Israel browbeat USA into standing aside at Phalange massacres, Sabra and Shatila
This posting has 7 items about the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacres:
1) NY Times: Israeli terrorism lies;
2) Eve Bartlett: ‘It was a killing spree’;
3) Robert Fisk: an extract from “Pity the Nation”;
4) Al Akhbar: Thirty Years On ;
5) Al Akhbar: The guilty men;
6) Wikipedia: Kahan Commission;
7) Medical Aid For Palestinians: MAP briefing, Sabra and Shatila;
Photo of memorial sign at site of Sabra and Shatila massacre by Eve Bartlett, In Gaza
A Preventable Massacre
By Seth Anziska, Opinion, NY Times
September 16, 2012
On the night of Sept. 16, 1982, the Israeli military allowed a right-wing Lebanese militia to enter two Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut. In the ensuing three-day rampage, the militia, linked to the Maronite Christian Phalange Party, raped, killed and dismembered at least 800 civilians, while Israeli flares illuminated the camps’ narrow and darkened alleyways. Nearly all of the dead were women, children and elderly men.
Thirty years later, the massacre at the Sabra and Shatila camps is remembered as a notorious chapter in modern Middle Eastern history, clouding the tortured relationships among Israel, the United States, Lebanon and the Palestinians. In 1983, an Israeli investigative 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.
While Israel’s role in the massacre has been closely examined, America’s actions have never been fully understood. This summer, at the Israel State Archives, I found recently declassified documents that chronicle key conversations between American and Israeli officials before and during the 1982 massacre. The verbatim transcripts reveal that the Israelis misled American diplomats about events in Beirut and bullied them into accepting the spurious claim that thousands of “terrorists” were in the camps. Most troubling, when the United States was in a position to exert strong diplomatic pressure on Israel that could have ended the atrocities, it failed to do so. As a result, Phalange militiamen were able to murder Palestinian civilians, whom America had pledged to protect just weeks earlier.
Israel’s involvement in the Lebanese civil war began in June 1982, when it invaded its northern neighbor. Its goal was to root out the Palestine Liberation Organization, which had set up a state within a state, and to transform Lebanon into a Christian-ruled ally. The Israel Defense Forces soon besieged P.L.O.-controlled areas in the western part of Beirut. Intense Israeli bombardments led to heavy civilian casualties and tested even President Ronald Reagan, who initially backed Israel. In mid-August, as America was negotiating the P.L.O.’s withdrawal from Lebanon, Reagan told Prime Minister Menachem Begin that the bombings “had to stop or our entire future relationship was endangered,” Reagan wrote in his diaries.
The United States agreed to deploy Marines to Lebanon as part of a multinational force to supervise the P.L.O.’s departure, and by Sept. 1, thousands of its fighters — including Yasir Arafat — had left Beirut for various Arab countries. After America negotiated a cease-fire that included written guarantees to protect the Palestinian civilians remaining in the camps from vengeful Lebanese Christians, the Marines departed Beirut, on Sept. 10.
Israel hoped that Lebanon’s newly elected president, Bashir Gemayel, a Maronite, would support an Israeli-Christian alliance. But on Sept. 14, Gemayel was assassinated. Israel reacted by violating the cease-fire agreement. It quickly occupied West Beirut — ostensibly to prevent militia attacks against the Palestinian civilians. “The main order of the day is to keep the peace,” Begin told the American envoy to the Middle East, Morris Draper, on Sept. 15. “Otherwise, there could be pogroms.”
By Sept. 16, the I.D.F. was fully in control of West Beirut, including Sabra and Shatila. In Washington that same day, Under Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger told the Israeli ambassador, Moshe Arens, that “Israel’s credibility has been severely damaged” and that “we appear to some to be the victim of deliberate deception by Israel.” He demanded that Israel withdraw from West Beirut immediately.
In Tel Aviv, Mr. Draper and the American ambassador, Samuel W. Lewis, met with top Israeli officials. Contrary to Prime Minister Begin’s earlier assurances, Defense Minister Sharon said the occupation of West Beirut was justified because there were “2,000 to 3,000 terrorists who remained there.” Mr. Draper disputed this claim; having coordinated the August evacuation, he knew the number was minuscule. Mr. Draper said he was horrified to hear that Mr. Sharon was considering allowing the Phalange militia into West Beirut. Even the I.D.F. chief of staff, Rafael Eitan, acknowledged to the Americans that he feared “a relentless slaughter.”
On the evening of Sept. 16, the Israeli cabinet met and was informed that Phalange fighters were entering the Palestinian camps. Deputy Prime Minister David Levy worried aloud: “I know what the meaning of revenge is for them, what kind of slaughter. Then no one will believe we went in to create order there, and we will bear the blame.” That evening, word of civilian deaths began to filter out to Israeli military officials, politicians and journalists.
