with his genitals cut off, piled in a garage, the baby whose limbs had been carefully laid out in a circle, head crowning the whole. They stumbled across evidence of resistance from those ‘2,000 heavily armed terrorists’ – the sporting shotgun that lay by the body of a young boy.” David Hirst wrote in his book “Beware of Small States”

 

Earlier, on the 14 September 1982, in a Lebanon torn by a vicious civil war, the fate of the mostly young, elderly and female Palestinians, along with the Lebanese Shiites unlucky enough or impoverished enough to reside in the vicinity, was probably sealed with the assassination of Lebanon’s Christian President-elect, Bashir Gemayel. Gemayal it turns out was assassinated by a pro-Syrian militant but that was not important to his followers, the Phalange, with their history of hatred for the Palestinians nor the Israelis, with their plans to clear Lebanon – and in September 1982, particularly Beirut – of Palestinians: PLO guerillas, or otherwise …

 

The Lebanese Civil War

 

1982 comes nearly halfway through the Lebanese Civil War which lasted from 1975 to 1990 and cost an estimated 120,000 lives:

 

“Lebanon was multisectarian, with Sunni Muslims and Christians being the majorities in the coastal cities, Shia Muslims being mainly based in the south and the Beqaa Valley to the east, and with the mountain populations being mostly Druze and Christian. The government of Lebanon had been run under a significant influence of the elites among the Maronite Christians. The link between politics and religion had been reinforced under the mandate of the French colonial powers from 1920 to 1943, and the parliamentary structure favored a leading position for the Christians. However, the country had a large Muslim population and many pan-Arabist and left-wing groups opposed the pro-western government. The establishment of the state of Israel and the displacement of a hundred thousand Palestinian refugees to Lebanon during the 1948 and 1967 exoduses contributed to shifting the demographic balance in favor of the Muslim population.” (Wikipedia)

 

Into this convulsion of increasing complexity: the Israeli Invasion

 

6 June 1982, under the Orwellian title Operation Peace for Galilee, Israel, under the direction of its Defence Minister Ariel Sharon, invaded Lebanon, quickly moving northwards to surround the capital, Beirut. The siege of Beirut began on the 14 June. Its goal? To root out the Palestine Liberation Organization, largely based in west Beirut. The siege lasted until August, when an agreement was reached; more than 14,000 PLO fighters would evacuate the country in August and September, supervised by the Multinational Force in Lebanon, an international peacekeeping force with troops from the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Italy.

 

“Following an extended siege of the city, the fighting was brought to an end with a U.S.-brokered agreement between the parties on 21 August 1982, which allowed for safe evacuation of the Palestinian fighters from the city under the supervision of Western nations and guaranteed the protection of refugees and the civilian residents of the refugee camps.” (Wikipedia)

 

Without PLO protection, the Palestinian refugee camps of Beirut were defenceless.

 

Robert Fisk:

 

“The PLO had been told by Philip Habib that the Israelis would not enter west Beirut if the guerrillas left. The US Marines had left early – after only 17 days in Beirut – and America’s promise had been broken when the Israelis invaded west Beirut. So much for the guarantees.”  (“Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War”)

 

September 14, 1982, 4.10pm, the Jewish state’s key ally in Lebanon, newly elected President Bashir Gemayel, was assassinated in an explosion at the Phalange headquarters in Beirut, that killed him and 26 others.

 

When the Israeli tanks had rolled into Beirut in June they immediately sealed off the Palestinian camps. They now called on the Phalangists – the right-wing Christian militia associated with the slain president’s party – with “searching and mopping up the camps”, according to Israeli military orders. (Aljazeera) This, despite the assurances given to the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), which had defended the camps up to then, that the civilians left behind would be protected.

 

By noon on the 15 September, Sabra and Shatila had been surrounded by the Israeli Defence Forces, setting up checkpoints at the exits and entrances, and using a number of multi-story buildings as observation posts.

 

Israeli Army Spokesman in East Beirut:

 

”The I.D.F. is in control of all key points in Beirut. Refugee camps harboring terrorist concentrations remain encircled and closed. The I.D.F. calls on citizens to return to normal activity and on all terrorists and other armed persons to lay down their arms.”

 

True to their word, the next day, on the 16 September, the first unit of approximately 150 Phalangists, from the estimated 1500 Christian Phalange militiamen who had been assembled at Beirut International Airport, then occupied by Israel, would enter Sabra and Shatila at 18:00 hours.

 

The Israelis?

 

“… those who dare to describe human beings as “beasts with two legs” / those are the ones from whom we must redeem / the words of our beginning…” (June Jordan)

 

The Kahan Report later acknowledged that on the night of the 14/15 September 1982 the IDF chief of staff Rafael Eitan had flown to Beirut, where he went straight to the Phalangists’ headquarters and instructed their leadership to order a general mobilisation of their forces and prepare to take part in the forthcoming Israeli attack on West Beirut.

 

“Afterwards, the Chief of Staff, together with the people accompanying him, went to the Phalangists’ headquarters, where, according to his testimony (p. 210), he ordered the Phalangist commanders to effect a general mobilization of all their forces, impose a general curfew on all the areas under their control, and be ready to take part in the fighting. The response of the Phalangist commanders who took part in that meeting was that they needed 24 hours to organize.”

 

Unfortunately, for many Israelis, (to say nothing of the Phalange), west Beirut and its occupants seemed to appear less than human, and Palestinians, “two-legged beasts”:

 

David Hirst:

 

“By the time of Sabra and Shatila that time-honoured Israeli reflex — demonizing all enemies as terrorists and thereby legitimizing any means of combating them – had reached a new level of intensity; …and the reflex came, in this Begin era, laced with a contemptuous, racist terminology, which was replete with genocidal overtones and tended to reduce the Palestinians to a ‘subhuman’ category. He himself called the Palestinian militants ‘two-legged beasts’. And he never tired of his Nazi analogies; the alternative to the invasion of Beirut, he said, was Treblinka. ” (“Beware of Small States”)

 

And following the publication of the Kahan Report in Israel (“Haaretz, 19 November 1982.”) the columnist Yoel Marcus concluded:

 

“In the matter of Sabra and Shatila, a large part of the community, perhaps the majority, is not at all troubled by the massacre itself. Killing of Arabs in general, and Palestinians in particular, is quite popular, or at least ‘doesn’t bother anyone’, in the words of the youth these days. Ever since the massacre I have been surprised more than once to hear from educated, enlightened people, ‘the conscience of Tel Aviv’, the view that the massacre itself, as a step towards removing the remaining Palestinians from Lebanon, is not terrible. It is just too bad that we were in the neighbourhood.”

 

The writer, David Hirst also quoted ’Bamahane , the army newspaper (1 September ) “just two weeks before the massacre”:

 

“A senior Israeli officer heard the following from the lips of a Phalangist: the question we are putting to ourselves is – how to begin, by raping or killing? If the Palestinians had a bit of nous, they would try to leave Beirut. You have no idea of the slaughter that will befall the Palestinians, civilians or terrorists, who remain in the city. Their efforts to mingle with the population will be useless. The sword and the gun of the Christian fighters will pursue them everywhere and exterminate them once and for all.”

