The untreated psychic wounds are still open. Accountability,
justice and basic civil rights for the survivors are still denied.
|This wall, adjacent to Abu Yassir�s shelter is used by Shatila refugee camp tykes for playing ball and other games, unaware that some of their relatives and families� friends were among the hundreds butchered against 11 such �walls of death� 28 years ago, on September 16-18, 1982. Photo courtesy of the author.|
Scores of horror testimonies have been shared over the past
nearly three decades by survivors of the September 1982 Sabra- Shatila
massacre. More come to light only through circumstantial evidence because would
be affiants perished during the slaughter. Other eyewitness are just beginning
to emerge from deep trauma or self imposed silence.
Some testimonies will be shared this month by massacre
survivors at Shatila camp. They will sit with the every growing numbers of
international visitors who annually come to commemorate one of the most
horrific crimes of the 20th century.
There are no average massacre testimonies.
Zeina, a handsome bronzed-faced middle-aged woman, an
acquaintance of Munir Mohammad�s family, asked a foreigner the other day: �How
can it be 28 years? I think it was just last fall that my husband Hussam and
our two daughters, Maya, 8 years old, and Sirham, 9 years old, left our two-room
home to search for food because the Israeli army had sealed Shatila camp nearly
two days before and few inside Shatila Camp had any. I still pray and wait for
them to return.�
In Shatila, Palestinian refugee camp and outside Abu Yassir�s
shelter, the bullet marks still cover the lower half of the 11 �walls of death�
where some of the dried blood is mixed and feathered in with the thin mortar.
An elderly gentleman named Abu Samer still has some souvenirs of the event:
three American automatic pistols fitted with silencers, a couple of knives and
axes that were strapped to some of the killers belts as they quickly and silently
shot, carved and chopped whoever they came upon starting at around 6 pm on
Thursday September 16, 1982. Plus a couple of whisky bottles. These weapons
were gifted to Israel by the US Congress and subsequently issued along with
drugs and alcohol and other �policing equipment� to the killers in his �most
moral army� by Ariel Sharon.
Earlier this year, one of the murderers from the Numour
al-Ahrar (Tigers of the Liberals) militia, the armed wing of Lebanon�s
right-wing National Liberal Party founded by former Lebanese President Camille
Chamoun, nonchalantly confessed, �we sometimes used these implements in order
to advance silently through the alleys of Shatila so as not to cause
unnecessary panic during our work.� The Tigers militia, one of five Christian
killer units, was assisted inside Shatila by more than two dozen Israeli Mossad
agents, and led in this blitz by none other than Dani Chamoun, son of the
No plaque or sign notes what happened here.
The world learned of the slaughter at Sabra-Shatila on the
morning of Sunday September 19, 1982. Photos,
many now available on the Internet, taken by witnesses such as Ralph Shoneman,
Mya Shone, Ryuichi Hirokawa, Ali Hasan Salman, Ramzi Hardar, Gunther Altenburg,
and Gaza and Akka Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) Hospital staff,
preserve the gruesome images deeply etched in the survivors memory. The Israeli
Kahan Commission, five months later in its February 7, 1983 Report,
substantially whitewashed Israeli responsibility referring more than once to
the massacre as �a war.�
Zeina ushered me down a narrow alley from her house arriving
at the 3 by 8 meter wall outside her sister�s home, spraying here and there
with an aerosol can as we walked. She apologized for the spray but insisted
that she and her neighbors could even now smell the slaughter that happened
there three decades earlier.
For readers unfamiliar with the location of Shatila
Palestinian Refugee Camp in Beirut, this particular �wall of death� is located
across from the PRCS Akka Hospital, such as it is, after years without adequate
financial or NGO support. Locating the 11 �walls of death� requires help from
the few older Palestinians who still live in this quarter. They are among those
still living at the scene and who still vividly recall the details of the
massacre. Some provide personal history of some of the butchered, seemingly
urging the dead to return by making them seem so alive, often describing a
personality trait and the name of their family village in Palestine.
�A sweet boy who adored his older brothers Mutid and
Zeina recalls that Munir Mohammad was 12 years old on
September 16, 1982, a pupil at the Shatila camp school, named Jalil (Galilee).
