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…)