 

Robert Fisk (in The Times, London, on the 17 June 1982) reported:

 

“An Israeli soldier did not conceal the effect which this insidious propaganda had had on him. ‘Listen,’ he said: I know you are tape-recording this, but personally I would like to see them all dead … because they are a sickness wherever they go … Seeing dead children and women here is not really nice, but everyone is involved in this kind of war, the women too, so we can’t always punish exactly the right people because otherwise it would cost us a lot of deaths. And for us, I guess, I hope you understand this, the death of one Israeli soldier is more important than the death of even several hundred Palestinians.”

 

The Killing

 

It is said that as night began to fall, at sunset, Thursday September 16, about 150 armed Phalangists moved into the camps and the surrounding neighborhoods under the command of the then Phalange leader (and future Lebanese politician) Elie Hobeika.

 

What was to follow during the next 43 hours, was an almost unspeakable orgy of savagery, cruelty, torture, killing, rape, and abduction.

 

With dark falling the Israeli military nearby offered their support by firing “flare shells that turned night into day. These shells also set fire to numerous houses.” This coincided, remarkably enough with the cessation of the shelling which had accompanied their invasion of this part of west Beirut; obviously with the aim of assisting their well (and often crudely – axes and knives?) – armed allies to safely navigate the narrow laneways, courtyards and corridors of what was now an unprotected civilian zone.

 

Fergal Keane (Telegraph, 2001):

 

“In one chilling testimony, an Israeli lieutenant sitting at the forward command post overlooking Sabra and Shatila said he overheard a gunman inside the camps ask Mr Hobeika over the radio what he should do with 50 women and children he was holding. Mr Hobeika allegedly replied: “That is the last time you will ask me that question. You know exactly what to do.” The instruction was said to have been followed by raucous laughter from a group of Phalangists beside Mr Hobeika.”

 

Video footage today shows bodies lying about the streets… in the cruel and pathetic poses of  sudden and violent death…

 

The details were even more gruesome. Many were mutilated or disemboweled before or after they were killed. Others raped, killed and dismembered. Meanwhile, this first night Israeli flares continued to light the laneways and passages for the killers to do their work…

 

Who you were, women, children and the old, even babies, made no difference. As the bodies would later show, along with the testimony of those that survived.

 

One woman, Suad Surur, a survivor of the atrocities from the Shatilla camp who was 16 years old at the time and afterwards remained semi-paralysed by a bullet lodged in her spine, was raped, shot in the head and left for dead, twice; she lost 6 family members including her father and was crippled after the 2 murder attempts by the so-called fighters of the Phalange:

 

Suad Surur:

 

There were thirteen of them.  They knocked on the door.  My father said “Who is it?”  My younger brothers were sleeping.  The men replied they were Israelis. I whispered to my father that they weren’t Israelis…

 

Nobody dared look at anyone else. Even the little ones wouldn’t look at the older ones,  except for my little sister.  While she was looking at us, a bullet shot her in the head.  She fell from my mother’s arms like a slaughtered bird. My brother Shardie was looking around and calling out “Father” calling for his father when he was shot in the head

 

…The men returned for a third time.  They spoke to me nicely.  “You’re still alive” they said. I shook my head and smiled at them mockingly. They said “We’re going to finish you off right now.”  I said “As you wish, do as you please.”  They shot me in the arm and they hit my head with the butt of a rifle. One of them shot me, the other one hit me. I lost consciousness. 

 

Throughout the night I stared at my dead brother, sister and father. I was in a terrible state of madness.  I even lost my memory.  But what could I do?  I’d lost the ability to speak and couldn’t shout out.”

 

David Hirst:

 

“After passing through the Israeli roadblocks set up at its entrance the first unit of the ‘Lebanese Forces’ entered Shatila camp at sunset on Thursday. Some carried knives and axes as well as firearms. The carnage began immediately. It was to continue without interruption till Saturday noon. Night brought no respite; the Phalangist liaison officer asked for illumination and the Israelis duly obliged with flares, first from mortars and then from planes. Anything that moved in the narrow alleyways the Phalangists shot. They broke into houses and killed their occupants who, not suspecting anything, were gathered for their evening meal, watching television or already in bed. Sometimes they tortured before they killed, gouging out eyes, skinning alive, disembowelling. Women and small girls were raped, sometimes half a dozen times, before, breasts severed, they were finished off with axes. Babies were torn limb from limb and their heads smashed against walls. Entering Akka hospital the assailants assassinated the patients in their beds. They decorated other victims with grenades, or tied them to vehicles and dragged them through the streets alive. They cut off hands to get at rings and bracelets. They killed Christians and Muslims, Lebanese and Syrians as well as Palestinians. They even killed nine Jewesses who, married to Palestinians, had been living in the camps since 1948. Bulldozers were brought in to bury their victims. These also demolished houses which Israeli aircraft had not yet destroyed; for then, roofless as well as terrorized, all the Palestinians would surely have to flee.”  (“Beware of Small States”)

 

Being lucky enough to have been alerted or realising something was happening some people fled that night, some sought shelter, a few also managed to find help provided by the Lebanese Army, “which sheltered hundreds of residents at the Henri Chehab Barracks. Other managed to reach the Kuwaiti Embassy.” Most, unfortunately, were not so lucky – “It was confirmed that the shelter locations were a deliberate target for the attackers; some they definitely entered with previous knowledge of their existence…” (Bayan Nuwayhed al-Hout)

 

David Hirst:

 

“What was happening in the camps could hardly escape the attention of the Israeli soldiers surrounding them. Their forward command post was a mere 200 metres from the main killing ground…” (“Beware of Small States”)

 

Moving Towards Home

by June Jordan September 13, 2007

 

“Where is Abu Fadi,” she wailed.

“Who will bring me my loved one?”