At 12:30 p.m. on Sept. 17, Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir hosted a meeting with Mr. Draper, Mr. Sharon and several Israeli intelligence chiefs. Mr. Shamir, having reportedly heard of a “slaughter” in the camps that morning, did not mention it.
The transcript of the Sept. 17 meeting reveals that the Americans were browbeaten by Mr. Sharon’s false insistence that “terrorists” needed “mopping up.” It also shows how Israel’s refusal to relinquish areas under its control, and its delays in coordinating with the Lebanese National Army, which the Americans wanted to step in, prolonged the slaughter.
Mr. Draper opened the meeting by demanding that the I.D.F. pull back right away. Mr. Sharon exploded, “I just don’t understand, what are you looking for? Do you want the terrorists to stay? Are you afraid that somebody will think that you were in collusion with us? Deny it. We denied it.” Mr. Draper, unmoved, kept pushing for definitive signs of a withdrawal. Mr. Sharon, who knew Phalange forces had already entered the camps, cynically told him, “Nothing will happen. Maybe some more terrorists will be killed. That will be to the benefit of all of us.” Mr. Shamir and Mr. Sharon finally agreed to gradually withdraw once the Lebanese Army started entering the city — but they insisted on waiting 48 hours (until the end of Rosh Hashana, which started that evening).
Continuing his plea for some sign of an Israeli withdrawal, Mr. Draper warned that critics would say, “Sure, the I.D.F. is going to stay in West Beirut and they will let the Lebanese go and kill the Palestinians in the camps.”
Mr. Sharon replied: “So, we’ll kill them. They will not be left there. You are not going to save them. You are not going to save these groups of the international terrorism.”
Mr. Draper responded: “We are not interested in saving any of these people.” Mr. Sharon declared: “If you don’t want the Lebanese to kill them, we will kill them.”
Mr. Draper then caught himself, and backtracked. He reminded the Israelis that the United States had painstakingly facilitated the P.L.O. exit from Beirut “so it wouldn’t be necessary for you to come in.” He added, “You should have stayed out.”
Mr. Sharon exploded again: “When it comes to our security, we have never asked. We will never ask. When it comes to existence and security, it is our own responsibility and we will never give it to anybody to decide for us.” The meeting ended with an agreement to coordinate withdrawal plans after Rosh Hashana.
By allowing the argument to proceed on Mr. Sharon’s terms, Mr. Draper effectively gave Israel cover to let the Phalange fighters remain in the camps. Fuller details of the massacre began to emerge on Sept. 18, when a young American diplomat, Ryan C. Crocker, visited the gruesome scene and reported back to Washington.
Years later, Mr. Draper called the massacre “obscene.” And in an oral history recorded a few years before his death in 2005, he remembered telling Mr. Sharon: “You should be ashamed. The situation is absolutely appalling. They’re killing children! You have the field completely under your control and are therefore responsible for that area.”
On Sept. 18, Reagan pronounced his “outrage and revulsion over the murders.” He said the United States had opposed Israel’s invasion of Beirut, both because “we believed it wrong in principle and for fear that it would provoke further fighting.” Secretary of State George P. Shultz later admitted that “we are partially responsible” because “we took the Israelis and the Lebanese at their word.” He summoned Ambassador Arens. “When you take military control over a city, you’re responsible for what happens,” he told him. “Now we have a massacre.”
But the belated expression of shock and dismay belies the Americans’ failed diplomatic effort during the massacre. The transcript of Mr. Draper’s meeting with the Israelis demonstrates how the United States was unwittingly complicit in the tragedy of Sabra and Shatila.
Ambassador Lewis, now retired, told me that the massacre would have been hard to prevent “unless Reagan had picked up the phone and called Begin and read him the riot act even more clearly than he already did in August — that might have stopped it temporarily.” But “Sharon would have found some other way” for the militiamen to take action, Mr. Lewis added.
Nicholas A. Veliotes, then the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, agreed. “Vintage Sharon,” he said, after I read the transcript to him. “It is his way or the highway.”
The Sabra and Shatila massacre severely undercut America’s influence in the Middle East, and its moral authority plummeted. In the aftermath of the massacre, the United States felt compelled by “guilt” to redeploy the Marines, who ended up without a clear mission, in the midst of a brutal civil war.
On Oct. 23, 1983, the Marine barracks in Beirut were bombed and 241 Marines were killed. The attack led to open warfare with Syrian-backed forces and, soon after, the rapid withdrawal of the Marines to their ships. As Mr. Lewis told me, America left Lebanon “with our tail between our legs.”
