Shatila Palestinian Refugee Camp, Beirut
This week commemorates the 35th anniversary of the Wednesday, Sept. 15 to Saturday, Sept. 18, Sabra-Shatila Massacre in the Fakhani neighborhood of Beirut. For many of the families and loved ones of the victims, as is certainly the case with this observer, it seems as though the Sabra-Shatila Massacre was committed at most four or five years ago. So vivid still in our memories are the horror images of that orgy of slaughter.
A massive crime against humanity which has yet to be adjudicated. Due to poisonous destructive sectarian political pressures, not only unique to Lebanon which has 18 competing sects with ever shifting alliances, there has never been any investigation by Lebanon’s government of the militiamen who actually conducted the slaughter. Subsequentlyi the Lebanese killers have thus been granted amnesty. A February 1983 Israeli Commission of Inquiry white-washed Israel’s facilitation of the crime with very limited and weak ‘findings of limited indirect responsiblity’.
As no Palestinian or person of goodwill who has learned about the Massacre will ever likely forget, shortly after dusk on the night of Sept. 15, 1982, the Israeli military, which had occupied much of Lebanon the preceding June, allowed drug and hate fueled right-wing Lebanese militia and others to enter Beirut’s Shatila Palestinian refugee camp and the adjacent neighborhoods of Sabra and Bir Hasan.
One dear friend, who was like a sister to the late American Journalist Janet Lee Stevens who wrote some of the most incisive reports documenting the Massacre, visited with me at the Shatila Palestinian Camp Youth Center (CYC) a few months ago. By the grace of God the lady escaped death by playing dead as two members of Elie Hobeika’s “Christian” militia kicked her body and poked her chest with a rifle muzzle but did not fire, apparently thinking she was already dead. She told me that she can still sometimes smell the stench of the blackened rotting bodies in the alleyways of Shatila camp from those hot September days in 1982. And that until today she sometimes has nightmares about the Israeli 81-milimeter flares that lite up the night sky as bright as a sports stadium during a night football game to aid the butchers conduct their carnage.
Who were the killers?
The photos above were taken by Franklin Lamb during the first week of October, 1982 on the airport road adjacent to the Kuwait Embassy and Shatila Palestinian refugee camp. The photos show two of several signs painted on walls near Shatila on Wednesday, September 15, 1982. The purpose was to guide the Lebanese Forces and Saad Haddad militia into the camp from the Beirut airport approximately two miles south where the militia was ordered by Israel to assemble. The circled triangle is the insignia of the Phalange Militia known as the “Lebanese Forces.” “MP” stands for their Military Police. These signs were approximately 30 yards directly south of the Kuwaiti Embassy roundabout which overlooks the southwest area of Shatila camp. In the upper left of the top photo can be seen the seven stories building that Israeli observers used to view the interior of Shatila as the massacre was being committed and also from which American 81 mm night flares were launched by Israeli forces over Shatila to facilitate the killer militia looking into homes and being able to see in the camps narrow alleys.
The militiamen came from both south Lebanon – the area of Major Haddad’s stronghold – and the Christian militia areas of East Beirut. According to residents of Shuweifat, a largely Druze area located just south of Beirut airport, there was a steady stream of trucks and armored vehicles carrying militiamen to the airport parking area during the afternoon of 9/16/1982.
Interviews conducted by Janet Stevens and other journalists with Lebanese soldiers who were on duty in the traffic circle adjacent to the Kuwaiti Embassy above Shatila camp unanimously confirmed reports that they saw Haddad militiamen dressed in uniforms that stood out from those of the Phalangist militiamen. They also said the Haddad men were noticeable because they lacked the Phalangist insignia on their uniforms reading ‘‘Lebanese Forces” and spoke with south Lebanon accents. Scores of survivors of the Massacre confirmed that many of the militiamen spoke with southern Lebanese accents and referred to one another by names as Ali, Hussein, Hassan and Abbas. All being Shiite Muslim names. Roughly half of Major Haddad’s 6,000-member militia members were Shiites from South Lebanon and more than a few had grievances with the PLO from the days when it occupied South Lebanon and Israeli artillery fire rained on homes and villages. When Israel invaded Lebanon on June 5, 1982 many Shia Muslim residents showered the Zionist forces with rice and flowers urging them to crush the PLO. Today it’s Lebanon’s Sunni Muslims who may well offer rice and flowers when the oft-predicted war ignites, urging the Israeli forces to destroy Hezbollah.
On Sunday September 18, 1982, Janet Stevens and other reporters found scattered on the ground in the south area of Shatila camp boxes that had contained M-16 bullets and hundreds of shell casings. The boxes were printed in Hebrew. Elsewhere there were wrappings from Israeli chocolate wafers on the ground, as well as remnants of United States Army C-rations which the US military had supplied to the Israelis. All findings being evidence that at least some of the militia were supplied with weapons and food by the Israeli military.