New York Times, 9/20/82

(after the 1982 Phalangist/Israeli Massacre of Palestinian Refugees in Sabra and Shatila)

 

I do not wish to speak about the bulldozer and the

red dirt

not quite covering all of the arms and legs

Nor do I wish to speak about the nightlong screams

that reached

the observation posts where soldiers lounged about

Nor do I wish to speak about the woman who shoved her baby

into the stranger’s hands before she was led away

Nor do I wish to speak about the father whose sons

were shot

through the head while they slit his own throat before

the eyes

of his wife

Nor do I wish to speak about the army that lit continuous

flares into the darkness so that others could see

the backs of their victims lined against the wall

Nor do I wish to speak about the piled up bodies and

the stench

that will not float

Nor do I wish to speak about the nurse again and

again raped

before they murdered her on the hospital floor

Nor do I wish to speak about the rattling bullets that

did not

halt on that keening trajectory

Nor do I wish to speak about the pounding on the

doors and

the breaking of windows and the hauling of families into

the world of the dead

I do not wish to speak about the bulldozer and the

red dirt

not quite covering all of the arms and legs

because I do not wish to speak about unspeakable events

that must follow from those who dare

“to purify” a people

those who dare

“to exterminate” a people

those who dare

to describe human beings as “beasts with two legs”

those who dare

“to mop up”

“to tighten the noose”

“to step up the military pressure”

“to ring around” civilian streets with tanks

those who dare

to close the universities

to abolish the press

to kill the elected representatives

of the people who refuse to be purified

those are the ones from whom we must redeem

the words of our beginning

because I need to speak about home

I need to speak about living room

where the land is not bullied and beaten into

a tombstone

I need to speak about living room

where the talk will take place in my language

I need to speak about living room

where my children will grow without horror

I need to speak about living room where the men

of my family between the ages of six and sixty-five

are not

marched into a roundup that leads to the grave

I need to talk about living room

where I can sit without grief without wailing aloud

for my loved ones

where I must not ask where is Abu Fadi

because he will be there beside me

I need to talk about living room

because I need to talk about home

 

I was born a Black woman

and now

I am become a Palestinian

against the relentless laughter of evil

there is less and less living room

and where are my loved ones?

 

Friday, 17 September

 

By Friday morning the Israelis had begun to talk with the media…

By Friday some survivors had managed to escape and asked for help from the Israelis. Some were to be handed back to their killers.

Friday was the longest day “in terms of suffering, lasting a full 24 hours… ” (Bayan Nuwayhed al-Hout)…

 

Despite it being obvious by now that a slaughter was ongoing, the Israelis allowed the Phalange killers to stay in the camps. Not alone allowed them to remain but also provided bulldozers to demolish houses as well as facilitate the crude attempts to bury both the dead and the evidence of their crimes…

 

On the Friday the killing of families continued.

Many families were exterminated in the middle of the day.

On Friday the killing took place “not only in lines in the alleys, or inside shelters, as on the Thursday night. But also…in pits either caused by the Israeli air force during the invasion or dug specifically for the purpose.”

On Friday people were shot or buried alive.

On Friday the crimes of rape continued.

On Friday…

 

All this and more was later documented by Bayan Nuwayhed al-Hout in her 20 year projectSabra and Shatila: September 1982  – to document the fate of the people of Sabra and Shatila.

 

David Hirst:

 

“As dawn broke on Friday, 17 September, Israeli officers and men atop the command post could see the bodies piling up. Later they were to see bulldozers, one or two of them Israeli-supplied, shovelling them into the ground. Soldiers from an armoured unit stationed a mere hundred metres from the camp recalled how visible the killing had been. Their report went to the higher authorities, who were receiving similar ones from other points around the camp…

 

“At about 4 o‘clock on Friday afternoon generals Eitan and Drori met Phalangist commanders, some of them fresh from the camps. Eitan congratulated them on their operation and the Phalangists, explaining that the Americans had called on them to stop, asked the Israelis for ‘just a bit more time to clean the place up’. It was agreed that all Phalangists would leave the camps by Saturday morning and that, meanwhile, no extra forces would be sent in. However, even as Eitan left Beirut airport for Tel Aviv, a new Phalangist unit of some 200 men set off for Shatila, mowed down a group of women and children as soon as they got there, massacred all the occupants of the first house they came across and demolished it with a bulldozer. They seemed even less concerned about concealing their deeds than the first unit. They paraded Palestinian women on trucks through the streets of East Beirut, ‘gleefully introducing them to passers-by as brand-new Palestinian widows courtesy of Phalangist guns’.”

 

Fucking Murder

 

Ellen Siegel was a Jewish-American nurse who was working at Gaza Hospital at the Sabra camp at the time of the attacks. – She was interviewed by Democracy Now in 2001, and described some of what she witnessed during the massacre.

 

Ellen Siegel:

 

“The 18th, which was a Saturday morning, it was also the first day of Rosh Hashanah. We were told to come down to the entranceway to the hospital, that the Lebanese army was downstairs. Well, it wasn’t the Lebanese army; it was the Phalange. And here were a group of soldiers who looked—who looked quite neat, clean, and they told us that they were going to march us out of the camp. And they took our passports from us, and they started to march us down the main street of the hospital. As we were marching, we saw dead bodies. They started to holler at us, this militia, telling us that we were not Christian, that we came to help people who hated Christians, that we were terrorists. They were talking on walkie-talkies. There was constant communication with someone.

 

“There was a Palestinian who had been working in the hospital, who did not flee when the rest of them did. And he was terrified, and he asked for someone to give him a lab coat. And so we gave him a lab coat. But, of course, he was picked out immediately because he looked very different than these white and blonde and Scandinavian and American and British health workers. And I turned around, I saw him on his knees pleading, and I was told to keep walking. And the next thing I heard was a shot. I never looked back.

 

“As we continued walking, there were new soldiers. There was a whole contingent of other soldiers lining the streets. And these militia people looked quite crazed. They were—looked very dirty, very messy, and looked like they had been on drugs or something. They were just tense, wide-eyed, nervous—extremely nervous. There was a group of Palestinians and Lebanese refugees who they forced to line up against a—they were all just lined during this pathway. And one of the women had an infant in her hands, and she tried to give this infant to one of the doctors. And the Phalange said, “No, you can’t—can’t take this baby.” And they were watching us, and they were giving us the V sign. It was hard to tell who was more uptight about what was going to happen to who.

 

As we continued down the street, we—there was an area that had been part of the camp. And suddenly, there were—there was bulldozers with an Israeli—with a Hebrew letter on it, and it was going back and forth, back and forth. That, I’m sure, turned out to be the mass grave. We were—we kept on walking. Walkie-talkies. We reached the end of the camp, and we turned a corner. This was outside of the camp. They lined us up against a bullet-ridden wall, and they had their rifles ready. And we really thought this is—I mean, it was a firing squad. Suddenly, an Israeli soldier comes running down the street and halts it. I suppose the idea of gunning down foreign health workers was something that was not very appealing to the Israelis. But the fact that they could see this and stop it shows that there was—there was some communication.”

 

Janet Lee Stevens:

 

“I saw dead  women in their houses with their skirts up to their waists

and their legs spread apart;

dozens of  young men shot after being lined up against an alley wall;

children with their throats slit,

a pregnant woman with her stomach chopped open,

her eyes still wide open,

her blackened  face  silently screaming in horror;

countless babies and toddlers who had been stabbed or ripped apart

and who had been thrown into garbage piles.”

 

This, sadly, was not written as a poem, but is part of an itemised description from an eye-witness…

 

Janet Lee Stevens would be killed, soon after, at the age of 32, in the bombing on April 17, 1983 which destroyed the American Embassy in Beirut.

