Wednesday, September 19

Remembering Sabra and Shatila 30 Years Later, Lest we Forget


An Australians for Palestine composition

The Masscare of Sabra & Shatila  

From September 16 to 18, 1982, Israeli-backed Lebanese Phalangist (Arabic: al-Kataeb) militiamen entered the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in West Beirut, and slaughtered at will. Age or gender were never a consideration, as the elderly, women, children and even toddlers became easy prey.  The death toll has never been verified, ranging from 800 to 3,500, which is testimony to the destruction wrought by the Phalangists that many bodies were never uncovered.

The massacre occurred under the watch of the Israeli Defense Force, who at the time had gained control of West Beirut, guarded the entrances to the camps, and lit flares at night to provide visibility to their Lebanese allies.  An Israeli investigation, the Kahan Commission, found then Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon personally responsible, and recommended his resignation from the Israeli Government.  Sharon earned the moniker "The Butcher of Beruit", yet twenty years later he became the prime minister of Israel.

This was a moment in time, still being lived by Palestinian refugees everywhere and Palestinians living under the cruel occupation. 

Below is a compilation of articles and reflections on the massacre of Sabra & Shatila.

A letter to the IDF soldiers at Sabra and Shatila (September 14, 2012)
by Ellen Siegel

On the 30th anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila massacre, a Jewish American nurse who provided humanitarian aid in a Beirut hospital recalls her first encounter with IDF soldiers. Today, she asks them to take a few moments during the Jewish New Year to remember.

To the IDF soldiers who were at Sabra and Shatila,

September 2012 will mark the 30th anniversary of the massacre at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut. In 1982, the first day of Rosh Hashanah coincided with the final hours of that horrific event.  This year, the first day of the Jewish New Year, September 16, corresponds with the opening hours of the killings.

I met you in 1982. I was working as a nurse at a hospital in Sabra.  I arrived after Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, soon after Israel refused to allow food, water, and vital medications into the besieged city.  I was there as a humanitarian.  Morally, I could not stand by and be silent while the destruction of a city and the killing and maiming of its people occurred.

Following the assassination of the newly-elected president of Lebanon in mid-September all hell broke loose. I listened as Israeli planes broke the sound barrier over the camps, heard continuous heavy artillery fire, and stayed away from shattering windows.  For almost 48 hours, from September 16th to the 18th, I attempted to save the lives of those who were brought to the hospital. Many had severe wounds from being shot at close range. I cared for hundreds of terrified refugees seeking the safety of the hospital.  I tried to comprehend the throat-slitting gesture the women made. I watched from a top floor of the hospital as flares were shot in the air. The flares illuminated areas of the camp; the sound of automatic weapons fire followed each illumination.

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The never-ending horror story – Sabra and Shatila 30 years later (September 16, 2012)
by Sonja Karkar 

“Had Palestinians massacred 2,000 Israelis ... would anyone doubt that the world’s press and television would be remembering so terrible a deed this morning?  Yet this week, not a single newspaper in the United States – or Britain for that matter – has even mentioned the anniversary of Sabra and Shatila.” Thirty years later it is no different.  

It happened thirty years ago – 16 September 1982.  A massacre so awful that  people who know about it cannot forget it.  The photos are gruesome  reminders – charred, decapitated, indecently violated corpses, the smell of  rotting flesh, still as foul to those who remember it as when they were  recoiling from it all those years ago. For the victims and the handful of  survivors, it was a 36-hour holocaust without mercy.  It was deliberate, it  was planned and it was overseen.  But to this day, the killers have gone  unpunished.

Sabra and Shatila – two Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon – were the  theatres for this staged slaughter.  The former is no longer there and the  other is a ghostly and ghastly reminder of man’s inhumanity to men, women  and children – more specifically, Israel’s inhumanity, the inhumanity of the  people who did Israel’s bidding and the world’s inhumanity for pretending it  was of no consequence. There were international witnesses – doctors, nurses,  journalists – who saw the macabre scenes and have tried to tell the world in  vain ever since.