As no Palestinian or person of goodwill who has learned about the Massacre can ever forget, shortly after dusk on the night of Sept. 15, 1982, the Israeli military, which had occupied much of Lebanon the preceding June, allowed drug and hate fueled right-wing Lebanese militia and others to enter Beirut’s Shatila Palestinian refugee camp and the adjacent neighborhoods including Sabra, Fakhani and Bir Hasan.
After dusk on 9/16/1982, Israeli forces fired US supplied 81 mm flares over Shatila camp as the massacre spread into the alleys of the camp. Turning night into day facilitated the work of the killer militia. American journalist Janet Lee Stevens took the above photo after she received a call from a friend of hers inside the camp. Unfortunately, the lady was slaughtered as hundreds of others were the first night of the three-day massacre.
For the next nearly 72 hours, the Maronite Christian Lebanese Forces-Phalange Party’s militia and its Saad Haddad allies among others, raped, killed and dismembered as many as 3000-3500 civilians. Nearly all of the dead were women, children and elderly men.
Thirty-five years later, the massacre has not dimmed for the families of the victims or supporters of Palestine and those seeking justice. It is painfully remembered as a notorious chapter in modern Middle Eastern history for which accountability has to date failed.
When the United States government first learned about the massacre, which was hours after it began, the Reagan Administration contemplated exerting diplomatic pressure on Israel that could have quickly ended the atrocities. But it decided not to do so even amid reports that militiamen were continuing their slaughter of Palestinian families in and near Shatila camp. The White House had only weeks earlier signed an agreement that it would use all means to protect civilians in Palestinian camps as a condition precedent of the August, 1982 voluntary evacuation of 11,000 PLO fighters.`
Researcher Seth Anziska reported a few years ago on some recently declassified documents from the Israel State Archives that chronicle the conversations between American and Israeli officials before and during the massacre. The verbatim transcripts reveal that the Israelis misled American diplomats about events in Beirut and bullied them into accepting the spurious claim that 2000 to 3000 “terrorists” were in Shatila.
Much as we see with claims today in Syria, Sharon’s “terrorists” were, in fact, more than 90% innocent civilians.
“The main order of the day is to keep the peace,” Israeli Prime Minister Begin told the American envoy to the Middle East, Morris Draper, on Sept. 15. “Otherwise, there could be pogroms.”
Two days later Mr. Draper and the American ambassador, Samuel W. Lewis, held a meeting with Israeli officials. Contrary to Begins earlier assurances, Defense Minister Sharon insisted that the occupation of West Beirut was also completely justified because he had information that they were yet another “2,000 to 3,000 terrorists who remained in West Beirut.”
A verbatim transcript of the Sept. 17 meeting reveals that the Americans appeared intimidated by Mr. Sharon’s false insistence that “terrorists” needed “mopping up.” It also makes plain how Israel’s refusal to relinquish areas under its control to the Lebanese army as well as its delays in coordinating with the Lebanese government which the Americans wanted to step in, prolonged the slaughter. Secretary of State George P. Shultz later admitted that “we are partially responsible” because “we took the Israelis and the Lebanese at their word.”
Palestinian families outside Shatila camp in South Beirut marching and remembering their loved ones murdered 35 years ago. Photo: Franklin Lamb 9/17/2016
Thirty-five years later, for the victims’ families of the 1982 Massacre, including 29 Shia, this tragedy is magnified by their impression that the Hezbollah-led “Resistance” has been averting its eyes for more than three decades from their oft-repeated support for the Palestinian cause. And by the “Resistance” failure today, for solely political reasons to give desperately needed aid to slow the deterioration of Lebanon’s Palestinian camps.
One urgent question still being put by survivors of the massacre and supporters of Palestine to the Hezbollah led “Resistance” is whether at long last it will put its oft-touted “Moral and Religious Duty” to support the Palestinians goal of Full Return to Palestine” above Lebanon’s intensifying Shia-Sunni sectarian politics. If so, Lebanon’s Palestinians will finally be granted the elementary civil rights which will expedite their return to Palestine, help grow Lebanon’s economy, and give some much needed credence to shop-worn “Resistance” speeches.
Palestinians from Syrian camps also victims of Lebanon’s Satilla Massacre
Palestinian refugees from Syria, including the approximately 40,000 who fled to Lebanon from that country’s nearly seven-year civil war, also share the continuing trauma of the 1982 Massacre at Shatila. One reason is because many Palestinians living in Syria’s ten camps lost relatives who were in the Shatila and the adjacent Sabra neighborhood on those fateful days of September 16-18 1982. The Palestinians in both countries are also closely connected by family, with many having been neighbors from among the 531 Palestinian villages Zionist forces ethnically cleansed during the three year Nakba (1948).
