September is a weird month. It is called “Black September” for a reason. Everyone knows of the terrorist attacks that occurred on 9/11 when 3,000 innocent American civilians were killed in one of the most audacious terrorist attacks in modern history. But how many people know that September is also the month when 3, 500 civilians, mainly Palestinian refugees, were slaughtered in Chatila refugee camp in Beirut in 1982?
Three weeks ago I was flying over Beirut on my way to Damascus. In the airport I had decided to pick up some light reading material, “the mammoth book of journalism: 101 masterpieces of the finest writers and reporters (ed. John E. Lewis). Along with articles by Dickens, Orwell and Hemingway is a report by Robert Fisk, “”It was the Christians”: Massacre at Chatila Refugee Camp in the Times, 20 September 1982 , which remains as powerful and as moving today as it was then.
It was sad to see (but then somewhat unsurprising) that the twenty-second anniversary of this atrocity went completely unreported in the British press. Coincidentally, the anniversary of the Chatila massacre (16 September) coincides with this year,s Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. September is also the month when the second Palestinian uprising or intifada began (28 September 2000). On Saturday 25 September it will be Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement and the 31st anniversary of the war that shares its name. September is black indeed.
Of course, many will associate “Black September with the Palestinian paramilitary organization founded in 1970 whose name originates from the battle that raged between Palestinian paramilitary units and the Jordanian army in Amman in September 1970 – when Arabs fought one another instead of fighting the Israelis. Two years later on September 5, 1972, the paramilitary group “Black September killed two Israeli atheletes and took nine hostage. After a failed rescue attempt by the German police all of the Israeli atheletes were murdered.
Whilst there have been enquiries in the US and Great Britain after 9/11, and whilst Israel,s security services made efforts to hunt down and kill the Palestinian hostage takers from the Munich Olympics; those responsible for Sabra and Chatila remain at large. Palestinians have never been compensated for their loss, and all attempts at prosecuting and bringing those responsible to justice in the courts of law have failed.
Ariel Sharon, who was Israel,s Minister of Defense in the early 1980s was responsible for planning Israel,s invasion of Lebanon. He hoped to replace the elected leader of Lebanon with Bashir Gemayel (leader of the Phalangists) hoping that Gemayel would sign a peace treaty with Israel. However this was not to be. Gemayel was assasinated and Sharon was found to bear “personal responsibility for allowing the Phalangist militia, who were Israel,s allies in that war, into Chatila. (See the Kahan Commission of Inquiry into the events at the refugee camps in Beirut of 8 February 1983).
The position of Palestinian refugees in the refugee camps of Lebanon is still precarious. “In Lebanon Palestinians are marginalized, are barely tolerated and are finding themselves as a result in a very vulnerable situation,” Lex Takkenberg, Deputy-Director General of the Syrian Field Office of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East informed me.
In the West we are constantly reminded of how the world changed on 9/11, and during every Olypmic game since 1972 we are reminded of the Munich Olympics massacre. However, rarely in the West is any mention made of the past injusticies inflicted on thousands of innocent Palestinians. Twenty-two years later their situation is still not any better. Palestinians are still stateless, Ariel Sharon is in power, and another 3, 000 are dead.
VICTOR KATTAN is a correspondent for Arab Media Watch and a Member of its Advisory Committee.