 

The Nightmares Bus to Sabra and Shatila

Najwan Darwish

 

I saw them stuff my aunts into plastic sacks

Their hot blood pooled in the corners of the bags

(But I have no aunts)

I knew they had killed Natasha, my three-year-old daughter

(But I have no daughter)

I was told they raped my wife, then dragged her body down the stairs and left it lying in the street.

(But I am not married.)

Those are certainly my glasses that were crushed under their boots

(But I don’t wear glasses)

 

I slept in my parents’ house and I was dreaming about her house. When I awoke

I saw my brothers

Hung

From the roof of the Church of the Resurrection

Out of compassion, the Lord said: this is my own suffering.

I mustered up the hanged men’s pride and said: in my opinion, it’s ours.

 

Pain illuminates everything and I love it more than my nightmares.

 

I will not flee to the North

Oh Lord

Don’t count me among the ones seeking shelter

 

We’ll continue this report later.

 

I’ve got to go to sleep now.

I don’t want to miss the nightmare bus that goes to Sabra and Shatila.

 

Najwan Darwish is a Palestinian poet and journalist…

 

Fucking Murderers…

 

“…the fascist cuts her breasts – the night reduced – he then dances around his knife and licks it. Singing an ode to a victory of the cedars, / And erases / Quietly .. Her flesh from her bones / and spreads her organs over the table / and the fascist continues dancing and laughs for the tilted eyes / and goes crazy for joy…”  (Mahmoud Darwish)

 

An estimated 300–400 christian militiamen – “persons unknown” – were involved in the killings.

 

Robert Fisk:

 

“Gemayel’s government has appointed the Lebanese prosecutor general, Assad Germanos, to hold an inquiry into the massacre, parallel to the Kahan commission in Israel. But the Lebanese inquiry – unlike the one going on in Jerusalem – is held in secret. No one knows how, where or how often it sits. It eventually concludes that those who died in the massacre were ‘killed by persons unknown’. The ‘persons unknown’, of course, lived in east Beirut. We knew some of their names. So did Amin Gemayel.”

 

If you didn’t already know you might wonder, naively perhaps, what did the Phalange, who were about to be sent into the Palestinian camps by the Israelis think of the Palestinians? One Israeli soldier, at least, was clear about this:

 

“A storm was aroused in the state concerning the Phalangists in connection with the Sabra and Shatila affair. It was only necessary to become acquainted with the Phalangists to know that they were capable of doing what they did. At least I, a simple soldier, understood this, when I was in Beirut before it happened. I happened to make friends with one Phalangist. Until today, I cannot forget two pictures that he showed me with real pride. In one he stood in heroic pose holding in his hands two full jars – ears of terrorists! He told me that he had cut them from the bodies of terrorists recently [that is, after the IDF had turned the ‘terrorists’ over to Phalange control]. In the second I saw him standing holding in each hand a head that had been cut off, and between his legs a third! He explained to me with great self-importance that these were the heads of Palestinians he had decapitated.” (Noam Chomsky, Fateful Triangle, p. 253, as quoted from Yigal Lev, Ma’ariv, 29 December 1982. – Bayan Nuwayhed al-Hout)

 

Franklin Lamb (from the letter written to his friend Janet Lee Stevens on the 25th anniversary of the Sabra & Shatila Massacre, Sept. 14, 2007, from Martyr’s Square, Shatila Camp):

 

“Remember that fellow you once screamed at and called a butcher outside of Phalange HQ in East Beirut, Joseph Haddad? At the time he denied everything as he looked you straight in the eye and made the sign of the cross. Well, he did finally confess 22 years later, around the time of his youngest daughter’s confirmation in his local parish. Your suspicions were indeed correct. His unit, the second to enter the camp, had been supplied with cocaine, hashish and alcohol to increase their courage. He and others gave their stories to Der Spiegel and various documentary film makers.

Many of the killers now freely admit that they conducted a three-day orgy of rape and slaughter that left hundreds, as many as 3,500 some claim,  possibly more, of innocent civilians dead in what is considered the bloodiest single incident of the Arab-Israeli conflict and a crime for which Israel will be condemned for eternity.”

 

Alain Menargues (‘Les Secrets de la Guerre du Liban’), is quoted in Wikipedia as identifying the direct perpetrators of the killings as “the “Young Men“, a gang recruited by Elie Hobeika, a prominent figure in the Phalanges, the Lebanese Forces intelligence chief and liaison officer with Mossad, from men who had been expelled from the Lebanese Forces for insubordination or criminal activities.”

 

“The killings are widely believed to have taken place under Hobeika’s direct orders. Hobeika’s family and fiancée had been murdered by Palestinian militiamen, and their Lebanese allies, at the Damour massacre of 1976, itself a response to the 1976 Karantina massacre of Palestinians and Lebanese Muslims at the hands of Christian militants. Hobeika later became a long-serving Member of the Parliament of Lebanon and served in several ministerial roles.”

 

Robert Fisk:

 

“But in Beirut, the victims were Palestinians. The guilty were certainly Christian militiamen – from which particular unit we were still unsure – but the Israelis were also guilty. If the Israelis had not taken part in the killings, they had certainly sent the militia into the camp. They had trained them, given them uniforms, handed them US army rations and Israeli medical equipment. Then they had watched the murderers in the camps, they had given them military assistance… the Israeli air force had dropped all those flares to help the men who were murdering the inhabitants of Sabra and Chatila – and they had established military liaison with the murderers in the camps. All this we knew by late Saturday afternoon…” (“Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War”)

 

Other Phalangist and Christian commanders – along with Maj. Saad Haddad’s Christian militiamen as Franklin Lamb points out above – now identified as being involved were:

 

Joseph Edde from South Lebanon,

Dib Anasta, head of the Phalangist Military Police,

Michael Zouein,

Maroun Mischalani from East Beirut.

 

As for Israel, with its 78,000 men, 1,240 tanks and 1,500 armoured personnel carriers in the Lebanon at that time…

 

Dr Swee Chai Ang (herself a survivor, she wrote the following on the eve of Ariel Sharon’s burial, in January, 2014)

 

“The passing of Ariel Sharon brought back the memories of the horrors of the Sabra Shatila massacre of September 1982. I arrived in August that year as a volunteer surgeon to help the war victims of Lebanon. The people in Lebanon were wounded, made homeless and lost precious friends and families as the result of 10 weeks of ruthless bombardment. That was “Operation Peace for Galilee”, launched by Sharon who was then the defence minister of Israel in June 1982.

 

…“Part of the tanks sealed Sabra and Shatila and prevented the helpless civilian victims from escaping, while sending Israel’s allies into the camps to carry out the most brutal massacre of defenceless women, children and old people under Israel’s watch. The blame was quickly and deliberately shifted to the Lebanese as perpetrators of the massacres, so that today no one can mention that massacre without blaming the Lebanese Phalange, yet forgetting the Israeli organisers of that event.