Historically, since the 1970’s when the PLO held broad powers in Lebanon, Syria based Palestinians refugees passed relatively easily across their border crossings for visitations. The largely unimpeded Syria-Lebanon border passages continued as Syria occupied Lebanon essentially unimpeded with as many as 40,000 troops from the beginning of Lebanon’s civil war in June of 1976 until UN Security Council Resolution 1551 was enacted in September of 2004. Just five months later the February 14, 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others affected this arrangement as it ignited the so-called “Cedar Revolution” and forced Syria’s occupation forces and many of its intelligence operatives back into their own country. Syria retaliated by tightening border crossings.
Today, Palestinian refugees in Syria who back in 2011 represented approximately 3 % of Syria’s population continue fleeing their war-torn host country and are one of the refugee groups most urgently seeking to find new homes in Europe. Palestinians are proportionally the most over-represented minority of all those escaping the carnage across Syria. UNRWA estimates that as of this month more than 20% of Syria’s pre-war estimated 450,000 Palestinians have fled the country. Some estimates suggest that as many as 100,000 have taken the death boats to Europe with hundreds dying en route. The Syrian war has also driven all but approximately 7000 Palestinians out of the Yarmouk neighborhood south of central Damascus. Yarmouk was Syria’s largest ‘camp’ with a pre-war population of nearly 150,000. The fact that they, among others, are risking their lives on various dangerous sea and land routes towards Europe reflects a realization among many Palestinians that, 95% being non-Shia, there is no future for them in a “Resistance” Iranian-Shia dominated Middle East.
True “Resistance” begins in Lebanon’s Palestinian camps
As the “Resistance” is acutely aware, Lebanon’s political sects of whom Hezbollah is by far the most powerful have prevented the emergence of an energetic and vigorous Palestinian community in Lebanon. The consequent pauperization, ghettoization, marginalization, broad deterioration of community health and growing sense of hopelessness by many in Lebanon’s Palestinian camps community is leading to the fragmentation of Palestinians. This is a factor undercutting their Full Return, a claimed raison d’etre of the “Resistance.”
Increasingly Lebanon’s Palestinians are insisting that it’s time to reverse these trends by giving meaning to the “Resistance” motto of “Moral and Religious Duty to Palestine.” What does the “Resistance” motto mean if not to help the Lebanon-hosted refugees from
Palestine gain elementary civil rights to aid their Return,” is a common camp expression these days.
One reason the “Resistance” has seemingly abandoned its claims to support the Palestinian cause in Lebanon by granting them elementary civil rights is partially clarified by referencing the regional expansion tasks assigned the “Resistance” by Tehran. Specifically orders for the “Resistance” to focus on more beneficial political objectives including the “Lebanization” of Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and then Jordan and other Middle East countries.
Problematical for Lebanon’s Palestinians seeking their half century overdue civil rights, they are told by some “Resistance” sources that the war in Syria must first end before any consideration of the right to work and home ownership. Despite previous claims that it is essentially over, the war in Syria may end for years.
For decades without serious “Resistance” opposition, Lebanon’s Parliament and ministerial decrees have erected a series of legal and institutional barriers that deprive Palestinian refugees of the right to work, to social security, and to join Lebanese trade unions and many other elementary rights granted refugees globally. For example, Palestinian refugees are subject to all legal regulations governing foreign workers and visitors including the principle of reciprocity and the requirement to obtain work permits. Given that there is yes no state of Palestine with official diplomatic relations and reciprocity agreements with Lebanon these barriers are invoked to prevent Palestinian refugees from obtaining work permits, especially within professional associations. These discriminatory regulations are enforced in Lebanon to target Palestinians despite Article 7 of the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, which Lebanon has not signed, but which is binding on Lebanon by International Customary Law. The Refugee Convention specifically exempts refugees including Palestinians in Lebanon from the principle of reciprocity and allows them to work without a permit three years after they establish residence in the asylum country.
By outlawing Palestinians elementary civil rights to work or to own a home and depriving them of a host of other civil rights, unlike what any other refugee group on earth is granted at birth, Lebanon is also violating countless principles, standards, and rules of globally recognized international humanitarian law. Among the most notable are the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and the September 1965 Casablanca Protocol on the Treatment of Palestinians in Arab Countries.