Virtually all of the 75 remaining UNRWA schools in Lebanon, like other
Palestinian institutions, are named after villages, towns or cities in occupied
Palestine. Often they are named after villages that no longer actually exist,
being among the 531 villages the Zionists colonizers obliterated during and
after the 1947-48 Nakba (Catastrophe).
Zeina recalls that it was late on a Thursday afternoon,
September 16, that the Israeli shelling had grown intense. Designed to drive
the camp residents into the shelters, almost all of which Israeli intelligence,
arriving the previous day in three white vehicles and posing as �concerned NGO
staff� had identified and noted the coordinates on their maps. Some residents,
thinking aid workers had come to help the refugees, actually revealed their
secret sanctuaries. Other refugees, based on their experience in the crowded
shelters during the preceding 75 days of indiscriminate, �Peace for Galilee�
Israeli bombing of Shatila, suggested to the �aid workers� that the shelters
needed better ventilation and perhaps the visitors would help provide it.
According to Zeina the Israeli agents quickly sketched the
shelter locations, marked them with a red circle and returned to their HQ which
was located less than 70 meters on the raised terrain at the SE corner of
Shatila camp still known as Turf Club Yards. Today, this sandy area still contains
three death pits which according to the late American journalist Janet Stevens
is where some of the hundreds of still missing bodies of the more than 3,000
slaughtered are likely buried. Janet had theorized that there was a second
Sabra-Shatila Massacre that occurred on Sunday morning, September 19th, which
piggybacked the first and was conducted on the west side of Shatila inside the
second Israeli-Phalange HQ, known as the Cite Sportiff athletic complex. As the
Israeli soldiers took custody from the Phalange militia of the surviving
refugees, trucks entered Cite Sportiff loaded with hundreds of camp residents
on the back to be taken to �holding centers.� Family members forced to wait
outside heard volleys of gunfire and screams from inside the complex. Hours
later the same flat beds drove away to unknown locations, tarps covering the
unseen mounded cargo.
Camp resident, Mrs. Sana Mahmoud Sersawi, one of the 23
complainants in the Belgium case filed against Ariel Sharon on June 16, 2001,
(currently but not fatally sidetracked) explained:
�The Israelis who were posted in front of the Kuwaiti
embassy and at the Rihab benzene station at the entrance to Shatila demanded
through loudspeakers that we come to them. That�s how we found ourselves in
their hands. They took us to the Cite Sportiff, and the men were marched behind
us. But they took the men�s shirts off and started blindfolding them. The
Israelis interrogated the young people and the Phalange delivered about 200
more people to the Israelis. And that�s how neither my husband nor my sister�s
husband ever came back.�
Journalist Robert Fisk and others who studied these events,
concur that more slaughter was done during the 24-hour period after 8 a.m. Saturday, the hour the Israeli
Kahan Commission, which declined to interview any Palestinians, ruled that the
Israelis had stopped all the killing.
Eyewitness testimony also established that the �aid workers�
described by Zeina passed the shelter descriptions and locations to Lebanese
Forces operatives Elie Hobeika and Fadi Frem, and their ally, Major Saad Haddad
of the Israeli-allied South Lebanese Army. Thursday evening, Hobeika, de facto
commander since the assassination the week previously of Phalange leader and
President-elect Bachir Gemayel, led one of the death squads inside the killing
field of the Horst Tabet area near Abu Yassir�s shelter.
It was in eight of the 11 Israeli-located and marked
shelters that the first of the massacre victims were quickly and methodically
slaughtered. There being few perfect crimes, even in massacres, the killers
failed to find 3 of the shelters. One of the overlooked shelters was just 25
meters from Abu Yassir�s shelter. Apart from these three undiscovered hiding
places there were practically no Shatila shelter survivors.
American journalist David Lamb wrote about this first night
of butchery and the �walls of death�:
�Entire families were slain. Groups consisting of 10-20
people were lined up against walls and sprayed with bullets. Mothers died while
clutching their babies. All men appeared to be shot in the back. Five youths of
fighting age were tied to a pickup truck and dragged through the streets before
At around about 8 p.m.
on September 18 Munir Mohammad entered the crowded Abu Yassir shelter with his
mother Aida and his sisters and brothers Iman, Fadya, Mufid and Mu�in. Keeping
the relatively few camp shelters for the woman and children while the men took
their chances outside was a common practice as the massacre unfolded. But a few
men did enter to help calm their young children.
