Search This Blog

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Remembering Sabra and Shatila

It has been 30 years today (16 September 2012), since Christian militia massacred up to 3,500 Palestinian civilians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon. Israeli Minister of Defense, Ariel Sharon was found personally responsible by an Israeli Commission of Inquiry, but was never punished.

The camps housed refugees who had fled Palestine during the 1948 war, and later those who were driven from Jordan in 1970 by King Hussein, in which thousands of Palestinians were massacred in what became known as 'Black September'. Hussein, with pressure from Israel, had decided to drive Palestinians from Jordan following a number of attacks and aircraft hijackings by Palestinian militants. These attacks and hijackings were in retaliation for attacks on Palestinians by Israel and Jordan.

For years, Israel had been fighting with the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO). Israel claims that they were seeking peace and that the PLO had been instigating acts of terror. The opposite was true. For years, the Israelis had been provoking the Palestinians while rejecting every offer of peace put forward.

Additionally, Christian Phalangists had a history of attacking the Palestinians. In April 1975, a bus carrying Palestinian refugees from the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps was attacked by Phalangists, killing 27. On 6 December 1975 (now known as 'Black Saturday'), 200 muslims were taken hostage and murdered by Christian Phalangists, supposedly in response to the murder of four Phalangist militiamen by Muslims. On 18 January 1976, Christians massacred up to 1,500 Palestinian, Kurd and Syrian Muslims in the Karantina slum. Later that year, Phalangists blockaded the refugee camps preventing supplies reaching the inhabitants. (1) 

Israel makes much of attacks by the PLO and other militants, but does not mention the attacks on innocent Palestinians. It does not mention its sustained oppression and bombings of Palestinians in Palestine, Israel, Jordan and Lebanon.

In June 1982, the Israeli army bombed refugee camps in Beirut, reducing many to rubble. The Sabra, Shatila and Bourj el-Brajneh refugee camps sustained heavy bombardment. There were deliberate attacks on two hospitals, killing hundreds of people, including children. Eight of the nine Homes for Orphans were targetted and destroyed. Phosphorous bombs were used in the attacks by Israel, causing severe burns to the victims. Survivors were left in severe pain and were permanently scarred. Many did not survive.

Israel had declared that the refugee camps not only harboured terrorists, but that all Palestinians were terrorists: men, women and children. Therefore instead of attempting to capture one or two who may have committed crimes and taking them to trial, the Israelis felt justified in holding all guilty and issuing an excessive collective punishment which violated international law.

The Israeli bombardment lasted weeks and drove at least half of the 125,000 refugees from the settlements. Israel bull-dozed what was still standing in some of the refugee camps. During this time, Israel deliberately prevented medical supplies and food from being sent into the refugees. (2) 

During 1982, Lebanon was being ripped apart by an ongoing civil war and was occupied by both Israel and Syria. On 23  August 1982, Bachir Gemayel, a Christian Phalangist, was elected President of Lebanon. On 14 September 1982, he was assassinated and 26 others killed, when the Phalangist headquarters was bombed. The Lebanese wrongly blamed the Palestinians.

The Israel Army, in their pursuit of the PLO, had surrounded the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in Beirut. The Israelis controlled access to the camps. They checked everyone who entered and exited. They had the camps under constant surveillance. When the Phalangists came looking for revenge for the assassination of Gemayel, it was the Israeli Army who let them in. For three days, the Israelis watched as the Phalangists brutally murdered innocent men, women and children. Witnesses tell of mothers nursing their babies as the militia stormed their dwellings, and shot the babies dead. Of children being murdered in front of their parents, or parents being murdered in front of their children. This was no military operation attempting to find suspects in a crime, this was a cold-blooded, calculated war crime. Bulldozers were used to scoop up bodies and dump them in mass graves. (3)

It was later found that the assassination had been carried out by Habib Tanious Shartouni, a Lebanese Maronite (Christian) who was affiliated with the Syrian Social Nationalist Party.

On 28 September 1982, the Israeli government established the Kahan 'Commission of Inquiry into the Events at the Refugee Camps in Beirut'. On 8 February 1983, the Inquiry handed down its findings, which held that the Phalangists were directly responsible. The Inquiry found that Israeli Minister of Defense, Ariel Sharon, 'bore personal responsibility' for 'ignoring the danger of blood-shed and revenge', by allowing the Phalangists into the camps and then ignoring the massacre as the Israelis stood by and watched without taking any steps to stop it. The inquiry recommended that Sharon be dismissed as Minister of Defense. Sharon refused to leave the post. (4)

The massacre at Sabra and Shatila is just one of many attrocities committed directly or indirectly by Israel against Palestinians. These massacres form part of Israel's coordinated and long-term plan to completely take over the Palestinian territories and drive Arabs from the area, or annihilate those who remain. It is nothing short of genocide.

We can't just say that it happened 30 years ago and people need to move on. It is still happening today. (5) In 2002, hundreds of Israeli soldiers attacked the Jenin and Nablus refugee camps using tanks and helicopter-launched missiles, killing an unknown number of people. Israel refused to allow the UN to investigate allegations of a massacre, so the subsequent report was based on advice from Israelis, Palestinians and various aid agencies. (6) In 2006, Israel attacked Gaza with phospherous bombs, depleted uranium and Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME), killing more than 1400 Palestinians, injuring more than 5,000, destroying 4,000 homes and leaving 400,000 without water. (7)

Were these atrocities committed by Muslims, the world would be horrified and the entire religion would be vilified. Instead, the atrocities have been committed by Israelis and Lebanese Christian militia. No-one blames the entire Jewish or Christian religions for these atrocities. The United States continues to fund and arm the Israeli government even though numerous inquiries and UN resolutions have been issued against Israel for breaches of the Geneva Convention. Many Christians throughout the world support Israel based on an interpretation of biblical prophecy, without holding Israel to account.

The genocide has to stop. Western governments and conservative religious and political groups need to stop their blind support of Israel and their blind and naive hatred of Palestinians, if peace is to have a chance in the Middle East.

Recognising and understanding the terrible atrocities committed against the Palestinians is just the first step towards peace, respect and human rights.


1. Noam Chomsky, 'Fateful Triangle', pp 184-185, Pluto Press, 1991.

2. ibid, p197, pp223-226
3. ibid, pp362-375.
4. Karz-Cohl, 'The Beirut Massacre: The Complete Kahan Commission Report'.
5. Ilan Pappé, 'The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine', Oneworld, 2006
6. 'UN report on Jenin massacre flawed', ABC Radio National, 4 August 2002, reporter Peter Cave. (accessed 16 September 2012)
7. 'RIP Victims of Operation Cast Lead - 27 December 2008',

Further reading

Further comment on the invasion of Palestine, the legitimacy of Palestinians, the human rights violations of Israel and the misinterpretation of biblical scripture, refer to these articles at the Ranting Panda blog:

No comments:

Post a Comment