29 years later, horror of Sabra + Shatila massacres in Beirut lingers, grief endures

As we wrote in our post last year, here, which we published on 18 September 1982, the day the world found out what had been going on for at least the previous 48 hours:

The horror simply does not disappear.
That there are other horrors in the world does not in any way diminish what happened 28 years ago in Sabra + Shatila, where massacres took place in two undefended Palestinian refugee camps in west Beirut. It was, indeed, “one of the most horrific crimes of the 20th century” …

A good part of last year’s post relied on the accounts, including eye-witness reports gathered by Leila Shahid with Linda Butler, published here in the Journal of Palestine Studies.

It is a matter of public and historical record that Phalangist forces carried out the massacre in revenge for the assassination of their leader, Bachir Gemayel, on 14 September. Israeli officers consulted with Phalangist forces hours prior to their entry into the camp. The massacres were carried out while Israeli soldiers were stationed on the roof of an adjacent building which had a clear view of what went on in at least part of the area. Israeli forces fired flares to provide illumination through the first night that Phalangist forces were in the camp. An Israeli journalist went personally from Beirut back to Israel to speak directly to Israel’s then-Defense Minister to tell him what was going on in the camps. And, an Israeli commission of inquiry later found that Israel’s then-Defense Minister, Ariel Sharon, bore personal responsibility. Sharon was obliged to resign. [[I was one of three journalists who covered the subsequent trial of his lawsuit in NYC against TIME Magazine and CBS Television’s 60 Minutes for a report, which Sharon won, based on a dossier filed by David Halevy to Time Magazine that was judged faulty because of a leap of logic or assumption.]] Sharon later became Prime Minister.

The massacres were carried out after Sharon led IDF troops up to and encircled PLO leader Yasser Arafat in Beirut in June 1982. Weeks of heavy bombardment with all kinds of terrible weaponry designed to kill Arafat were used. The UN Security Council was in near-continuous consultations or meetings.

Finally, it was arranged for Arafat and PLO fighters to evacuate Beirut aboard Greek ferryboats under the UN flag. The evacuation began on 23 August.

Because the PLO fighters feared they were leaving their compatriots, friends and families undefended, American guarantees of protection were given, and American and French naval ships were stationed off the Lebanese coast.

Still, the massacre took place, over more than 48 hours, without intervention.

Sabra + Shatila massacre – 28 years ago today

It was, indeed, “one of the most horrific crimes of the 20th century” …

Franklin Lamb wrote in an article published in The Daily Star [Lebanon] yesterday that “The untreated psychic wounds are still open. Accountability, justice and basic civil rights for the survivors are still denied”.

Lamb writes in that article, and in an earlier one we reported on yesterday here, that the massacre in the refugee camp took place from 16 to 18 September, 1982.

But, he says in both of these pieces that there is evidence of a continuing massacre of camp residents the next day, on 19 September, which took place in the Cite Sportive, where people who had been rounded up from inside the camp had been transported.

According to Lamb, a number of journalists “concur that more slaughter was done during the 24 hour period after 8 am Saturday [18 September], the hour the Israeli Kahan Commission, which declined to interview any Palestinians, ruled that the Israelis had stopped all the killing”. This Daily Star article is posted here.

The slaughter of unarmed Palestinian (and some Lebanese) residents of the refugee camp is blamed on the Lebanese Forces.

Israeli Army officers were stationed on rooftops overlooking the camp. The Israeli forces are accused of assisting their then-allies, the Lebanese Forces, by cordoning off the camp — and of not intervening to stop what some of them saw — and heard — was happening inside the camp 28 years ago this weekend.

Israel’s then-Defense Minister Ariel Sharon had raced his troops north to encircle the Lebanese capital in order to end, after a nearly two-month siege, what was called a “Palestinian state-within-a-state” led by the late Yasser Arafat, who had finally agreed to be evacuated with all his fighters by sea, “under a UN umbrella”, some two weeks before the massacre.

The Palestinian refugee camps were left utterly defenseless.

An Israeli commission of inquiry found that Sharon bore “personal responsibility” for inaction during the massacre. He resigned from his post soon afterwards — but his career in Israeli politics was far from finished [Sharon succeeded Ehud Barak as Israel’s Prime Minister in early 2001].