Each act was barbarous enough on its own to warrant fear and loathing.  It  was human savagery at its worst and Dr Ang Swee Chai was an eye witness as  she worked with the Palestinian Red Crescent Society on the dying and the  wounded amongst the dead.  What she saw was so unimaginable that the  atrocities committed need to be separated from each other to even begin  comprehending the viciousness of the crimes. [1]

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A Preventable Massacre - Sabra and Shatila (September 16, 2012)
by Seth Anziska

Comment:  In addition to the merits of this article as it stands, if there is something immanent to be learned in Remembering Sabra and Shatila 30 years later, it would be from reading this article as a cautionary tale of again allowing Israel to be the tail that wags the American bulldog, this time on Iran.  
Robert Assaly

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.

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Don Wagner, of Friends of Sabeel, reflects on his visit to the camps one day after the massacre: (September 2010)

Sabra and Shatila: A Testimony
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The War of Lies:  Israel's First War on Lebanon 
(Weekend Edition June 8-10, 2012)

by Uri Avnery

Here is an excellent article on the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. My only dispute with the article is that it was not the first Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Begin invaded Lebanon in 1978, in my opinion, in an attempt to destroy or at least test the Camp David Peace Agreement with Egypt which was signed shortly before the invasion. US President Jimmy Carter forced Israel to with draw but the Israelis installed Major Saad Haddad and the South Lebanese Army in South Lebanon on their withdrawal. Israel also occupied part of Lebanon in the 1948-49 Israeli War of Independence but were ordered out by the French. Uri Avnery is a former member of the Israeli Knesset and a leading Israeli peace activist.  Ed Corrigan 

I have a further “dispute with this article” and your comments, not to take away anything from Avnery’s excellent piece. First, I think Avnery is using “First War” with a tongue-in-cheek double entendre to expose the folly of the constructed memory (see his second paragraph: “as it was later called.”).  Second, his error and yours is the myth that 1978 was the first invasion, or that the border was quiet until 1970 as Avnery claims. Israel raided the Beirut airport at the end of 1968, following many cross-border skirmishes. See even Time magazine:,9171,908793,00.html. Since 1968, Israel has launched incessant incursions into the south, leveling my grandfather’s (Christian) village/hamlet including the church, near my grandmother’s village of Rashaya al-Fukhar. The catalogue of incursions shows her (Christian) village as a favorite target in 1968-1969,including Israeli attacks with napalm Israeli denial of this history is further evidence of Avnery’s point that “a myth can take possession of the public mind.”  Robert Assaly

Thirty years ago this week, the Israeli army crossed into Lebanon and started the most stupid war in Israel’s history. It lasted for 18 years. About 1500 Israeli soldiers and untold numbers of Lebanese and Palestinians were killed.  Almost all wars are based on lies. Lies are considered legitimate instruments of war. Lebanon War I (as it was later called) was a glorious example.  From beginning to end (if it has ended yet) it was a war of deceit and deception, falsehoods and fabrications.

The lies started with the official name: “Operation Peace in Galilee”.

If one asks Israelis now, 99.99% of them will say with all sincerity: “We had no choice. They launched katyushas at the Galilee from Lebanon every day. We had to stop them.” TV anchormen and anchorwomen, as well as former cabinet ministers have been repeating this throughout the week. Quite sincerely. Even people who were already adults at the time.

The simple fact is that for 11 months before the war, not a single shot was fired across the Israeli-Lebanese border. A cease-fire was in force and the Palestinians on the other side of the border kept it scrupulously. To everybody’s surprise, Yasser Arafat succeeded in imposing it on all the radical Palestinian factions, too.


Eyewitnesses Robert Fisk & Odd Karsten Tveit on their visits to the camps right after the massacre:

Sabra & Shatila massacre of Palestinians - Eyewitness Robert Fisk & Odd Karsten Tveit
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