The archival record reveals the magnitude of a deception that undermined American efforts to avoid bloodshed. Working with only partial knowledge of the reality on the ground, the United States feebly yielded to false arguments and stalling tactics that allowed a massacre in progress to proceed.
The lesson of the Sabra and Shatila tragedy is clear. Sometimes close allies act contrary to American interests and values. Failing to exert American power to uphold those interests and values can have disastrous consequences: for our allies, for our moral standing and most important, for the innocent people who pay the highest price of all.
Seth Anziska is a doctoral candidate in international history at Columbia University.
By Eve Bartlett, In Gaza
First posted April 2012,
Two days before Land Day and the GMJ, we visit Sabra and Shatila. An impoverished Beirut neighbourhood and Palestinian refugee camp in the same vicinity, Sabra and Shatila are known for the savage massacre of Palestinian refugees and poor Lebanese Shiites (internally displaced from southern Lebanon by the Israeli occupational brutalities) which killed anywhere from over 3000 children, men and women—the assassins killed out of the sight of media and covered their tracks with mass graves, so the precise numbers of martyred are not known.
From September 16 to 18, 1982, Phalangists, a Christian Lebanese militia aided, trained, and supported by the Zionist state, slaughtered victims locked into the camp area by surrounding Israeli occupation forces. “It was a killing spree,” X, a Lebanese, tells me. He outlines the basics of the massacre and events leading up to it.
After the withdrawal of Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) resistance fighters from Lebanon, via an American-mediated agreement under which the Lebanese pledged to protect the camps, camp residents were no longer allowed weapons to defend themselves. The September massacre was allegedly an attack to avenge the killing of Bashir Gemeyel, but the Palestinians weren’t guilty of his assassination, and the Phalange and Zionist leaders knew this. “It was a part of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians,” he says, pointing out the complicity of the Israeli occupying army in Lebanon. “They surrounded the area, closed off the exits, and lit flares during the night to aid the attacking Phalange assassins.” Badil notes that an Israeli General “provided Lebanese Forces Intelligence with aerial photographs to arrange entry into the camps.”
An excerpt from American journalist Janet Lee Stevens, provides a glimpse into the horror of the slaughter:
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.
In the makbara Shuhada Sabra wa Shatila (Sabra and Shatila martyr’s cemetery), a large sign attempts to honour the murdered, when nothing can ever do so. Although a cemetery, it is without gravestones, save a sole marble marker on which is written: the massacre of Sabra and Shatila, 1982.
The grass is tall and trees sway gently in the breeze of the football-sized area, and as I note this I am told that, in fact, children used the plot as a football field until recent years, not knowing that the Phalange had covered hundreds of massacred bodies with earth in this plot, attempting to cover their atrocities.
“But there were still many corpses in camp streets,” X tells me and independent journalists’ accounts corroborate this.
Sabra and Shatila are names I’ve heard over the past few years but, shamefully, knew little about other than that they were massacres. But with so many Israeli-instigated massacres, it is far too easy to lose track, to let them become numbers and statistics.
They may be numbers, in the tens of thousands, but they are entire families, they are elderly, they are women raped before being slaughtered, they are unborn children savagely snuffed with the stab of a knife or the bombing of a building.
I drift off on my own, away from the group which has come to march for Al Quds and which are also learning about or remembering these unforgettable massacres. Standing on this plot of bloodied land, the bodies of so many more victims of Zionist savagery, and trying to grasp the enormity of the 1982 massacre, I come to the signs—with their photos of the lifeless bodies of slaughtered children—commemorating still more massacres of Palestinians and Lebanese, from the Israeli occupation of much of Lebanon, to the Israeli assault on Lebanon in 2006. Qana 1986 and 2006, Marwaheen 2006, Chiah (“Sheyah”) 2006…
As I research later, the massacres are more and still more. During the 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon, 34 days of bombing from warplanes, war helicopters, UAVs, tanks and warships, over 1100 were killed. Throughout, the IOF committed massacres throughout Lebanon. Rweiss (southern Beirut), ‘Aitaroun, Mansouri, Marja’youn, Dweir, Zebqine, …bombing of homes, cars, bridges on or near which were cars, and the UN post in Khiam prison, killing 4 UN observers.
Qana, a village in the south—where it is believed Jesus Christ spent time—is known as the ‘town of massacres’. The village suffered massacres in 1996 and 2006, the former killing 106 civilians and injuring 110 more.
“It has a big cemetery, but not all of the martyred were buried there because many were blown to pieces,” X says. “The IOF bombed indiscriminately, bombed anything that moved. People were afraid to flee their homes for safer areas.”