There was, however, never any UN commission of inquiry, or special tribunal…

Today’s edition of The Daily Star reports on a seminar on the Sabra + Shatila massacre that was held yesterday in the Commodore Hotel in Beirut: “Representatives of several Lebanese and Palestinian groups along with human rights activists convened in a seminar entitled ‘Where Have the Legal Pursuits in the Sabra and Shatila Massacres Reached?‘, that was held in Le Meridian Commodore hotel in Beirut … [Lebanon’s] Information Minister Tarek Mitri, who attended on behalf of Prime Minister Saad Hariri, called for revealing the truth regarding the events during Lebanon’s bloody 1975-90 Civil War ‘but without falling in today’s disputes, a continuation of the past’s wars’. He said the memory could only be cured by ’emphasizing historical reality through legal tools and values … along with confessions and apologies. We are interested today … to stress historical reality with its facts and documented testimonies and renew demands for examining it justly’, the minister added”. This report is posted here.

There was a long and bloody history of sectarian terror and massacres in Lebanon during the period that the Information Minister mentioned. And Palestinians — who had sought refuge in Lebanon from the war surrounding the creation of Israel in 1948 until the Black September suppression of Palestinian activists by King Hussein in Jordan in 1970 — were involved in some of those horrors. sometimes as victims, and at other times as victimizers.

In all cases, it was called “taking revenge”…

This is the main reason why, at the Camp David talks in late July 2000 hosted by then-U.S. President Bill Clinton (involving Arafat and Israel’s then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak, now Israel’s Defense Minister and in complete charge of the West Bank and its 2.8 million Palestinians and some 500,000 Israeli settlers), Arafat and his delegation said that the situation of some 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon should be handled first, as a matter of top priority.

Sabra + Shatila massacre – 28 years on

It was, as Franklin Lamb has written, “one of the most horrific crimes of the 20th century”

After the evacuation from Beirut [on a Greek ship, under a “UN umbrella”] of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) fighters along with their leader, the late Yasser Arafat, some of those left behind — those in Sabra + Shatila, a crowded Palestinian refugee camp on the southern outskirts of Beirut — were massacred over a two-day period while a few journalists and international medical workers tried to alert the world.

By the time anyone paid any attention, the killing was all but over, and only the bloated bodies remained.

An Israeli commission of inquiry concluded that Ariel Sharon, then Israel’s Defense Minister, who had led the Israeli Army out of its enclave in southern Lebanon in a rapid advance north to the Beirut, and then surrounded it, demanding — between the terror of massive bombings and announced attempts to assassinate Arafat (who, unaccountably, escaped) — that Arafat must cease hiding “behind the skirts of Lebanese civilians”.

Sharon’s assault on the eastern part of the Lebanese capital was apparently not authorized in advance by the Israeli cabinet [though then-Prime Minister, Menahim Begin, was informed of Sharon’s plan].

Israel accused the PLO of being behind a number of cross-border attacks, but it was reportedly an attempted assassination against Israel’s then-Ambassador to London [Shlomo Argov] which became the justification for Sharon’s massive reprisal.

[The Israeli diplomat was shot in the head and seriously wounded.  He needed nursing care for the remainder of his life, and died of his injuries in 2003.    The Abu Nidal organization, headed by a Palestinian mercenary, was reportedly hired for this assignment by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who was reportedly furious with the PLO’s Arafat at the time for trying to mediate the Iran-Iraq war.  Saddam believed that all Arabs ought to have totally backed Iraq in that war…]

Sharon (who remains on life support in a long-term care facility in Israel following a stroke in 2006) later — successfully — sued CBS Television and Time Magazine [in 1985], in for libel for reporting that he was directly involved in the Sabra + Shatila massacre.

Sharon prevailed.  [I  was one of only three journalists who attended and monitored that libel trial on a regular basis — and,  for lack of a babysitter, I sometimes had to bring my one-year-old son with me to court…]

Sharon won his libel suit because the court, upon examination, became convinced that Israeli researcher David Halevy had overstated his argument, without sufficient proof, of Sharon’s involvement in the massacre. Halevy’s notes, submitted as a research file to Time Magazine, were later written up by an editor; the subsequent published Time Magazine article was then cited as the source for a report by Mike Wallace on CBS News’ 60 Minutes Program.

