Sabra and Shatila Massacre 3oth Anniversary
For those who are old enough to remember news breaking in 1982 the name Sabra and Shatila conjures up a violent and bloody image. I visited the camps in 2006 in West Beirut following the Israeli bombing of Lebanon. I walked through the rubble in South Lebanon, most of which has now been restored. Indeed I have been in many Palestinian refugee camps in neighboring states. It is not for the feint hearted. Conditions are poor and Palestinian population yearn for their right to return to their homeland or a Palestinian state, 64 years on they are still waiting.
The 17th of September 2012 is the 30th Anniversary of the massacre at Shaba and Shatila refugee camps in Southern Beirut. It shocked the world.
The camps were set up by UNWRA in 1949 as over half a million Palestinians were driven from their homes following the creation of state of Israel in 1948. They believed their exile would only be brief. We now know that it is permanent with no end in sight as the eternal peace process is now non-existent.
These refugees should have been safe given their vulnerable status. PLO chairman Yasser Arafat was given a written undertaking by Philip Habib, US special envoy that the civilian population in Beirut would not be harmed. The US was clearly not a restraining force for Israel in this war and history now records not in any other subsequent war either. Although figures are disputed it is believed 3000 – 3500 died or are still missing. Civilians died in violent degrading and inhumane ways. A significant number of the victims were Lebanese.
The most vivid account I have read is by journalist Robert Fisk and who dared to enter the Camps with other journalists on the morning after. He recalls they entered the camps at 10 o’clock on the 18th of September 1982. They knew something really evil had happened.
“The stench in Shatila made us retch, after some minutes we began to smell the dead, they were everywhere the Christian Militia men whom Israel had let in to the camps to flush out “terrorists” had only just left. When we seen a hundred bodies, we stopped counting, hastily dug mass graves. Hundreds were shot unarmed, women lying with their skirts to their knees, legs wide apart, children with their throats cut, young men shot in the back after being lined up, babies blackened already in a state of decomposition tossed in to rubbish heaps, buildings dynamited to the ground, young men shot at point blank range, some castrated who were as young as 12 or 13. 1500 men disappeared after being taking for questioning. All killed. “ Fisk says “ there can be no doubt that Israeli forces knew there was a massacre inside the camps”
Fatima Helow a friend of mine who has been living in Glasgow, was 10 years old when she witnessed the Israeli forces enter the camp on the first day of the massacre. She describes that the forces locked people inside the camp so that they could not escape. She says they were used as human shields to hunt down the PLO. Her cousins were killed, women were raped and she recalls pregnant women who had been attacked running with her womb in her hand. Fatima has own women story to tell about how she tried to get justice for this tragedy.
Although History records that the Phalangist militia were responsible for the massacres, it was at the will of Israeli forces. The Phalangists believed wrongly that the PLO had assassinated Lebanese President elect and leader of the Phalange militia, Bashir Gemayel and they were seeking revenge. The Israeli army was in control of all major points in Beirut. They controlled the camps. The storming of the camps had begun at sunset and continued for 36 hours. Flares lit up the sky so that the whole area could be seen as if it were daylight. Thousands of 300 000 Israelis demonstrated in protest after the massacre.
To date, there has not been not been proper accountability for this tragic event, although The Kahan commission, Israel’s inquiry in to the massacre concluded that Ariel Sharon the defence Minister “bears personal responsibility” and was forced to resign. Worse still the prospects of creating of a state for Palestinians is as far way now as ever. Israel is still building hundreds of new homes in the West Bank and they have demolished thousands of Palestinian homes unlawfully. This is meant to be the basis for the new state and yet they will not stop.
I believe that Israel is losing the moral argument around the world about how it responds to the conflict and the attacks upon itself. The bombing of UN shelters schools and Mosques following the bombing of Gaza in 2009 where rubble from the attack still remains due to the permanent siege. There was no justice for Rachael Corrie killed in 2003 by a Caterpillar bulldozer when she was peacefully protesting against the demolition of Palestinain homes in Gaza and Turkey still awaits an apology for the 9 civilians shot dead on board the Mavi Marma.
The route of the conflict is and remains the occupation and the failure of the International community to stop the settlement building in the West Bank is now the biggest physical obstacle to a two state solution is the biggest shame on an international community which helped create the conflict in the first place. Its time to stand up to Israel and at least speak the truth about its lack of serious interest in establishing an Independent Palestine and favoring a pretend peace process then never goes anywhere
President Abbas will very soon ask again for UN support for recognition of Palestinian Statehood. Britain abstained last time. Do we not at least owe the Palestinians that recognition? Peace in the region dictates a different course than the one we are on with all the troubles that ripple from the Syrian civil war we need a solution to this conflict once and for all. We should not forget the innocents and the tragedy of Sabra and Shatila but we should understand that all they want is recognition that they deserve a country and not eternal sympathy for their tragedies; they have had years of sympathy. I for one recognise the need for Israel to be safe and secure but I am sick and tired of the lack of accountability and truth . This is the time to strike a new accord as the Israeli Netanyahu led Government has rarely faced such widespread criticism for the way it has behaved in this conflict. I believe that only a third party interlocutor that represents the international community and not the US can attempt to take the peace process back on track. I also believe that wider public opinion is now firmly in favour of Governments giving justice to the Palestinians Its time at least for Britain and the International community to make a stand and vote with the Palestinian motion at the UN . For those who believe in justice for the memory of all innocent people who have died on all sides of the conflict, for Palestinians and Israeli’s people’s we cannot be silent.