On April 18, 1996, Israeli occupation forces waged their sadistically-dubbed “Grapes of Wrath” attacks on Lebanon. Badil reports:
Approximately 800 civilians were sheltering in a United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) base in the village of Qana, South Lebanon. They had assumed – incorrectly – that since international law strictly prohibits the targeting of civilian structures and UN facilities they would be safe under UNIFIL’s protection. Just after 2 PM on April 18, a barrage of proximity-fuse shells crashed directly into the pre-fabricated building. Minutes later 106 people lay dead, many burned and dismembered beyond recognition.
“Israeli officials tried to deny the massacre, claimed it was an error. But they knew where the UN locations were,” X says. “The UN had already confirmed their locations. There were only civilians in the compounds.
A month after the massacre, reporters confirmed this:
UN officials had told Israel repeatedly that up to 9,000 civilians were taking refuge in their compounds. In that period, by the peacekeepers’ count, Israeli fire hit or came dangerously near U.N. installations or mobile units 242 times.
The Lebanese refugee women and children and men lay in heaps, their hands or arms or legs missing, beheaded or disembowelled. There were well over a hundred of them. A baby lay without a head. The Israeli shells had scythed through them as they lay in the United Nations shelter, believing that they were safe under the world’s protection.
In front of a burning building of the UN’s Fijian battalion headquarters, a girl held a corpse in her arms, the body of a grey- haired man whose eyes were staring at her, and she rocked the corpse back and forth in her arms, keening and weeping and crying the same words over and over: “My father, my father.” A Fijian UN soldier stood amid a sea of bodies and, without saying a word, held aloft the body of a headless child.
On 30 July 2006, the IOF bombed a 3 level home in Qana, claiming Hezbollah resistance were hiding in it, a claim proven false. The bombing massacred 27 civilians, among them16 children.
Two weeks earlier, on July 15—in the first days of Israel’s war on Lebanon—a combination of an IOF warship strike and an IOF helicopter attack massacred 23 civilians (among them 14 children and 7 women, 2 of whom were pregnant) fleeing their village, Marwaheen, in southern Lebanon.
In Chiah, Beirut, southern Lebanese were among the massacred on August 7, 2006, when the IOF bombed the multi-level building they’d taken sanctuary in—having fled the heavy bombing of the south. “Those families who escaped death in the south found it in Beirut,” X tells me of the 39 martyred in the Chiah bombing.
We leave the martyrs’ cemetery and walk through the narrow lanes typical of a Palestinian refugee camp.
The UN Reliefs Works Agency (UNRWA) reports on Shatila refugee camp that, “environmental health conditions in Shatila are extremely bad. Shelters are damp and overcrowded, and many have open drains. The sewerage system needs considerable expansion.”
The truths of refugee camp hardship reveal themselves in the leaking pipes and puddles of water flooding alleyways and streets, in the tangles of electrical wires dangerously low overhead, in the shoddy cement-block houses too small for their families and too closely layered for privacy, and in the stench of sewage and garbage yet to be collected, services in the camp being far below sub-par. In these drab conditions families live and children play—making toys out of street findings, playing in the lanes.
A beautiful elderly Palestinian woman allows me to photograph her, posing with her gracious smile and immense dignity.
I speak with an elderly Palestinian refugee outside his shop. He is fluent in English and, with a charismatic smile, answers my questions about life in the camp.
My name is Ismail.
I was born in 1950 in Baalbec (Lebanon). Now I am working in my shop (a small grocery store). My family is from a small village about 2 km from Haifa. My family was expelled from there. They were farmers, we had only a small bit of land, 8.5 dunams, near the seashore.
The situation in the camp is very bad. Too much garbage in the street. The water is very bad, we are using salt water as utility water. We get plenty of skin diseases. The electricity is not good. We can’t work outside. If anybody passes away, we don’t have any place to bury them now. We have to take him out of Beirut, because this is a rule of the Lebanese government nowadays.
Things are getting worse. Before, the UN was giving service to all the refugee camps. Nowadays very few people can take benefit from the UN. Even if someone gets sick, he can’t go to the hospital. He will die.
His words don’t convey the extent of the difficulty of refugee camp life, which I learn more of in later visits to Beirut and Trablus (Tripoli) camps.
Since the original purpose of our visit to Lebanon is to participate in the Global March to Jerusalem, I ask if he’s been there.
I haven’t been to Al Quds. I hope I’ll go there some day, to pray in Al Aqsa. (They—the Israelis) won’t let me go back to my native country.