Franklin Lamb, an American author of the book The Price We Pay: A Quarter-Century of Israel’s Use of American Weapons Against Civilians in Lebanon, is also as well as Director, Americans Concerned for Middle East Peace, Beirut-Washington DC, as well as Board Member of The Sabra Shatila Foundation, and a volunteer with the Palestine Civil Rights Campaign He was recently in Lebanon doing research for a new book, and compiled this account recalling what happened in Sabra + Shatila:

THE SHELTERS AND THE “AID WORKERS” – in horrifying detail

“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 … Locating the 11 ‘walls of death’ requires help from the few older Palestinians who still live in this quarter … Zeina [last name not given, who reportedly lost her husband and two daughters during the massacre] 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 … 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 … 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 8 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”…


“Munir Mohammad was 12 years old on September 16, 1982 …

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 … 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’ …

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 … 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 … Now in America, both Munir and Nabil are leading relatively ‘normal lives’ … Both brothers return to Shatila camp regularly”…

Franklin Lamb’s recounting of the Sabra + Shatila massacre, 28 years ago, on the outskirts of Beirut is published here .  (Thanks to Seham on mondoweiss…)

Mitchell due in Israel today – Netanyahu announces big speech coming this week

Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has announced he will make a big speech this week [UPDATE: at the beginning of next week, Netanyahu’s office confirmed this evening.  FURTHER UPDATE: It will be delivered on Sunday at Bar-Ilan University, as Obama’s speech was delivered at Cairo University. And, by the way, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal will also deliver a speech from Damascus in the coming days, which will reportedly come after Netanyahu’s big speech, but which is also supposed to be a response to Obama].  Netanyahu has said he will present Israel’s idea for “peace”.

Maybe it will even be an “initiative”.

Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar has said, as reported earlier here, that the main Israeli objection to the Arab Peace Initiative is its name. 

Yes, really.

Now, after provoking most of the world into a tizzy by [rather recently] refusing to endorse a two-state solution, analysis and multiple leaks to the media suggest that Netanyahu believes he has gotten the American administration to agree to some kind of less-than-state for the Palestinians.  The model mentioned today is Andorra (no longer Hong Kong or Singapore, or even Switzerland).

Netanyahu may want an “initiative” to supersede the 2003 Road Map.

Members of Netanyahu’s new government have spoken against the Road Map, but voices are now being heard extolling the advantages of this document to which former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon affixed some 13 or 14 reservations.

Even though Phase I has not been fulfilled in the six years since the Road Map was launched in 2003, the supposed benefits of Phase II, which calls for the establishment of a Palestinian “State” with provisional — not final — borders, are now coming under renewed examination.

(In addition, Phase II also calls for the Palestinian “State” to take its full place in the United Nations, where it is at presented only represented by an “Observer” mission.)

Over the weekend, interesting reports in the Israeli media suggested that Mitchell might push for an immediate designation of “provisional” borders. which would be in accordance with the Road Map’s Phase II (and should therefore accordingly accompany the creation of a Palestinian state), in order to know where settlement activity would be legal or not.

The notion that agreement on borders would clarify settlement activities originated in the Bush administration during the 2008 Annapolis process of negotiations, and was publicly articulated by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezzaa Rice. However, she did not mention “provisional” borders — which is something that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has firmly opposed.

Continue reading Mitchell due in Israel today – Netanyahu announces big speech coming this week

A New Year's Day message from Gaza

This SMS from Gaza arrived on a friend’s mobile in Ramallah this morning:

“Look Outside…
F-16s SMILING For you
ABATSHE [Apache = U.S.-made Helicopters] Dancing for you
ZANANA [Israeli pilotless drones] Singing for you
Because I requested them All to wish you

The recipient in Ramallah called his friend, the sender, in Gaza, and demanded, laughing: “What more could you ask for?”…

This is Palestinian humor, he said.

Meanwhile, on the sixth day of Israel’s unprecedented attack on Palestinians today, it has just been reported that Hamas has sent text messages to Israeli cell phones, reading: “Rockets on all cities, shelters will not protect you, Qassam rocket, Hamas”.

Indeed, rockets and missiles fired from Gaza have hit a 60-kilometer radius in Israel this morning, from Ashdod (23 miles up the Mediterranean coast from Gaza) to Beersheeva (28 miles east into Israel’s Negev desert). Within minutes of what was reported as a Grad [Katuysha] missile attack on a building in Ashdod, it was then reported that the IDF had just attacked and destroyed the “terror cell responsible for firing Grad”.

And, on the first day of the new year, Israeli air attacks continue on targets in Gaza — including the Palestinian Legislative Council headquarters in Gaza. An IDF spokesperson’s statement this morning reported that the building houses “Hamas’ Ministry of Justice and Legislative Assembly, both situated in the Tel El-Hawwa government complex. Hamas Government sites serve as a critical component of the terrorist groups’ infrastructure in Gaza.”