�If any of you are injured, we�ll take you to the
Munir later recalled events that night: �The killers arrived
at the door of the shelter and yelled for everyone to come out. Men who they found
were lined up against the wall outside. They were immediately machine gunned.�
As Munir watched, the killers left to kill other groups and then suddenly
returned and opened fire on everyone, and all fell to the ground. Munir lay
quietly not knowing if his mother and sisters were dead. Then he heard the
killers yelling: �If any of you are injured, we�ll take you to the hospital.
Don�t worry. Get up and you�ll see.� A few did try to get up or moaned and they
were instantly shot in the head.
Munir remembered: �Even though it was light out due to the
Israeli flares over Shatila, the killers used bright flash lights to search the
darkened corners. The killers were looking in the shadows.� Suddenly Munir�s
mother�s body seemed to shift in the mound of corpses next to him. Munir
thought she might be going to get up since the killers promised to take anyone
still alive to the hospital. Munir whispered to her: �Don�t get up mother, they�re
lying.� And Munir stayed motionless all night barely daring to breath, pretending
to be dead.
Munir could not block out the killers words. Years later, he
would repeat to this interviewer as we passed the Shatila Burial ground known
as Martyrs Square: �After they shot us, we were all down on the ground, and
they were going back and forth, and they were saying: �If any of you are still
alive, we�ll have mercy and pity and take them to the hospital. Come on, you
can tell us.� If anyone moaned, or believed them and said they needed an
ambulance, they would be rescued with shots and finished off there and then . .
. What really disturbed me wasn�t just the death all around me. I . . . didn�t
know whether my mother and sisters and brother had died. I knew most of the
people around me had died. And it�s true I was afraid of dying myself. But what
disturbed me so very much was that they were laughing, getting drunk and
enjoying themselves all night long. They threw blankets on us and left us there
till morning. All night long [Thursday the 16th) I could hear the voices of the
girls crying and screaming, �For god�s sake, leave us alone.� I mean . . . I
can�t remember how many girls they raped. The girl� voice, with their fear and
pain, I can�t ever forget them.�
The same kind of d�gag� is displayed by the half
dozen confessed militia murderers featured in German director Monika Borgmann�s
2005 film Massaker, one of
whom opined: �With hanging or shooting you just die, but this is double,�
explaining how he took an old Palestinian man and held him back against a wall,
slicing him open in the shape of a cross. �You die twice since you also die
from the fear,� he said nonchalantly describing white flesh and bone as if in a
charcuterie waiting to be served.
The killers also explained how they began a frantic rush to
dispose of as many bodies as possible before the media entered Shatila. One
testified how the Israeli army gave them large plastic trash bags to dispose of
bodies. Another confessed that they forced people into army trucks to ferry
them to Cite Sportiff where they were killed. And that they used chemicals to
destroy many of the corpses. Several mentioned that Israeli army officers
conferred with the militia�s leaders in Beirut on the eve of the massacres.
The venomous hatred persists to this day.
To this day, the Hurras al-Arz (Guardians of the Cedars)
boasts of its role in the carnage. Less than two weeks before the massacre the
party issued a call for the confiscation of all Palestinian property in
Lebanon, the outlawing of home ownership and the destruction of all refugee
The party statement of September 1, 1982 declared: �Action
must be taken to reduce the numbers of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, until
the day comes when no single Palestinian remains on our soil.�
In 1982 certain political parties referred to Palestinians
as �a bacillus which must be exterminated� and graffiti on walls read: �The
duty of every Lebanese is to kill a Palestinian��the same hatred commonly
expressed today in occupied Palestine among colonists, extremist Rabbis and
The �Guardians� call for outlawing Palestinian refugee
property ownership was indeed achieved in 2001 by a law drafted by current
Minister of Labor, who pledged on September 1, 2010 that �Parliament will never
allow Palestinian refugees the right to own property.�
The mentality that allowed the Massacre at Sabra-Shatila
1982 is largely unchanged in 2010, as Lebanon still resists the call of the
international community to grant the survivors of the Sabra-Shatila massacre
basic civil rights. Some who have studied the Arabic websites and observed
gatherings of the political parties represented at the 1982 massacre, claim the
hate language is actually worse today and is being used to stir up
Parliamentary opposition Palestinian civil rights.
