Friday, 16 September 2016

Remembering Sabra and Shatila

We have recently remembered the victims of 9/11. But this week also marks the 34th anniversary of the massacre of Sabra and Shatila, so a moments silence please.
This massacre took place between 16 to 18 September 1982. It is now considered  to be the bloodiest single atrocity committed against the Palestinian people in living history. Similar in magnitude to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US,which left close to 3000 innocent Palestinian/Lebanese people dead according to the International Committee of the Red Cross,men, women and children massacred in the Sabra and Shatila camps in Beirut, by Christian Lebanese Phalangists while the city was occupied by the Israeli army. The real number is hard to determine because bodies were buried quickly in mass graves or never found, and many men were marched out of the camp and simply disappeared. It is recognised as one of Israels most infamous crimes.
 Palestinians had settled in Lebanon in the aftermath of the creation of the State of Israel. During the summer of 1948, some 110,000 Palestinians were driven out of Galilee and crossed the border into Lebanon. Most of them became refugees. During the seventies, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) set up its headquarters in Lebanon after its leaders and activists had been expelled from Jordan. The PLO was responsible for some 340,000 Palestinians. It provided social services and basic infrastructures and built institutions in various domains (economic, cultural, social and political).
The Israel Defence Forces (IDF)  invaded Lebanon in June 1982 with the goal of pushing out the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). After newly-elected President Bashir Gemayel was assassinated on September 14th, the IDF invaded West Beirut, which included the Sabra neighborhood and the Shatila refugee camp, which predominately housed Muslim refugees. The IDF ordered their allies in Lebanon, the Kataeb Party (also called the Phalange), a right-wing Maronite Christian party, to clear the area of PLO militants to facilitate the IDF advance.On the 18th of September, after about forty hours of killing, the first images of the massacre showing civilian victims appeared on TV. They provoked worldwide indignation and compassion. Foreign journalists and diplomats entered the camps in the aftermath of the massacre after the IDF had withdrawn from the entrances. Their reports and photographs all expressed despair and brutality. Loren Jenkins, from the Washington Post, wrote on September the 23th: “The scene at the Shatila camp when foreign observers entered Saturday morning was like a nightmare. Women wailed over the deaths of loved ones, bodies began to swell under the hot sun, and the streets were littered with thousand of spent cartridges. Houses had been dynamited and bulldozed into rubble, many with the inhabitants still inside. Groups of bodies lay before bullet-pocked walls where they appeared to have been executed. Others were strewn in alleys and streets, apparently shot as they tried to escape”.
Israel for a while denied it had conspired in the massacre, yet as a result of international condemnation it launched an inquiry in 1983, known as the Kahan Commission this found  that the Israeli military were completely aware of the massacre taking place, but had done nothing to stop it. The Commission subsequently regarded Israel of being part of the 'indirect responsibility' for the massacre. and Ariel Sharon, then Israel's highest military leader, later the country's Prime minister of bearing personal responsibility for the massacre because he did not prevent the Lebanese Phalangist militia from entering the camps.
One of the reasons why people still talk about Sabra & Shatila, is that no one has actually ever apologised for this crime against humanity, which this incident surely was. Also no one has ever stood trial or been  held account for this crime. A massacre so awful that the people of the world should not be allowed to forget it, as we should not forget any crime against humanity, all are of equal importance. It is unfortunately part of us all, a  history and legacy that is  both shameful and bitter.On all accounts this was not an isolated incident, and to this day Israels oppressive policies towards the Palestinians continue. We still see the ongoing blockade of Gaza, which has made the Gaza strip one of the biggest prisons in the world.
Every September since then hundreds of Palestinians and friends from around the world gather now in Shatila at the Martyr's Square  to remember  and mourn, and mark the events that had previously occurred.
Even contemplating this dark anniversary, I never give up feeling that there is still much hope in the future for the Palestinian people. I recognise their ongoing plight and make sure that they are not forgotten.This week, we commemorate the thousands who died at Sabra and Shatila and think of all Palestinians who continue to suffer from human rights abuses.

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