The IDF also reported these other targets were hit: “Over five smuggling tunnels along the ‘Philadelphi Route’ [along the Gaza-Egypt border] used by Hamas to smuggle arms and terrorists in and out of Gaza; a weaponry manufacturing and storage facility in central Gaza, under which a tunnel had been dug; a command center of Hamas’ police force in Rafah, as a well as a Hamas coastal authority outpost on the shore adjacent to Gaza City. In addition, the Israel Navy targeted a number of Hamas outposts and rocket launching grounds”.

An IDF update a short while later reported that a number of other targets were also struck today (and it is now only 2p.m. in Jerusalem and Gaza):
“Among them, was the house of Muhamad Fuad Barhud (a senior terror operative in the Resistance Committees) in Jabaliya. Barhud is responsible for the wide array of Grad and Qassam rockets, as well as mortar shells, that are in the northern Gaza Strip, and is funded and supported by Hamas. Among other locations, his house was used as a storage site for various weapons including anti tank missiles, rockets, and explosive devices used by both, the Resistance Committees and Hamas.
The house of another terror operative, Hasin Drairy, was also attacked in the Sabra (northern Gaza Strip). The house was used as a storage site for rockets and mortar shells. The house was also used as a lathe for rocket manufacturing. In addition, a weapon storage facility was attacked in the house of Taufik Abu Ras. Abu Ras is a Hamas terror operative from A-Nusseirat. His house also served as a manufacturing laboratory and a storage site for a wide array of weaponry, including rockets and explosive devices. More than twenty targets were attacked since this morning including weapons storage facilities, rocket launching sites, Hamas terror operatives, and a tunnel used by Hamas. The IDF operation is continuing and will go on for as long as necessary”.

Earlier this week, Gazans reported receiving text messages in Arab from Israel warning them that their homes will be attacked if they are near Hamas targets, or if they keep weapons in their homes.

A demonstration in solidarity with Gaza was called for noon in Ramallah’s central Manara Square. New Year’s eve parties were largely cancelled in Ramallah because of the attacks in Gaza.

Last night, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made an address in which he called off negotiations with Israel — something the chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmad Qurei’a did earlier in the week — Abbas just waited until almost the last possible minute of the last day of 2008 — the deadline, sort-of, set by the Annapolis Conference on 27 November 2007 for a process of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations that was supposed to lead to the establishment of a Palestinian State in 2008 (or, as later amended, by the end final day of the Bush Administration on 20 January 2009…) Abbas also swore to do his best to protect the Pa

Comparisons have been made between the present Israeli offensive in Gaza and the 2006 war Israel waged against Hizballah in Lebanon, that was vastly destructive of a Shi’a quarter in south Beirut, and of civilian infrastructure throughout the southern part of the country.

But the 2006 war was against a Lebanese Shi’a organization — though one that had just acted to support Gazan fighters who had a few days earlier seized IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit in a cross-border raid near Kerem Shalom, Israel’s preferred border crossing, near the Palestinian international airport it destroyed not once but twice.

A better comparison might be made, for those who still remember such things, with Israel’s full-force 1982 invasion of Lebanon, led by Ariel Sharon, who had an unclear mandate from the Israeli government and appeared to be acting mainly on his own instincts. After brushing the UN force in south Lebanon, UNIFIL, aside with not much more than a wave of the hand, Sharon’s men headed straight for Beirut, which was then the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) “capital within a capital” and the stronghold for Yasser Arafat.

The IDF encircled and strangled East Beirut for weeks — though the situation is no comparison to the Israeli-military-administered blockade of Gaza for the past year. And they bombarded every day, introducing weapons that imploded multi-story apartment buildings in on themselves, killing all occupants, in what they indicated were attempts to assassinate Arafat. Then they accused Arafat and the PLO of hiding behind the skirts of civilians …

For at least two years prior to the 1982 full-force invasion, the IDF conducted regular air raids and bombing attacks on Lebanon, particularly on Beirut.

I was there during one such period in the spring of 1980. During a three-week period, it was impossible to move because of the frightening daily air attacks on Beirut. The airport was closed, and there was no exit. I was invited to dinner a family’s apartment in what I recall was an 8-story (though it was possibly 10 stories) building in the central Palestinian area, around Arafat’s Beirut offices. The wife had prepared stuffed grape leaves. We were all sitting around the table, when a severe bombing attack began. “Don’t you move to the bomb shelter in the basement during these attacks”, I asked cautiously. The wife and husband looked at each other, and at their two young kids. Then, she replied: “The basement is full of ammunition. If this building is hit, we all go straight to God”. And we continued the meal.

It was one of the most delicious meals ever.