 

“I worked in Gaza Hospital in Sabra and Shatila during the massacre, trying to save the lives of a few dozen people. But outside the hospital hundreds were killed. My patients and I knew that Sharon and his officers were in control, and without them the massacre would not have been possible. The residents of Sabra and Shatila could at least have escaped.

 

“Now more than 30 years later, we know that the killers were brought in by Israeli armoured cars and tanks, obeyed Israeli commands, their paths lit by Israeli military flares, and some of them also wore Israeli uniforms. The mutilated bodies of the victims were thrown into mass graves by Israeli bulldozers.

 

“This Sharon continued on to be Israeli prime minister, and built the Separation Wall that imprisoned the Palestinians in the West Bank. Sharon’s Wall cut through their lands, separating people from their homes, children from their schools, farmers from their orchards, patients from hospitals, husbands from wives, and children from parents.

 

“I thought these facts should be publicised. Those who eulogise Sharon in his role of building Israel should also remember that he built his nation over the dead bodies of the Palestinian people, and the continued dispossession of those who are still alive.”

 

Robert Fisk:

 

“The Irish ambassador to Greece, who was accredited to Israel, demanded an explanation for the murders of Smallhorn and Barrett from Menachem Begin, the Israeli prime minister. Instead of an explanation, he was treated to another lecture, this time on the principles of the blood feud which – according to Begin – governed the militias of Lebanon. Did the ambassador not realise that the death of a Lebanese militiaman was likely to result in a revenge killing against the dead man’s enemies? Two years later, faced with accusations of responsibility for a militia massacre on a vast scale at Sabra and Chatila, Begin would forget this little homily and claim that he could never have foreseen that Israel’s Lebanese allies would participate in a blood feud…”

 

Saturday, 18 September 1982

 

“….Torture, murder and abduction continued to the end...” (Bayan Nuwayhed al-Hout)

 

…the final day – one that lasted around 13 hours, from midnight to one in the afternoon…

 

When day broke on Saturday 18 September, 13 more hours of killing remained as well as the work of burying the ‘evidence’ using the bulldozers supplied by the Israelis, and often those that had survived until now, who were often buried alive in the bulldozed houses as the killing continued.

 

Bayan Nuwayhed al-Hout:

 

“On the third day, the gunmen reached the square and alleys of Sabra, where they began shouting and summoning people from their houses. Between dawn and seven in the morning, the residents of Sabra and Shatila were assembled in Sabra Main Square, in front of the Palestinian Red Crescent; then the day began.”

 

On the final day “as the residents of Shatila had been forcibly marched to the Sports City on the Friday morning, so those of Sabra were marched on the Saturday.”

On the final day the gunmen “were able to round up many more people than they had the day before”.

On the third day the number of bulldozers was doubled.

On the third day activities were carried out more openly.

On the third day “the killing, went on in a still more barbaric and savage fashion than

on the preceding days.”

On the third day abduction increased dramatically.

 

Bayan Nuwayhed al-Hout:

 

“A final march took place, with great crowds forced to take part, along the whole of Shatila Main Street to the heart of the Sports City. In more than one place they were forced to stop, to endure humiliation and to witness haphazard murder and abduction…The Saturdays testimonies suggest the gunmen were not acting as though they supposed this to be the final day – their behaviour implied, indeed, that they were there to stay. Even at noon the mass killing in the death pits hardly suggested they were in their final hour. Torture, murder and abduction continued to the end.

 

…“There was extensive killing on the final day and the militiamen made no attempt to conceal the death pits outside Sabra and Shatila, near the Kuwaiti Embassy and inside the Sports City, within the sight of the Israelis. Nevertheless, abduction remained the first priority, those seized being put in trucks and military jeeps and taken off to a fate that remains unknown to this day.

 

…“For their part, the Israelis were no mere spectators on the Saturday. They played a significant role in questioning young men in front of the Sports City and in stamping ID cards… Some of those questioned were able to return home that night, but others have never returned.”

 

Dr. Swee Chai Ang:

 

“Our hospital team, who had worked nonstop for 72 hours, was ordered to leave our patients at machine-gun point, and marched out of the camp on September 18. As I emerged from the basement operating theater, I learned the painful truth. While we were struggling to save a few dozen lives, people were butchered by the thousands.

 

Some of the bodies were already rotting in the hot Beirut sun. The images of the massacre were deeply seared into my memory. They included dead and mutilated bodies lining the camp alleys. Only a few days before, they were human beings full of hope and life, trusting that they would be left in peace to raise their children after the evacuation of the PLO… ”

 

Finally after three days of unspeakable cruelty, the Phalange militia finally left the camps…

 

Robert Fisk:

 

“Of course, those of us who entered the camps on the third and final day of the massacre – 18 September, 1982 – have our own memories. I recall the old man in pyjamas lying on his back on the main street with his innocent walking stick beside him, the two women and a baby shot next to a dead horse, the private house in which I sheltered from the killers with my colleague Loren Jenkins of The Washington Post – only to find a dead young woman lying in the courtyard beside us. Some of the women had been raped before their killing. The armies of flies, the smell of decomposition. These things one remembers.”

 

Thomas Friedman, who entered the camps on the Saturday, found “mostly found groups of young men with their hands and feet bound, who had been then lined up and machine-gunned down gang-land style, not typical he thought of the kind of deaths the reported 2,000 terrorists in the camp would have put up with. ”

 

Sunday, 19 September…

 

As the clean up began the next day in Shatila, a rumour spread among the survivors that the Phalange were about to return:

 

Robert Fisk:

 

“Hundreds of people fled to the exit of Chatila, leaving Red Cross officials standing at the newly opened mass graves. Several of the Palestinians even pleaded for the arrival of Israeli soldiers to protect them. They might have thought differently had they heard Eitan announce at the news conference that his army could not prevent Christian militiamen from entering the camps because ‘they are Lebanese and this is Lebanon – they are free to move anywhere in their country.’ This statement bore no examination. Israeli troops would never have permitted Muslim militias to enter east Beirut – though they too were Lebanese – and to suggest that the militias had the right to move into Chatila was turning a blind eye to murder. ”

 

The Dead

 

“…We speak in their place, by proxy.  (Primo Levi)

 

The numbers of the dead vary – as if, of course, by now, in this time and place, numbers matter.

 

The Lebanese army’s chief prosecutor who investigated the killings counted 460 dead (including 15 women and 12 children).

 

Israeli intelligence estimated 700–800 dead.

 

The Israeli government-sponsored Kahan Commission estimated the death toll at about 800.

 

According to the BBC, “at least 800” Palestinians died.

 

1,200 death certificates were issued to anyone who produced three witnesses claiming a family member disappeared during the time of the massacre.

 

Bayan Nuwayhed al-Hout in her Sabra and Shatila: September 1982 work quoted extensively above, gives a minimum of 1,300 named victims based on detailed comparison of 17 victim lists and other supporting evidence, and estimates an even higher total.

 

1,700 dead – quoted by writer and journalist Robert Fisk.

 

The Palestinian Red Crescent claimed 2,000 dead.