Sabra and Shatila
Robert Fisk was one of the first journalists to be present at the scene of the horrific murders in Lebanon, September 17th, 1982. The following is extracted from his book, “Pity the Nation”
Posted by Information Clearing House
What we found inside the Palestinian camp at ten o’clock on the morning of September 1982 did not quite beggar description, although it would have been easier to re-tell in the cold prose of a medical examination. There had been medical examinations before in Lebanon, but rarely on this scale and never overlooked by a regular, supposedly disciplined army. In the panic and hatred of battle, tens of thousands had been killed in this country. But these people, hundreds of them had been shot down unarmed. This was a mass killing, an incident – how easily we used the word “incident” in Lebanon – that was also an atrocity. It went beyond even what the Israelis would have in other circumstances called a terrorist activity. It was a war crime.
Jenkins and Tveit were so overwhelmed by what we found in Chatila that at first we were unable to register our own shock. Bill Foley of AP had come with us. All he could say as he walked round was “Jesus Christ” over and over again. We might have accepted evidence of a few murders; even dozens of bodies, killed in the heat of combat. Bur there were women lying in houses with their skirts torn torn up to their waists and their legs wide apart, children with their throats cut, rows of young men shot in the back after being lined up at an execution wall. There were babies – blackened babies babies because they had been slaughtered more than 24-hours earlier and their small bodies were already in a state of decomposition – tossed into rubbish heaps alongside discarded US army ration tins, Israeli army equipment and empty bottles of whiskey.
Where were the murderers? Or to use the Israelis’ vocabulary, where were the “terrorists”? When we drove down to Chatila, we had seen the Israelis on the top of the apartments in the Avenue Camille Chamoun but they made no attempt to stop us. In fact, we had first been driven to the Bourj al-Barajneh camp because someone told us that there was a massacre there. All we saw was a Lebanese soldier chasing a car theif down a street. It was only when we were driving back past the entrance to Chatila that Jenkins decided to stop the car. “I don’t like this”, he said. “Where is everyone? What the f**k is that smell?”
Just inside the the southern entrance to the camp, there used to be a number of single-story, concrete walled houses. I had conducted many interviews in these hovels in the late 1970’s. When we walked across the muddy entrance to Chatila, we found that these buildings had been dynamited to the ground. There were cartridge cases across the main road. I saw several Israeli flare canisters, still attached to their tiny parachutes. Clouds of flies moved across the rubble, raiding parties with a nose for victory.
Down a laneway to our right, no more than 50 yards from the entrance, there lay a pile of corpses. There were more than a dozen of them, young men whose arms and legs had been wrapped around each other in the agony of death. All had been shot point-blank range through the cheek, the bullet tearing away a line of flesh up to the ear and entering the brain. Some had vivid crimson or black scars down the left side of their throats. One had been castrated, his trousers torn open and a settlement of flies throbbing over his torn intestines.
The eyes of these young men were all open. The youngest was only 12 or 13 years old. They were dressed in jeans and coloured shirts, the material absurdly tight over their flesh now that their bodies had begun to bloat in the heat. They had not been robbed. On one blackened wrist a Swiss watch recorded the correct time, the second hand still ticking round uselessly, expending the last energies of its dead owner.
On the other side of the main road, up a track through the debris, we found the bodies of five women and several children. The women were middle-aged and their corpses lay draped over a pile of rubble. One lay on her back, her dress torn open and the head of a little girl emerging from behind her. The girl had short dark curly hair, her eyes were staring at us and there was a frown on her face. She was dead.
Another child lay on the roadway like a discarded doll, her white dress stained with mud and dust. She could have been no more than three years old. The back of her head had been blown away by a bullet fired into her brain. One of the women also held a tiny baby to her body. The bullet that had passed into her breast had killed the baby too. Someone had slit open the woman’s stomach, cutting sideways and then upwards, perhaps trying to kill her unborn child. Her eyes were wide open, her dark face frozen in horror.
“…As we stood there, we heard a shout in Arabic from across the ruins. “They are coming back,” a man was screaming, So we ran in fear towards the road. I think, in retrospect, that it was probably anger that stopped us from leaving, for we now waited near the entrance to the camp to glimpse the faces of the men who were responsible for all of this. They must have been sent in here with Israeli permission. They must have been armed by the Israelis. Their handiwork had clearly been watched – closely observed – by the Israelis who were still watching us through their field-glasses.
When does a killing become an outrage? When does an atrocity become a massacre? Or, put another way, how many killings make a massacre? Thirty? A hundred? Three hundred? When is a massacre not a massacre? When the figures are too low? Or when the massacre is carried out by Israel’s friends rather than Israel’s enemies?
