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The Massacre of Sabra and Shatila
The Massacre of Sabra and Shatila
“You should be ashamed. The situation is absolutely appalling. They’re killing children! You have the eld completely under your control and are therefore responsible for that area.1”
(US Envoy Morris Droper to Ariel Sharon, September 1982)
“Born of the union of a great spirit and a big heart, let him take his place in the history of Israel, with pride”. 2
(Quartet Representative Tony Blair’s Eulogy at Ariel Sharon’s Funeral, January 2014)
Israel’s attacks against civilians are nothing new. In the years leading up to and including the Nakba, catastrophe, of 1948, over 70% of the Palestinian people were forcibly expelled after a stream of terror attacks and massacres were committed by Zionist/Israeli militias. The long list of crimes includes the infamous massacres in Deir Yassin, Tantoura, Lydda, Al Dawayima, Sa’sa and Abu Shusha. As part of its campaign to spread terror in an effort to ethnically cleanse Palestine of its Christian and Muslim population, these militias bombed the Semiramis Hotel in Katamon (now West Jerusalem) on Christmas Eve, bombed the King David Hotel, assassinated the UN Mediator Count Folke Bernadotte and bombed strategic places such as Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem and the markets of Haifa and Jaffa. At least 15,000 Palestinians were killed and nearly 800,000 became refugees. As a consequence of their criminal actions, these terrorist militias were awarded the State of Israel on the homeland of the Palestinian people. On this day, and in the wake of Israel’s most recent massacre in Gaza, we mark the anniversary of another of the most heinous massacres against the Palestinian people, perpetrated with impunity, and for which Israel bears responsibility – the massacre at Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in 1982.
On June 6th, 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon, imposing a siege over Beirut were the PLO was housed. After 88 days of a draconian siege, where Israeli forces killed thousands of Lebanese and Palestinians, the Lebanese Progressive Forces and the PLO accepted a US-brokered agreement in order to stop the fighting. The agreement stipulated the safe evacuation of Palestinian troops as well as the presence of a multinational force to ensure the security of Palestinian refugees remaining in Lebanon.
On September 1st, the last Palestinian troops evacuated Beirut. By September 14th, Israeli troops commanded by Ariel Sharon had invaded West Beirut (where the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra, Shatila and Burj Barajneh were located) in violation of the ceasefire agreement. Soon after taking over West Beirut, Sharon claimed that “2000 Palestinian fighters” remained in the camps of Sabra and Shatila. The other Israeli cabinet leaders involved in the decision to break the ceasefire agreement were the Prime Minister Menachem Begin (responsible for the massacre of Deir Yassin in 1948 and served as Prime Minister of Israel from 1977 to 1983) and Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir (who authorized the assassination of Count Bernadotte in 1948 and served as Prime Minister of Israel from 1983 to 1984, and again from 1986 to 1992). By September 16th, with all of Beirut under full Israeli control. Israel’s Chief of Staff General Rafael Eitan announced
“the whole city is in our hands, complete quiet prevails now, the camps are closed and surrounded, the Phalangists are to go in at 12:00-11:00. Yesterday we spoke to them (…) the situation now is that the entire city is in our hands, the camps are all closed.3"
Soon afterwards, Israeli forces imposed checkpoints and set observation points in buildings around the camps. Instead of protecting Palestinian civilians within its sphere of control, as was its duty as occupier, General Sharon prevented Palestinians from leaving their camps. He ordered his troops to take full control over the area and for the Falange troops to enter the Palestinian refugee camps, opening the checkpoints and providing them with transportation. During the night, Israeli troops fired illuminating flares over the camps to facilitate the action of their allies inside the camps. It was the first day of a massacre that would last until September 18th, and evidence would suggest even longer. The international commitment to protect Palestinian civilians with a Multinational Force was violated and the consequences were suffered by the civilians left in the Palestinian refugee camps.
Reports about the brutality of the massacre soon came out. By September 18th, international media reports, began to describe the horrifying scenes from the camps which were documented by the Red Cross and UN officials. The reports included images of people executed, mutilated and sexually abused as well as several accounts of the crimes committed in the camp that after three days were finally made known. It was clear that the “2000 PLO fighters” that Sharon claimed to be in the camps never existed. Instead, a similar number of bodies of women, children and elderly were found. Between 2000 and 3000 Palestinians were killed during these days alone.
It has been more than a quarter of a century since these crimes of concern to the entire international community were perpetrated against the people of the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. In the aftermath, five non-judicial commissions of enquiry were created to look into the events, including one Israeli commission. All of the commissions implicated Israeli officials at the highest levels. To date, none of the perpetrators have been brought to justice.
From Deir Yassin, to Sabra and Shatila and Gaza
When in July 2014, Israeli Forces began a massive attack on the Occupied Gaza Strip, the magnitude of the killings brought back memories of other massacres committed against Palestinians 4, including Deir Yassin as well as Sabra and Shatila. In 1948, Israeli leaders, including Israel’s then-Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, agreed that the massacre of Deir Yassin was a decisive factor in the forced displacement of Palestinians . The crimes committed during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 aimed at eliminating the PLO as well as reducing the Palestinian presence in Lebanon. The latest Israeli crimes in Gaza are part of a systematic policy targeting civilians, including various kinds of collective punishment against Palestinian population. This policy is intended to frighten the Palestinians into relinquishing their rights and persistence to resist the occupying State of Israel until all their national and just demands are attained, including the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to live in freedom and in dignity.
The Massacre of Sabra and Shatila is a reminder of the international community’s failure to hold Israel to account for its heinous crimes against the Palestinian people, which continue to be perpetrated with impunity to this day.
In fact, for Israel, it is business as usual. The State continues to enjoy arms trade, free trade and other cooperation agreements with much of the rest of the international community of states. We have great admiration for those few brave and honorable States who have taken a stand, however small, understanding that the responsibility to protect against such atrocities as those committed by Israel against innocent civilians is part and parcel of responsible statehood and basic humanity.
- 1. Seth Anzika “A Preventable Massacre” in New York Times, September 2012 16, available at http://www.nytimes.com/17/09/2012/opinion/a-preventable-massacre.html?pa...
- 2. Quartet Representative Tony Blair’s Eulogy at Ariel Sharon’s Memorial Service, available at http://www.haaretz.co.il/st/inter/Heng/news/images/Tony20%Blair's20%speech.pdf
- 3. Malone, Linda “The Kahan Report, Ariel Sharon and the Sabra-Shatila Massacres in Lebanon: Responsibility Under International Law for Massacres of Civilian Populations” (1985) Faculty Publications. Paper 587. P 387.
- 4. Morris, Benny (2008) 1948 Yale University Press: London. P 128.