 

Other researchers, including Israeli author Amnon Kapeliouk, say the number was closer to 3,500: “In his book published soon after the massacre, the Israeli journalist Amnon Kapeliouk of Le Monde Diplomatique, arrived at about 2,000 bodies disposed of after the massacre from official and Red Cross sources and “very roughly” estimated 1,000 to 1,500 other victims disposed of by the Phalangists themselves to a total of 3,000–3,500.” (Wikipedia)

 

“There are still 991 men and women from Sabra and Chatila whose corpses have not been found. The exact death toll will never be known” Robert Fisk tells us, in his work, “Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War.”

 

Mahmoud Darwish

Sabra and Shatila

 

Sabra – a sleeping girl

The men left

War slept for two short nights,

Beirut obeyed and became the capital…

A long night

Observing the dreams in Sabra,

Sabra is sleeping.

Sabra – the remains of a dead body

She bid farewell to her horsemen and time

And surrendered to sleep out of tiredness.. and the Arabs who threw her behind them.

Sabra – and what the soldiers Departing from Galilee forgot

She doesn’t buy and sell anything but her silence

To buy flowers to put on her braided hair.

Sabra – sings her lost half, between the sea and the last war:

Why do you go?

And leave your wives in the middle of a hard night?

Why do you go?

And hang your night

Over the camp and the national anthem?

Sabra – covering her naked breasts with a farewell song

Counts her palms and gets it wrong

While she can’t find the arm:

How many times will you travel?

And for how long?

And for what dream?

If you return one day

for which exile shall you return,

which exile brought you back?

Sabra – tearing open her chest:

How many times

does the flower bloom?

How many times

will the revolution travel?

Sabra – afraid of the night. Puts it on her knees

covers it with her eyes’ mascara. Cries to distract it:

They left without saying

anything about their return

Withered and tended

from the rose’s flame!

Returned without returning

to the beginning of their journey

Age is like children

running away from a kiss.

No, I do not have an exile

To say: I have a home

God, oh time ..!

Sabra – sleeps. And the fascist’s knife wakes up

Sabra calls who she calls

All of this night is for me, and night is salt

the fascist cuts her breasts – the night reduced –

he then dances around his knife and licks it. Singing an ode to a victory of the cedars,

And erases

Quietly .. Her flesh from her bones

and spreads her organs over the table

and the fascist continues dancing and laughs for the tilted eyes

and goes crazy for joy, Sabra is no longer a body:

He rides her as his instincts suggest, and his will manifests.

And steals a ring from her flesh and blood and goes back to his mirror

And be – Sea

And be – Land

And be – Clouds

And be – Blood

And be – Night

And be – Killing

And be – Saturday

and she be – Sabra.

Sabra – the intersection of two streets on a body

Sabra, the descent of a Spirit down a Stone

And Sabra – is no one

Sabra – is the identity of our time, forever.

 

Aftermath?

 

“…war crimes – for that is what they were…”  Robert Fisk

 

Jean Genet, the French writer,  was present in Beirut at that time and “was among the first outsiders to witness the immediate aftermath of the massacres, and he wrote about this experience.. ” (Arablit)

 

Jean Genet

 

“For me, as for what remained of the population, walking through Chatila and Sabra resembled a game of hopscotch. Sometimes a dead child blocked the streets: they were so small, so narrow, and the dead so numerous. The smell is probably familiar to old people; it didn’t bother me. But there were so many flies. If I lifted the handkerchief or the Arab newspaper placed over a head, I disturbed them. Infuriated by my action, they swarmed onto the back of my hand and tried to feed there.

 

The first corpse I saw was that of a man fifty or sixty years old. He would have had a shock of white hair if a wound (an axe blow, it seemed to me) hadn’t split his skull. Part of the blackened brain was on the ground, next to the head. The whole body was lying in a pool of black and clotted blood. The belt was unbuckled, a single button held the pants. The dead man’s feet and legs were bare and black, purple and blue; perhaps he had been taken by surprise at night or at dawn. Was he running away? He was lying in a little alley immediately to the right of the entry to Shatfla camp which is across from the Kuwaiti Embassy. Did the Chatila massacre take place in hushed tones or in total silence, if the Israelis, both soldiers and officers, claim to have heard nothing, to have suspected nothing whereas they had been occupying this building since Wednesday afternoon? A photograph doesn’t show the flies nor the thick white smell of death. Neither does it show how you must jump over bodies as you walk along from one corpse to the next.”

 

The Kahan Commission

 

In 1983, Israel’s investigative ’Kahan Commission’ found that Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Defense Minister, bore “personal responsibility” for the slaughter.

 

The Commission “…concluded that Israeli leaders were “indirectly responsible” for the killings and that Ariel Sharon, then the defense minister and later prime minister, bore “personal responsibility” for failing to prevent them.”

 

Yet though Defence Minister Ariel Sharon was forced to resign after the special Israeli investigative panel declared him to be “personally responsible” for the massacre he still remained in the cabinet; later becoming Prime Minister of the state of Israel in March 2001.

 

Noam Chomsky

 

“The Kahan Commission, I think, was really a whitewash. It tried to give as soft as possible an interpretation of what was in fact a horrifying massacre, actually one that should resonate with people who are familiar with Jewish history. It was almost a replica of the Kishinev massacre in pre-First World War Russia, one of the worst atrocities in Israeli memory, led to a famous nationalist poem by the main Israeli poet, Chaim Nahman Bialik, “City of Killing.” The tsar’s army had surrounded this town and allowed the people within it to rampage, killing Jews for three days. They killed 45 people. That was—that’s pretty much what happened in Sabra-Shatila: Israeli army surrounded it, sent in the Phalangist forces, who were obviously bent on murder.”

 

Ellen Siegel:

 

“I think what should happen to him [Sharon] is what has happened in our history, in Jewish history. Ever since I was a child, I have learned that what happened during the Holocaust happened because people were silent, people did not speak up. People allowed bad things to happen to other people and did not do anything about it. We should be the last people on Earth that should allow that to happen. Simon Wiesenthal continues and the Jewish agencies continue to look for Nazi war criminals, and indeed they should, and bring them to justice. Ariel Sharon is a war criminal. And the legal aspects of this, I understand, as a non-legal person, put him in that category. He allowed innocent people to be murdered. He did nothing to protect it. He knew that they were the sworn enemy of the Palestinians. And so, he should be tried…”

 

Another investigation, the international commission of inquiry into the massacre headed by Sean MacBride, found Israel “’directly responsible’ because the camps were under its jurisdiction as an occupying power. Yet, despite the UN describing the heinous operation as a “criminal massacre” and declaring it an act of  genocide, no one was prosecuted.”

 

Yet…

No one was arrested.

No one prosecuted.

No one was put on trial.

Not a single conviction.

Not a single Phalange killer was held accountable

Let alone those who gave the orders.

