38th anniversary of Sabra and Shatila massacre brings back horrifying memories for Palestinians

38th anniversary of Sabra and Shatila massacre brings back horrifying memories for Palestinians
Palestinian survivors of the Sabra and Shatila massacre still remember the horrible events of 16th September 1982, in which up to 3,500 people were killed by Israel’s Lebanese militia allies.
5 min read
17 September, 2020
Hundreds of Palestinians were murdered in the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre [Getty]

Palestinians on Thursday marked the anniversary of the horrific Sabra and Shatila massacre which took place in Beirut 38 years ago.

On 16th September 1982, Israeli-allied militiamen from the right-wing Lebanese Christian Kataeb Party and the South Lebanon Army stormed the Sabra and Shatila Palestinan refugee camps in west Beirut and killed up to 3,500 people.

The memory of the massacre, which lasted for three days, remains a source of great pain for the Palestinian and Lebanese civilians who survived it.

It took place during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon which aimed to destroy the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as a military force. This invasion was one chapter in Lebanon’s complex 1975-1990 Civil War, which tore the country apart on sectarian and ideological lines.

Eyewitnesses living in the two Palestinian refugee camps said that the massacre began just before sunset on the 16th September, when the Israeli army, which had recently occupied Beirut, imposed a tight siege on the camps to ease the entry of its Lebanese militia allies.

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Estimates of the number of victims vary between 750 and 3,500. Most of the victims were Palestinian refugees, while others impoverished Lebanese living in the camps. The Lebanese Civil War started with fighting between the PLO and militiamen from the Kataeb Party, which is also known as the Phalange.

Today approximately 12,000 people live in the Sabra and Shatila camps. There are ten other Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and the total number of Palestinians in the country is estimated at between 174,000 and 450,000.

They are the descendants of Palestinians who fled their homeland in 1948, when Zionist militias expelled the vast majority of the Palestinian population prior to the creation of Israel.

Palestinians in Lebanon are still deprived of many political and civil rights. They are not permitted to own property and there are heavy restrictions on their employment.

Remembering the massacre

Remembering the Sabra and Shatila massacre, Abu Mohammed Al-Salhani, a 97-year-old Palestinian refugee told the Anadolu news agency, “Its horrors, its pain, and its atrocity cast a shadow on our souls. We will never forget because suffering is never forgotten.”

Al-Salhani lost his best friend, Abu Ahmed Al-Said, in the massacre and today remembers the time he spent with him.

I used to stay with my friend Abu Ahmed. When I’d come back from my work I would go and visit him. He was the dearest person to me – he was a leader and an example for the whole camp.”

Al-Salhani told Anadolu that the Israel-allied Lebanese militiamen knew exactly who they wanted to kill.

The agents used to call people by their names, and when they answered, they would shoot them with guns equipped with silencers.

They killed everyone who they found in this street,” he added, referring to the street where he lives, “They carried on with the massacre for three days night and day. People ran away from here. We can never forget this pain.”

Using trickery to kill people

After Israel besieged and ruthlessly bombed West Beirut in 1982, PLO fighters agreed to leave West Beirut under a deal brokered by the United States in August of that year. The Sabra and Shatila camps were left defenceless as a result.

Also in August, Bachir Gemayel, the head of the Kataeb Party, was elected President of Lebanon by the Lebanese parliament. However, on September 14 he was assassinated. Although his assassin was a Lebanese member of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, the Kataeb militia blamed the Palestinians and used it as a pretext to carry out the horrific massacre in the undefended camp.

A 45-year-old Palestinian refugee called Abu Bakr told Anadolu that the Kataeb militiamen used trickery to gain access to Palestinian houses.

They used to knock on someone’s door, tricking them by saying their neighbour’s name. Before they killed that person they used to ask him the name of his other neighbour. They then killed him and his family and move on to the next house and so on.”

Abu Bakr, who was only seven at the time, managed to escape the camps with his parents, siblings, and grandfather, seeking shelter in a school nearby.

Trying to get rid of the Palestinians and their cause’

Another Palestinian refugee, who chose to remain anonymous, gave a horrific account of one of the atrocities committed.

There was a man called Abu Mohammed Al-Dokhi, who used to own a small shop selling fuel. They would take out the fuel oil in syringes and inject it into his leg. It was absolutely terrifying.

They wanted to get rid of the Palestinians and their cause, and they wanted revenge for the [civil] war which began in 1975 when Palestinians and the Kataeb fought each other,” he told Anadolu.

The anonymous refugee, however, added that most Palestinians played no role in the Lebanese civil war.

“There are people with a grudge against the Palestinian people even though we had nothing to do with this. We were forced to come to Lebanon and we’d go back to Palestine tomorrow if we’re allowed to go back. We didn’t come here to occupy Lebanon.”

He said, however, that he would always remember the 1982 massacre.

“We cannot forget this massacre. So many women and children died, they had no mercy on anyone.”

In 1983 the Israeli Knesset’s Kahan Commission of Inquiry into the massacre found Ariel Sharon, who was then the Defence Minister of Israel, personally responsible for the massacre and he was forced to resign. However, in 2001 he became Prime Minister of Israel, remaining in office for five years and overseeing the suppression of the second Palestinian Intifada. He died in 2014.

Among Israel’s Lebanese militia allies, Elie Hobeika, who later became a cabinet minister and was killed in a car bomb in 2002, and Fadi Frem have been accused of command responsibility for the massacre.

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