During the month following the 1982 Massacre, British Dr.
Paul Morris treated Munir at Gaza Hospital approximately one kilometer north of
Abu Yassir�s shelter, and kept the youngster under observation. Dr. Morris
reported to researcher Bayan Nuwayhed al Hout (Sabra and Shatila: September
1982, Pluto Press, London, 2004)
that Munir �Will smile once in a while, but he doesn�t react spontaneously like
others of this age, except just occasionally.� Then the doctor banged on the
table, and said: �The lad has to be saved. He has to leave the camp, if only
for a while, to recover himself.�
When Munir was asked by al Hout if one day when he grew up
and would be able to carry a weapon would he consider revenge. The pre-teen
replied, replied: �No, No. I�d never think of revenge by killing children. The
way they killed us. What did the children do wrong?�
Munir�s 15 year old brother Mufid was among the first to
enter Abu Yassir�s shelter, but he left and later appeared at Akka Hoppital
with a gunshot wound. After being bandaged he left the hospital to seek safety
and his family. No one has seen him since and for a long time Munir could not
even mention him.
According to camp residents, Munir�s older brother, Nabil,
then 19 years old, being of fighting age would have been shot on sight by the
killers. Aware of this, Nabil�s cousin and his cousin�s wife fled with him as
the Israeli shelling increased and camp residents reported indiscriminate
killing. The trio dodged sniper bullets to seek refuge in a nursing home where
his aunt worked. Like Munir, Nabil soon learned that his mother and siblings
were all dead.
Now in America, both Munir and Nabil are leading relatively �normal
lives� considering the horror and lost family they experienced while escaping
death at Sabra-Shatila. Munir and Nabil have become a credit to Shatila camp,
to Palestine and to their adopted country. Residing in the Washington DC area,
Munir is married and busy with his career. Nabil is devoting his life to
advocacy for peace and justice in the Middle East, working with an NGO. Both
brothers return to Shatila camp regularly.
Also apparently living �normal lives� are the six �Christian�
militia killers featured in Borgmann�s film Massaker. �They are all living ordinary lives. One of them is a taxi
driver,� Borgmann explains.
As is well known, the massacres at Sabra-Shatila were
undeniable war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Each killing was
a violation of international laws enshrined in the Fourth Geneva Convention,
International Customary Law and jus cogens. Similar massive crimes have seen
charges brought against Rwandan officials, Chile�s ex-president, General
Augusto Pinochet, Chad�s former president, Hissein Habre, former Serbian
President Slobodan Milosevic, Liberia�s Taylor and Sudan�s Bachir.
No one has been punished or even investigated for the
Sabra-Shatila massacre. On March 28, 1991, Lebanon�s Parliament retroactively
exempted the killers from criminal responsibility. However, this law has no
standing in international law and the international community remains legally
obligated to punish those responsible. The victims and their families of the
Sabra-Shatila massacre as well as virtually all human rights organizations
including but not limited to Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the
Humanitarian Law Project, strenuously oppose blanket amnesty for the killers.
They argue that the 1991 violates Lebanon�s constitution, as well as
international law and promotes impunity for heinous crimes.
It was precisely to achieve justice for the victims of
crimes such as Sabra-Shatila that the International Criminal Court was
established. The ICC must begin its work without further delay and all people
of goodwill must encourage Lebanon to grant the survivors of the Sabra-Shatila
Massacre basic civil rights.
* Franklin Lamb
is Director, Americans Concerned for Middle East Peace, Beirut-Washington DC,
Board Member of The Sabra Shatila Foundation, and a volunteer with the
Palestine Civil Rights Campaign, Lebanon. He is the author of The Price We Pay:
A Quarter-Century of Israel�s Use of American Weapons Against Civilians in
Lebanon and is doing research in Lebanon for his next book. He can be reached