That, I suspected, was what this argument was about. If Syrian troops had crossed into Israel, surrounded a Kibbutz and allowed their Palestinian allies to slaughter the Jewish inhabitants, no Western news agency would waste its time afterwards arguing about whether or not it should be called a massacre.
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 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 airforce 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.
By Hassan Kheite, Al Akhbar
September 14, 2012
On the 30th anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila massacre in which hundreds of defenseless Palestinian refugees were slaughtered by Lebanese right-wing militias under the cover of the Israeli military, Al-Akhbar publishes an account of the events by a Palestinian survivor who was a young boy when he witnessed the killings.
Sabra was bustling with life, even after three full months of death and destruction brought about by the Israeli siege of Beirut. So was the Shatila camp.
People had returned to their homes with a false sense of security. Everyone, including my 13-year-old self, was deceived into thinking the war was over.
Then came the news of the killing of “elected” president Bashir Gemayel that shook us out of this delusion. A neighbor went out on his balcony and shot a hail of bullets into the sky to celebrate.
My feelings were a mixture of outrage and panic. I was repulsed by those who did not respect the sanctity of death and was simultaneously worried that the assassination would usher in a new season of deaths.
The next day, Israeli warplanes clouded the Beirut skies again, flying lower than I had ever seen them before.
They flew low enough for me to easily see the Star of David on their hulls.
My father – who has since passed away – came home in the middle of the day. I think my uncle had arrived earlier. They discussed rumors about the Israeli army beginning to enter Beirut. In Sabra, where we lived, there was still no sign of armies or battles.
My uncle said that a friend told him that he passed by Israeli armored vehicles near the Sports City on his way from the nearby Fakhani area.
But the smiles on the grownups’ faces suggested that we were not in danger. We felt safe even after the family decided to move to the old people’s home where my father worked as a nurse and pharmacist.
I do not remember any battles occurring nearby during the first day in the shelter. All I can remember is the explosion of gas cylinders in Sabra’s main square and the sound of sniper fire coming from the vicinity of Shatila camp.
The sniper was kept busy with people pushing mannequins into his line of fire as we enjoyed the free show.
My room had a southern view facing Shatila. I could not make out what was happening, but I could clearly hear the sounds of heavy military vehicles and see the lights from the flares.
I would spend my time watching the shadows made by the window’s grill on the opposing wall each time a new one was fired.
One night, my father’s colleague arrived from “the camp,” which is how residents referred to Shatila. We never heard Sabra being called a “camp” until after the slaughter.
For its inhabitants, Sabra was just the name of a street that starts at al-Dana petrol station in Tariq al-Jdideh, passing through Sabra square, and terminating at the entrance of Shatila camp.
So, my father’s colleague arrived and some people began to make fun of him. Someone asked him in a loud voice to tell them how exactly he managed to cross over all the dead bodies in Shatila.
He turned around and left behind him the grinning faces. The grownups were smiling again, therefore, we were safe.
But the rumors kept multiplying and the news on the radio confirmed the gravity of the situation to all who refused to believe.
We decided to escape to the center of Beirut, especially after our neighbor arrived with her children. She told us how they were being led by gunmen to the Sports City stadium. But a landmine exploded and they were able to flee amidst the confusion.
Then came the stories of blood and corpses and kidnapping. Some people spoke about passing through Sabra over rivers of blood. They were not exaggerating.
We were used to moving to my aunt’s every time it got dangerous in our area. We piled into our neighbor’s truck and headed towards the city. My older brother, Oussama, remained in the old people’s home with my father.
We passed by the municipal stadium and reached the Cola bridge. The street was eerily empty. I think my mother panicked and asked my neighbor to stop.
We climbed out of the truck and walked through deserted streets. Our distress grew as time passed and we did not see a single human being outdoors. Usually, these are the most crowded streets in Beirut. But that day, nobody dared to leave their homes.
We went back through Fakhani and the Arab University. Among the ruins of the campus, I saw them for the first time.
Ghosts, I thought. They were moving like spirits among the rubble. It was as if they relished in the destruction. Standing tall and proud, the buildings seems to have provoked them to bring more ruin to the city.
My mother’s voice came as an alarm among the crowded images. Do not stare at the soldiers, she warned, and told us to walk faster.
We were back at the old people’s home. The slaughter was over. But the battles in Beirut were still raging. The radio reported that there was still some pockets of resistance in the city. After a while, the station went silent, an announcement of their defeat.
The last thing we heard the announcer say was an appeal to those who were resisting to the end. And then three words, “they are here.”
We then thought the name “occupied Beirut” would become something normal, like occupied Jerusalem or occupied Haifa. But the resistance would not leave the occupiers alone.
