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32 Years after the Sabra-Shatila Massacre

Shatila Camp

They are beginning to arrive at Shatila Palestinian camp in Beirut this weekend.

“They” being people of good will from around the world, many of whom annually visit Martyr’s Square in Shatila as well as some of Lebanon’s 11 other Palestinian Refugee Camps. It is the 32nd anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila massacre, and commemorative events are scheduled all next week.

The arrivals will find the camps overflowing even more so than usual, for this year they hold most of the approximately 90,000 Palestinian refugees who have been forced to flee the fighting in Syria. Just last month, 378 more Palestinians fled Yarmouk, Syria’s largest camp, due to clashes between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and those opposing his rule.

Reportedly, the latest exiles diverted themselves to Turkey since Lebanon; in flagrant violation of International humanitarian law now bars Palestinians escaping the violence in Syria.

Established during the Nakba 66 years ago, the Palestinian camps in Lebanon—initially intended as “temporary”—have undergone a 400% population increase over the years, and today they are literally overflowing with nearly a quarter of a million desperate Palestinians and Syrians.

Palestinians have tried to stay out of the Syrian conflict, but some young men are increasingly being heavily lobbied by various pro and antigovernment militia. One particularly aggressive recruitment program is that run by IS, or DA’ISH. Sinister forces know that in Lebanon, unlike in the other 197 UN-member states,
Palestinians are not allowed basic civil rights, including the right to work or own a home. Barred from employment in nearly 70 professions, Palestinians are denied rights that are even granted to foreign nationals arriving in Lebanon for the first time.

Be that as it may, international guests come to Lebanon at this time each year to pay tribute to the approximately 3,500 civilians who were slaughtered or ‘disappeared’ in the massacre orchestrated and overseen by Israel’s military under the command of Ariel Sharon. Though certainly an historical event that stands out in many people’s minds, the Sabra-Shatila butchery was in reality only one of more than 60 massacres carried out against Palestinian civilians by a 19th century colonial enterprise whose settlers still occupy stolen homes and lands. A partial list of the genocidal bloodlettings of the past would include the following:

· Qibya (1953), (where 70% of the victims were women and children, and, like Gaza this summer, schools and mosques as well as civilian homes were specifically targeted)

· Khan Yunis (1956)

· Rafah (1956)

· Cave of the Patriarchs (1994)

· Al-Khisas, Safed (1947),

· Balad al-Shaykh, Haifa (1947)

· Jaffa Town Hall (1948)

· Sa’sa, Safed (1948)

· Al-Husayniyya, Safed (1948)

· Deir Yassin, Jerusalem, (1948)

· Ein al Zeitun, Safed (1948)

· Lydda (1948)

· Al-Kabri, Acre (1948)

· Tantura, Haifa (1948)

· Arab Suqrir, Gaza (1948)

· Al-Dawayima, Hebron (1948)

· Safsaf, Safed (1948) (70 people executed)

· Eilabun, Tiberias (1948)

· Hula, Lebanon,(1948)

· Arab al-Mawasi, Tiberias, (1948)

In addition to the above, there have been more than ten massacres in Lebanon, including two in Qana (1996 & 2006), and a second one in Hula (2006). All have been documented by international scholars, including some Israelis, while some have been documented by UN agencies and NGO’s.

The international supporters of Palestine who arrive this weekend and next week will have a full schedule. They will meet with Palestinian NGO’s, listen to eyewitness accounts from Gaza, including from Al-Shifa Hospital, the medical facility that was at ground zero in the latest Zionist aggression. They will also hear a report on the US Israeli lobby, which seems to regard the deaths of scores of Palestinian children as mere “collateral damage.”

As for the 50-day onslaught against Gaza, a professor at the US Army War College in Washington DC, who teaches at the School of Strategic Land Power, recently remarked to this observer, “What the Israelis did in Gaza was not collateral damage.” He went on to add: “As members of the military we are ordered to stay out of politics but I can tell you as professionals most in the Pentagon detest what Israel does with our governments support and US arms. And this has been the case for many years. The Pentagon regularly supplies those who teach at the War College with data on many military subjects. Recently received analyses make plain beyond question that every Israeli commander who ordered these operations in Gaza knew well before the first rocket or tank shell was fired that two thirds of the victims of these ‘operations’ would be women and children. That a huge crime in my book. To claim ‘collateral damage’ is frankly bullshit dished out to the public and Congress.”

The delegations will also take a tour of the Palestinian camps, including a visit to the furthest camp from Palestine—Nahr al Bared, up north near Tripoli—as well as the one closet to the occupied homeland, Al Rashidiyeh, in the south, which during the 1970s intensely resisted the Zionist occupation just a few kilometers away.

Meetings with local politicians will also be on the agenda, as well as with representatives from the resistance spectrum, and Hezbollah will actually host a dinner and facilitate a tour along the northern border of Palestine that will include a visit to the notorious Al Khiam Prison, where Zionist forces paid Lebanese collaborators to jail and torture their own countrymen as well as Palestinians. They will visit the nearby are Fatima Gate and the ‘Maroun el Ras’ garden, providing a view of some of the villages in Occupied Palestine, and where in 2010 Israeli forces killed more than two dozen people —the true owners of the land—during “land day” solidarity celebrations on the Lebanese side of the ‘blue line’.

The highlight of the week’s activities will include a meeting with families of the Sabra-Shatila survivors. Many of these survivors have, over the years, become good friends with the returning visitors, and there are often mutual hugs and tears at the large public gathering at Martyr’s Square on the edge of Shatila Camp. Below where they will gather rests the remains of hundreds of civilians—men women and children—Palestinian, Lebanese and foreigners—all butchered during the more than 43 hours of non-stop slaughter carried out during the night under Israeli fired flares.

What most will not examine, and likely will not even be aware of, is the increasing anger and frustration in the camps, particularly among the young. Palestinians are very sophisticated politically. Some say they get sound insights with their mother’s milk. Others will tell observers that it has become genetic, that they have the ability to grasp instantly the difference between those who only claim to be supporters of the resistance but do little and those who genuinely are.

The history of liberty and human rights is the history of resistance. It is resistance—in 1000 forms if necessary—and nothing else, that will achieve full return for Palestine’s legitimate inhabitants. Who in Lebanon will make a genuine effort to support that resistance and achieve elementary civil rights from Parliament for Palestinian refugees in the coming months is not clear.

But one thing is certain: the resistance will continue. It will continue because there is something sacred about it, because for those who have experienced displacement and occupation, the land never ceases beckoning to them. Or as Franz Fanon put it, “For a colonized people the most essential value, because the most concrete, is first and foremost the land: the land which will bring them bread and, above all, dignity.”

Compare Fanon’s words to those of David Ben Gurion, who said in 1948: “We must do everything to insure they (the Palestinians) never do return.” Assuring his fellow Zionists they had nothing to worry about on that score, Ben Gurion added, “The old will die and the young will forget.”

Of the two, Fanon is clearly the more astute observer of human nature.

Franklin Lamb is a visiting Professor of International Law at the Faculty of Law, Damascus University and volunteers with the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (sssp-lb.com).

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Franklin Lamb volunteers with the Lebanon, France, and USA based Meals for Syrian Refugee Children Lebanon (MSRCL) which seeks to provide hot nutritional meals to Syrian and other refugee children in Lebanon. http://mealsforsyrianrefugeechildrenlebanon.com. He is reachable c/o fplamb@gmail.com.

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