Sunday, September 16, 2007
Al-Manar special - Hanan Awarekeh
"16/09/2007 25 years have passed on the Sabra and Shatila massacres in Lebanon. 25 years of agony, memories and constant shock by the survivors of one of the worst Israeli carnage against unarmed Palestinian refugees.
June 1982, Israeli occupation forces commanded by then defense minister Ariel Sharon invaded Lebanon and reached the capital Beirut. After two months of fighting, a cease-fire was negotiated through the mediation of United States envoy Philip Habib. The Palestine Liberation Organization withdrew from Lebanon under the terms of the reached agreement. The Palestinians were rendered powerless and helpless. On Wednesday 15 September, one day after the assassination of President-elect Bashir Gemayel (the founder of the Lebanese Forces), the Israeli army occupied West Beirut, "encircling and sealing" the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila and announced that "2,000 terrorists" had remained inside.
Sharon had announced, on 9 July 1982, his intention to send the Phalanges Brigades into West Beirut, and in his autobiography he confirms having negotiated the operation that authorized the "Lebanese forces" to "mop up" Palestinian camps, during his meeting with Bashir Gemayel in Bikfaya. By dawn on 15 September 1982, Israeli fighter-bombers were flying low over West Beirut and Israeli troops had secured their entry. By midday, the camps of Sabra and Shatila were surrounded by Israeli tanks and soldiers.
By midday Thursday 16 September 1982, the Israeli military command gave the Lebanese Forces militia green light to enter the refugee camps. Shortly after 5pm, a unit of approximately 150 Lebanese Forces militiamen entered Shatila camp from the south and south-west. For the next 40 hours the Lebanese Forces militia raped, killed, and injured a large number of unarmed civilians, mostly children, women and elderly people inside the "encircled and sealed" camps. These actions, accompanied or followed by systematic roundups, backed or reinforced by the Israeli army, resulted in dozens of disappearances. The exact figure can never be determined because, in addition to the approximately 1,000 people who were buried in communal graves by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) or in the cemeteries of Beirut by members of their families, a large number of corpses were buried beneath buildings bulldozed by militiamen themselves.
The death toll is estimated between 2,500 and 3,500 civilians. The victims and survivors of the massacres have never been deemed entitled to a formal investigation of the tragedy.
The Israeli Knesset named a commission of inquiry, to be presided over by Yitzhak Kahan, in September 1982. In spite of the limitations of the Commission's mandate (limited because it was a political rather than a judicial mandate and because the voices and demands of the victims were completely ignored), the Commission concluded that Ariel Sharon was personally responsible for the massacres. Upon the insistence of the Commission, and the demonstrations that followed its report, Sharon resigned from his post of Minister of Defense but remained in the government as Minister without Portfolio.
The United Nations Security Council condemned the massacre with Resolution 521 (19 September 1982). This condemnation was followed by a 16 December 1982 General Assembly resolution qualifying the massacre as an "act of genocide."
Despite evidence of what the UN Security Council described as a "criminal massacre," and the ranking of the Sabra and Shatila massacres in humankind's collective memory as among the most heinous crimes of the 20th century, the man found "personally responsible" for this crime, as well as his associates and the people who carried out the massacres, have never been pursued or punished.
In 1984, Israeli journalists Schiff and Ya'ari concluded their chapter on the massacre with this sobering reflection: "If there is a moral to the painful episode of Sabra and Shatila, it has yet to be acknowledged." The reality of this impunity remains true to this day."