Thirty-nine years ago, one of the bloodiest chapters in Palestinian history unfolded in a refugee camp in Lebanon. Surrounded by "Israeli" forces from all sides, thousands of refugees, bereft of leadership and protection from the international community, were slaughtered during a two day killing spree in the Shatila refugee camp and the adjacent Sabra neighbourhood of Beirut by "Isareli" forces, the Lebanese Christian "Kataeb" militia, and the South Lebanon Army.
When: 16–18 September 1982
Where: Sabra and Shatila camps for Palestinians refugees, Western of the capital, Beirut.
September 15: "Israeli" forces, who had invaded Lebanon three months earlier, advanced into Beirut and surrounded the Palestinian refugee camp of Shatila. A tenuous ceasefire agreement had already been brokered by the US to allow the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) along with more than 14,000 fighters to leave the country, which was ravaged by a civil war. UN Security Council Resolution 520 dated 17 September was passed unanimously and condemned "the recent "Israeli" incursions into Beirut in violation of the cease-fire agreements and of Security Council resolutions." Israel" ignored this resolution too.
Virtually sealed off from the outside world by Israeli tanks, hundreds of "Kataeb" fighters were instructed by "Israeli" forces to clear out PLO members from the area. What unfolded over the following day and half horrified the world.
In the 38 hours that the "Israelis" allowed the Kataeb militia to enter the refugee camp unhindered, the Palestinians bunkered in their makeshift shelters suffered unspeakable horrors. "Israel" 's proxy militiamen raped, tortured, mutilated and killed more than 3,000 Palestinian and Lebanese residents of Sabra and Shatila. Assisted by bright flares fired into the night sky by "Israeli" troops based in the sports stadium overlooking the area, the killing went on without pause. Despite eyewitnesses reporting the horrors that were taking place, the "Israeli" military allowed reinforcements to enter Shatila and are even said to have provided the Kataeb militia with bulldozers to bury the corpses of dead Palestinians.
Apart from the tools with which the massacre was carried out, the killers did not even preserve the sanctity of the bodies, as they deliberately abused them, as some of the bodies were found cut up and others burned. It is noteworthy that the massacre took place in complete silence away from the eyes of the world, as the Israeli army, led by Ariel Sharon, who was directly supervising the operation from a location in the Kuwaiti embassy, according to historians, used flares as camouflage, providing cover for the militia.
Unarmed people were in their homes, and others were in shelters, who did not realize that they were in an "Israeli" militia ambush aimed at eliminating them. Children who slept and did not wake up, women raped and murdered, old people burned.
Determined to destroy the PLO base in Lebanon and install a puppet regime in Beirut, "Israel" 's then Defence Minister, Ariel Sharon, turned a blind eye to what was going on. On 17 September, details of the massacre are said to have been communicated to him, but the man who would later become the Prime Minister of Israel was unmoved, allowing the killing to continue for several more hours.
What happened next?
Shock and outrage followed. The UN Security Council passed Resolution 521 unanimously, condemning the massacre. On 16 December 1982, the UN General Assembly declared the massacre to be an "act of genocide".
For the Palestinians, the tragedy of Sabra and Shatila remains as a powerful reminder of their apparently endless cycle of displacement. It was yet another consequence of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in the 1948 Nakba and again in 1967. Around half a million Palestinian refugees are still dehumanised and insecure in their predicament in Lebanon, with few civil and political rights. They are among 5.4 million scattered across the region in refugee camps which now have a disturbing sense of permanence.
It is noteworthy that since the massacre, which the whole world agreed to be the most horrific massacre in modern history, the victims and survivors have not received any judicial investigation, to do justice to them, and to prosecute the perpetrators.
The massacre of white arms, as it was later known, was called revenge against the Palestinians, but at a difficult time in the history of Lebanon, it united Palestinian and Lebanese blood, in pain and in a memory that may pass ages and keep talking about what happened.