And, obviously’, those who committed the killing and the torture continued to live in Beirut, undisturbed’…

 

“Sabra and Chatila are a memorial to criminals who evaded responsibility, who got away with it…” (Robert Fisk)

 

And… “by the time  the International Criminal Court was established in The Hague the following year, (2002) the perpetrators of the Sabra and Shatila massacre could no longer be tried because its terms of reference did not allow it to hear cases of war  crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide pre-dating 1 July 2002.”

 

Instead, apparently, as the 2001 Panorama documentary showed, many of those responsible profited from their actions, to say nothing of their denial, this incredible and shocking denial, adding insult to injury as well as raising serious questions regarding human ‘reason’, if not the very notion of “humanity” in general.

 

As well as Sharon eventually becoming prime minister, Hobeika was elected to the Lebanese Parliament in 1992 and in 1996, serving in several ministerial positions before his own assassination, in 2002.

 

…While the dead of Sabra and Shatila still rest, many unaccounted for, and many in the mass grave that “still lies beneath a tide of mud behind a stand of trees where Syrian refugees sell cheap shirts and DVDs.” (Fisk on his return in 2016)

 

In 2001 Human Rights Watch said:

 

“Human Rights Watch takes the position that what happened at the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity, and that all those responsible need to be brought to justice. Enough questions are raised by the Kahan Commission report to warrant a criminal investigation by Israel into whether former Defense Minister Sharon and other Israeli military officials—including some who knew the massacre was occurring but took no actions to stop it—bear criminal responsibility. The findings and conclusions of the Kahan Commission, however authoritative in terms of investigation and documentation of the facts surrounding the massacre, cannot substitute for proceedings in a criminal court in Israel or elsewhere that will bring to justice those responsible for the killing of hundreds of innocent civilians. The Lebanese government should institute a similar investigation into the Sabra and Shatilla massacre.”

 

Suad Surur, the survivor from the Shatilla camp quoted in the Panorama documentary above, was part of a group who filed a complaint against Sharon under a 1993 Belgian law that gave its courts the  jurisdictional authority to prosecute foreign officials for human rights violations, including genocide, committed outside Belgium. “I am going to Brussels on behalf of a whole people,she says, ‘I hope Sharon is tried and hanged for what he did.”

 

Despite a number of appeals and political interference, the case, eventually was not successful.

 

Ariel Sharon, who had served in the Israeli Defence Forces since 1948, was Minister for Defence overseeing the massacre in Beirut in 1982, and elected the 11th Prime Minister of Israel in 2001, died in January 2014 having been in a coma since 2006.

 

In 1992 the mass grave at the southern end of Sabra and Shatila was turned into a soccer field “for the Mashreq team, 50 young Shiite Muslims who gather to train twice a week….Ahmed Shreim, (30, owner of a blacksmith shop nearby and grandson of one of the victims of the massacre):

 

“The barbarism of the Israelis and everyone else at the time cannot be forgiven…But this is another kind of barbarism, playing soccer with hundreds of dead underneath. This is like killing the victims twice.”

 

Then, around the year 2000, the Italian solidarity group “Not to Forget Sabra and Shatila Committee” seeing that the mass grave of those killed had turned into a garbage dump, decided to clean up the area and plant trees. Eventually a monument would be built.

 

Many of the survivors returned to live in the very homes where their families and neighbours were massacred. They had no where else to go.

 

Shahira Abu Rudein recalled how militiamen entered her parents’ house near the southern entrance of Shatila:

 

“This room where I am sitting now had three bodies in it. The wounds will never heal. I have lost the people dearest to me…If you forget your sister, you cannot forget your husband. If you forget your husband, you cannot forget your father. You forget him, you cannot forget your mother. I keep telling myself, if, if, if. I cannot bear my worries alone.”

 

Dr. Swee Chai Ang

 

“These were people who welcomed me into their broken homes. They served me Arabic coffee and whatever food they found, simple fare but given with warmth and generosity. They shared with me their broken lives. They showed me faded photographs of their homes and families in Palestine before 1948 and the large house keys they still kept with them. The women shared with me their beautiful embroidery, each with motifs of the villages they left behind. Many of these villages were destroyed after they left.

 

In the end?

 

“…And Sabra – is no one / Sabra – is the identity of our time, forever.”  (Mahmoud Darwish)

 

Dr. Swee Chai Ang:

 

“As for me, I still have painful questions that need to be answered. Why were they massacred? Has the world forgotten the survivors? How can we allow a situation where a person’s only claim to humanity is a refugee identity card? These questions have haunted me since I first met the Palestinian refugees of Sabra and Shatila. I have yet to receive an answer.” (2017)

 

In 2017, Nabil Mohamad (who had survived the massacre in which his mother and five younger sisters and brothers, his uncle, his wife and eight kids did not) wrote:

 

“Thirty-five years after the massacre, Israel continues to abuse Palestinian rights without consequence and to enable the violence of its proxies, whether it is the Phalange as in the past or today, illegal Israeli settlers living on occupied Palestinian land. Settler attacks on Palestinian property, lands, and persons have terrorised thousands and killed almost entire families, such as last year’s arson attack on a Palestinian home that killed a mother, father, and their 18-month baby. Palestinian complaints filed against settlers go unindicted by Israel. In fact, as documented by Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, “the [Israeli] military serves the settlers by allowing the attackers to simply walk away”. When they do take action, Israeli soldiers are more likely to support the settlers, often allowing them to continue attacking Palestinians rather than shielding innocent civilians.”

 

We must remember..?

 

Those of us singled out by fate have sought, with greater or less wisdom, to relate not only our own fate but also the fate of the others, the drowned. But it has been a “third party” account, a tale of things observed closely but not experienced directly. …We speak in their place, by proxy. I could not say whether we did or are doing so out of a sense of moral obligation toward the silenced or if, rather, it is to free ourselves of their memory; certainly we are driven by a powerful, lasting impulse.” (Primo Levi, “The Drowned and the Saved”)

 

We must remember – in case the world forgets – and so that this “war against memory” does not succeed – as Primo Levi suggested (“It happened once and it can happen again. This is the heart of what we have to say”)…

 

…as many others would have written if they had survived or been able to speak out loud or cry out to this pathetic world, wondering:

 

do we know, really know, how to listen? And even if we do, can we hear?

 

…And in the end, even if we listen, and even if we can still hear the screaming of those who did not survive…will we ever make sense of this cruelty…

 

…and even more difficult, in a world now, at least to this human heart struggling to wake from the nightmare of our own unique history, and where Sabra – is the identity of our time, forever:

 

will we ever discover how – to end it – once and for all?