The closest operation to where we were happened one night on Corniche al-Mazraa. The sounds of bullets and shells brought back some of our dignity that we had felt was robbed of us a few hours earlier.
One day, I was far from the old people’s home at my uncle’s house. I do not recall why I decided to go to Sabra square, but I met a woman who had just arrived from Tariq al-Jdideh.
She seemed as if it was her first time in Sabra. Anyway, she did not live there. She was eager to know if the news about the massacres were true.
I had heard the BBC describe it as an apocalypse, but I told her it was not true. All these people died from sniper fire, I explained.
I do not know what she thought of me afterwards. Maybe she thought I was lying. But I do not care, her question irritated me.
For someone to come and tell you that you have been slaughtered was not easy, especially if you are trying to convince yourself that it could not happen. It is not pleasant for one’s street to carry the stigma of such horror.
We were slaughtered, but our dignity and pride forbade us from becoming subjects of pity. Maybe that is why I used to be relieved by reports saying that the victims were no more than a few dozen and hated officials who reported that the death toll reached three thousand. Maybe I was ashamed. I apologize to that woman.
It seemed the occupation was becoming normalized. One of the soldiers once asked my uncle’s wife in colloquial Arabic if she had any water.
I wished I had some poison to put in it, although I know I could never do something like that. The wish ushered in many fantasies of revenge. At night, I would plan brave commando operations and dream of destroying the Israeli army.
But the occupation did not remain for too long. Resistance operations inflicted serious damage. Israel withdrew, leaving behind the stench of death.
They withdrew but the terror would come back from time to time. Rumors forced hundreds of people to flee their homes into Beirut.
The crowds joining the great escape betrayed a strange feeling that “they” were coming, sometimes from the east, sometimes from the west.
Some said that the Lebanese army was spreading the rumors so as to be able to enter the area and announce itself as the savior. When this happened people threw rice at the soldiers in celebration.
The Italian troops were the main reason we felt safe. They were in charge of guarding the camp and myths were created about their dedication.
Some said they clashed with the Lebanese army to prevent them from entering the camp. Others said they had told the Lebanese soldiers, “here begins Palestine” and that they were not allowed into the camps.
On the third anniversary of the massacres, the blood of had not yet dried when the terror came back with all its ugliness.
It was the beginning of the devastating War of the Camps waged by Syria’s proxy militias in Lebanon. A new war was added to the “events” that the Lebanese like to call their national calamity. But that’s another story.
Hasan Khiti left Lebanon for Germany after the War of the Camps. He currently lives in Munster where he works as a chemicals expert. He wrote this text in 2001.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.
Sabra and Shatila: Escaping Justice
By Al Akhbar
September 14, 2012
Today marks the 30 year anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila massacre, in which hundreds of defenseless Palestinian refugees were slaughtered by Lebanese right-wing militias under the cover of the Israeli military. Below are profiles of the main culprits responsible for the killings.
Ariel Sharon (84) fell into a coma six years ago while preparing for his electoral campaign. He still has a strong presence in the Israeli political scene despite the media blackout imposed by the Israeli state on news and pictures of him.
His condition has not improved. The doctor in charge of caring for him says that his “state is stable,” adding that “Sharon is a very strong man physically and in my view, mentally as well.”
The financial committee in the Israeli Knesset decided to divide the cost of Sharon’s treatment – 1.5 million shekels ($400,000) annually – between the government and his family.
An Israeli investigative committee had found Sharon indirectly responsible for the Sabra and Shatila massacre in 1982 where hundreds of Palestinian refugees were killed “as he was a defense minister at the time.”
Rafael Eitan was born on 11 December 1929. In 1946 he joined the Palmach, which is the strike force of the Haganah [Jewish paramilitary force in British Mandate Palestine.] He held several positions in the Israeli army including Chief of Staff 1978-1983.
During his term, he participated in planning the attack on the Iraqi atomic reactor Tammuz and the invasion of Lebanon. After the Sabra and Shatila massacre, the Kahan Commission tasked with investigating the massacre concluded that Eitan was “in breach of duty that was incumbent on the chief of staff.”
The report noted that Eitan did not take the necessary measures to prevent the massacre and did not act in accordance with the duties a military commander.
The commission did not, however, remove him from his post or make any further recommendations against him under the pretext that he was due to retire soon. He died in 2004.
Bashir Gemayel appointed Fadi Frem leader of the Lebanese Forces (LF) militia in 1982 after Gemayel was “elected” president and one day before his assassination.
When the Sabra and Shatila massacre took place, he was the leader giving orders to LF fighters and he was responsible for the decision to enter the refugee camps.
