Its time to end the Israeli culture of impunity that permitted the Sabra and Shatila massacre to happen 35 years ago.
Massacre survivors Yousef Hamzeh and Abu Jamal walk together at the site of the Sabra and Shatila massacre on the outskirts of Beirut [Caren Firouz/Reuters]
On September 16, 1982, following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the right-wing Christian Phalange militia stormed the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in West Beirut and began a massacre which ended in the deaths of hundreds, maybe thousands, of mostly Palestinian civilians. I was 19 years old at the time. By chance and by luck I managed to survive. My mother and five younger sisters and brothers; and my uncle, his wife and eight kids did not.
Israel’s invasion began June 6, 1982. After much destruction, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which had defended the camps since its inception, agreed to leave Lebanon in August. They were given American assurances that civilians left behind would be protected. The president-elect of Lebanon, and the leader of the Phalange, was assassinated on September 14th. The Israeli army proceeded to invade and occupy West Beirut.
Israeli troops surrounded the camps to prevent the refugees from leaving and allowed entry of the Phalange, a known enemy of the Palestinians. The Israelis fired flares throughout the night to light up the killing field – thus allowing the militiamen to see their way through the narrow alleys of the camps. The massacre went on for two days. As the bloodbath concluded, Israel supplied the bulldozers to dig mass graves. In 1983, Israel’s investigative Kahan Commission found that Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Defense Minister, bore “personal responsibility“ for the slaughter.