 

Jean Genet

 

…Love and death. These two words are quickly associated when one of them is written down. I had to go to Chatila to understand the obscenity of love and the obscenity of death. In both cases the body has nothing more to hide: positions, contortions, gestures, signs, even silences belong to one world and to the other. The body of a man of thirty to thirty-five was lying face down. As if the whole body was nothing but a bladder in the shape of a man, it had become so bloated in the sun and through the chemistry of decomposition that the pants were stretched tight as though they were going to burst open at the buttocks and thighs. The only part of the face that I could see was purple and black. Slightly above the knee you could see a thigh wound under the torn fabric. Cause of the wound: a bayonet, a knife, a dagger? Flies on the wound and around it. His head was larger than a watermelons black watermelon. I asked his name; he was a Muslim….” (1983)

 

Dr. Swee Chai Ang:

 

“The terrified faces of families rounded up by gunmen while awaiting death; the desperate young mother who tried to give me her baby to take to safety; the stench of decaying bodies as mass graves were uncovered; the piercing cries of women who discovered the remains of their loved ones from bits of clothes and refugee identity cards – these memories will never leave me…”

 

Robert Fisk:

 

“Yet still as I write now, I fear the monsters. Perhaps I fear history and the frightening authority it has over our lives, its ability to persuade us to repeat our tragedies, over and over again. Maybe this is what draws me back to the slums of Sabra and Chatila year after year, with its garbage and rats and hopelessness. Balfour and the British mandate of Palestine, Hitler and Zionism – yes, and the Arabs – all conspired to imprison these poor people in the slums. Arafat had abandoned them for his garbage statelet in Gaza. In February 2001 I was back in the camps again, still trying to find one more clue – one more unheard witness – to the massacre of 1982. I walked again those same roads. Here is where I found the body of the old man with the stick, Mr Nouri. Just beyond is the execution wall and, to the left, the spot where I found the two women and the dead baby. Behind me is the yard where Loren Jenkins and I hid beside the dead body of the newly murdered young woman, the one with the clothes pegs lying round her head like a halo. And right here, on this stretch of muddy road, is where Jenkins, sickened by the smell of death and the personal responsibility of one man, screamed: ‘Sharon!’” (2001)

 

Shatila resident, Yahya Zeid, says he visits the cemetery often:

 

“It’s very important for people to remember their grandparents, the suffering and persecution of their people…Many sit down [in the cemetery] and cry because they remember the massacre of their people… No one is allowed not to remember.” (2015)

 

Nabil Mohamad:

 

“The dehumanisation of Palestinians by Israel also continues. It was this same dehumanisation that led Israel to allow vengeful militiamen to enter the Sabra and Shatila camps and that permits Israelis to occupy another people for fifty years and inflict humiliation and injury. That indifference to the fate of the Palestinians does not belong solely to Israel. Israel’s 69 years of dispossession and half-century of military rule is supported by unconditional American military aid and diplomatic backing. International bodies like the UN Security Council have repeatedly made note of Israel’s human rights violations, but done nothing more.” (2017)

 

Ellen Siegel:

 

“It might seem that, after 35 years, the massacre would be almost forgotten, would have lost its significance. Not so. This year the commemoration seemed to bring together more international participants than ever. People came from Italy, England, Finland, the U.S., Switzerland, France, Spain and Japan. Each one was eager to learn more about the situation of Palestinian and other refugees and to show their solidarity. Most of all, they wanted to help, to see what their organizations could do to alleviate some of the suffering.”

 

As for the situation there now (2017), she adds:

 

“Recalling the events over and over made me sad. So did the current condition of the refugees, the deterioration of the camps, the diminished hope among the people.”

 

Nabil Mohamad

 

“If the international community is obliged to remedy its moral responsibility to the victims of the Sabra and Shatila massacre by working to end Israel’s occupation and other abuses of Palestinian rights, then the lives of my family members and the others we remember on this 35th year will not have been lost in vain.” (2017)

 

On December 16, 1982, the United Nations General Assembly condemned the massacre and declared it to be an act of genocide.

 

The vote for/against an ‘act of genocide’ passed by a vote of 98 to 19, with 23, including all the Western democracies, abstaining.

 

Makes you wonder…after all the spokespersons, the diplomats, the politicians and the soldiers have gone home…about the relationship…between history and this ‘thing’ called ‘the human heart’?

 

…as well as a world where, as June Jordan said: I can sit without grief without wailing aloud / for my loved ones….

 

séamas carraher

 

Image

 

Sabra and Shatila Massacre” 1982–3  Dia al-Azzawi  (a monumental work in ball point pen and pencil on paper, constructed in six sections and affixed to canvas for support.)

By Andraleonte [CC BY-SA 4.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

 

Video

 

BBC PanoramaThe Accused (The Sabra & Shatila Massacre in Lebanon, Sept 1982) (2001)

 

Mahmoud Darwish reads his poem – Sabra and Shatila

 (“…written after the massacre of several thousand Palestinian refugees and Lebanese Muslims in the Shabra neighbourhood and adjoining refugee camp in Beirut in 1982. Phalange, a predominantly Christian Lebanese right-wing party, carried out the massacre with the help of the IDF and authorisation of Israeli defense minister Ariel Sharon.”)

 

A film by Mai MasriChildren of Shatila

 

Literary References by Marcia Lynx Qualey

 

https://arablit.org/2015/09/16/literary-sabra-and-shatilas/

https://arablit.org/2010/09/17/on-the-anniversary-of-sabra-and-shatila/

 

Read

 

Testimonies of Survivors:

 

SABRA AND SHATILA, September 1982

Bayan Nuwayhed al-Hout  – First published 2004 by Pluto Press

An attempt to make sense of what happened during the the Sabra and Shatila massacre, based upon interviews with survivors.

 

“For more than 15 years Bayan painstakingly interviewed survivors and eye witnesses, sometimes furtively and ignoring threats while trying to avoid the swarms of intelligence agents who moved into West Beirut and the Palestinian camps in late 1982, part of whose work was to create the correct narrative and suppress the truth. She succeeded in piecing together the precise events during the 43 hours of slaughter and its aftermath, as well as to present the reader with the Massacre’s political context.” Franklin P Lamb

 

Suad Surur, Panorama (2001) Interview

(Transcript)

 

Review: ‘The Accused’ Review

(“…Human rights reporting, such as ’The Accused’, can do little to stop those intent on pursuing hatred through violence but it can put them on notice that witness and justice will not remain quiet…”)

 

 ‘CUATRO HORAS EN CHATILA’ (Spanish PDF)

Jean Genet, PDF

http://palestinalibre.org/upload/cuatro-horas-en-chatila-jean-genet.pdf

 

Author(s): Leila Shahid

The Sabra and Shatila Massacres: Eye-Witness Reports

http://palestinalibre.org/upload/Sabra-Chatila-Eye-Witness-Reports.pdf

 

Franklin Lamb

Munir’s story: 28 years after the massacre at Sabra-Shatila

 

Reports & Studies

 

The Kahan Report, Ariel Sharon and the Sabra-Shatilla Massacres in Lebanon: Responsibility Under International Law for Massacres of Civilian Populations

Linda A. Malone – William & Mary Law School

 

United Nations Resolutions

 

Wikipedia: Sabra & Shatila

 

Sharon Trial

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