Frem was married to one of the granddaughters of the Phalange Party founder, Pierre Gemayel. He advanced gradually in the LF as he was one of the first people to join the Bashir Gemayel squad. He was later appointed as head of the militia’s military intelligence before becoming deputy chief of staff, then leader of the LF.
Under his leadership, the “War of the Mountain” between Christian and Druze militias broke out and the LF were soundly defeated, causing the displacement of Christians from the Chouf area.
His relationship with President Amin Gemayel grew tense and Fouad Abou Nader was appointed in his place. Frem’s forces took part alongside Elie Hobeika’s in the Sabra and Shatila massacre.
He now lives in Canada. It should be noted that in 2000 the Canadian department of justice investigated those responsible for torture in the Khiam detention center in South Lebanon and did not allow many of them to immigrate to Canada for this reason.
Saad Haddad was born in 1936 in the town of Marjayoun in South Lebanon. He was an officer when he was put in charge of a Lebanese army unit that included 400 soldiers in the town of Qulaiah.
In 1979, he allied himself with Israel to establish the South Lebanon Army (SLA) militia. On 19 April 1979, he announced the establishment of Free Lebanon in the territories occupied by Israel in the South.
During the 1982 Israeli invasion, he transferred members of his forces from the South to Beirut Airport and then to Sabra and Shatila, where they played a prominent role in perpetrating the massacre.
Haddad died on 14 January 1984 from cancer. His daughter Arzeh, who became an Israeli citizen, works in the field of military research to develop Israeli missiles.
Etienne Sakr was born in Ain Ebel in South Lebanon and later became an officer in the General Security Directorate. After the Lebanese government signed the Cairo Agreement in 1969 with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), Sakr left the intelligence agency to devote himself to politics.
He established, with the poet Said Akel, the Lebanese Renewal Party which eventually became the Guardians of the Cedars militia – a Lebanese ultra-nationalist movement.
Sakr was also one of the founders of the Lebanese Front. His party participated in the fighting at the beginning of the civil war against PLO fighters and their Lebanese allies.
He was known for his collaboration with Israel. He supported the SLA and in the 1990s he lived in the town of Jezzine in the South.
When Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, he asked to make the area along the southern border an autonomous region. He was sentenced in absentia to death on charges of treason. He currently lives in Cyprus.
Elie Hobeika was born in 1956 and was one of the prominent leaders of the LF militia during the civil war. He joined the Phalange Party when he was young, then moved to the LF upon its inception.
In 1979, he was put in charge of the information and security agency in the LF. In early 1985, he and Samir Geagea led an uprising against the Phalange leadership and Hobeika became the leader of the LF.
[During Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, Hobeika acted as the principal military liaison to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)]
At the end of that same year, he signed the Tripartite Accord with Nabih Berri and Walid Jumblatt.
This agreement ushered in his public relationship with Syria and his formal admission into the Syrian axis in Lebanon. In early 1986, Geagea turned against him and the two fought in Achrafieh and Zahle, which led to Geagea’s takeover of the LF leadership.
After the war, Hobeika became an MP and was appointed minister. He dropped out of politics in 2000 when he lost his seat in the parliamentary elections.
Hobeika was assassinated in 2002 in Hazmieh with a car bomb after his decision to go to a Belgian court to “expose Israeli war crimes.”
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.
Established 28 September 1982
Excerpt from Wikipedia entry
Similarly, it is clear from the course of events that when the reports began to arrive about the actions of the Phalangists in the camps, no proper heed was taken of these reports, the correct conclusions were not drawn from them, and no energetic and immediate action were taken to restrain the Phalangists and put a stop to their actions.
The Defence Minister, Ariel Sharon, was found to bear personal responsibility “for ignoring the danger of bloodshed and revenge” and”not taking appropriate measures to prevent bloodshed”. Sharon’s negligence in protecting the civilian population of Beirut, which had come under Israeli control, amounted to a non-fulfillment of a duty with which the Defence Minister was charged, and it was recommended that Sharon be dismissed as Defence Minister.
[The UN’s MacBride Commission also decided in 1982 that Israel bore a direct or indirect responsiility for the massacres.]
The Sabra and Shatila Massacre 30 Years On
MAP briefing Paper (Medical Aid for Palestinians)
14 September 2012
This year, Medical Aid for Palestinians, our partners and supporters, remember the tragic events of thirty years ago that occurred in Sabra and Shatila. Over a period of two nights in September 1982, Lebanese Phalangist militia, with the support of the Israeli military, slaughtered unarmed men, women and children in the dilapidated refugee camp.
To mark this inauspicious anniversary MAP has produced a briefing paper with contemporary accounts of the events of Sabra and Shatila.
To read this briefing paper, click the headline above.