Shortly after the late summer 1982 PLO withdrawal from Lebanon, the movement to and from Palestinian refugee camps, particularly those in the south, have been subject to strict security measures. The Lebanese army maintains checkpoints at the entrances to most of the southern camps. In addition, the army strictly monitors — and restricts — building and renovation materials brought into the southern camps, especially in the Tyre region. In May 2010, Lebanese security forces also banned building materials from Beirut’s Burj al-Barajneh refugee camp based on orders from the Lebanese Ministry of Defense. Earlier this year, the Minister of the Interior and Municipalities requested the Directorate General of Internal Security Forces to investigate unlicensed centers and offices for humanitarian and social organizations in the destroyed Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, and required 23 associations to apply for licenses or risk legal sanction. The threat was issued even though the associations cannot obtain licenses under the Associations Law.
Even in Syria, the “Resistance” stands accused of ignoring the rights of Palestinians and the fact that Islam calls upon all Muslims, regardless of their race or nationality to see themselves as brothers and sisters in faith. One Sheik at the Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque’ in downtown Beirut recently expressed the view of many in an email: “The killing of another Muslim is strictly forbidden but given Iran’s strategy of breaking governments in this region one by one and then controlling them, Tehran has ordered its “Resistance” to pit Arab Muslims against one another and especially to “Resist” Sunni Muslims. One way to achieve Iran’s hegemonic project is to find a loophole in Islamic law whereby Iran’s theocratic leadership labels Sunni Muslims apostates or Kafirs (non-believers). Hence the creation of the “Takfiri” canard as a weapon for conducting a hegemonic war in this region labeling Sunni Muslims, and increasingly Sunni Palestinians as “Takfirs” claiming that these and Sunni Muslims are impure.”
By training and often commanding more than a dozen Iran funded Shia militia from half a dozen countries, Lebanon’s “Resistance” was organized starting in 1981 by Iran’s newly established Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on orders from Ayatollah Khomeini has its interests far from Lebanon’s Palestinian camps. According to the New York Times of 8/28/2017 Hezbollah has evolved into a virtual arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, providing the connective tissue for the growing network of powerful militias.”
A Russian military source in Palmyra emphasized to this observer a while back that the “Lebanese “Resistance” takes orders from the Iranian IRGC commander Qassim Solemani who, he claims, Vladimir Putin considers the second most powerful man in Syria today. Taking heavy combat losses with more than 4000 reportedly killed and approximately 9350 wounded and busy with Iran’s regional agenda, the “Resistance” is accused of having little if any interest beyond speeches to honor its claimed “Moral and Religious Obligations to Lebanon’s Palestinian refugees” according to a majority of Palestinian camp leaders interviewed recently.
Hezbollah claims that its interventions across the Middle East are merely an extension of the “Resistance” against Israel. However, the “Resistance” is increasingly accused in Lebanon of benefitting Israel by avoiding “Resistance” to Israel in order to apply its “Resistance” targeting Muslims across the Middle East. According to the New York Times of 8/28/2017 the “Resistance” has become the mercenary “Blackwater” of the Middle East.
Below are proposed some essential “Resistance” Palestinians civil rights actions Iran, Syria and Russia and other Members of the global community should support by all means at their disposal. This while Palestinians in Lebanon try to convince the Lebanese
“Resistance” to use its dominant political power in Parliament to enact legislation fully implementing these elementary civil rights.
These elementary civil rights have, since the 1982 Massacre at Shatila, been increasingly ignored by the “Resistance” due largely to sectarian politics. Yet, they are fully and quickly able to be enacted by Lebanon’s Parliament if the Hezbollah-led “Resistance” will finally act.
What specifically needs to be done is well known in Dahiya South Beirut and Tehran from countless petitions communicated by supporters of Palestine including the Palestine Civil Rights Campaign (PCRC) founded in 2008 in Washington DC and Beirut Lebanon. They include strengthening the Palestinian civil rights initiatives that have been proposed and one or two that in a weak form were actually adopted but as was predictable they were quickly shown to be largely ineffective.
One of the latter was the 2005 Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee (LPDC) with a mandate to address matters related to the social and economic well-being and security of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and to formalize relations between Lebanon and Palestine. This initiative did result in the reopening of the PLO office in 2006 it also led to some Palestinian political factions engaging in dialogue. But it has to date failed to achieve its other basic goal which was to improve the humanitarian situation of the Palestinian refugees by achieving any elementary civil rights for Palestinians. The main factor is judged by many including this observer as being indifference from the “Resistance”
Another positive initiative was taken in early 2009 when the Lebanese Parliament’s Committee on Women and Children offered a draft law to amending Article 15 of the Lebanese Nationality Law of 1925. Article 15 entitles every child born to a Lebanese father to obtain Lebanese nationality. The proposed amendment would have allowed children born to Lebanese mothers to obtain nationality. However, the Committee’s bill blocked children born to a Palestinian father and a Lebanese mother from the right to nationality. It also excluded children born to fathers from countries that do not grant Lebanese children reciprocity. Both proposals are a flagrant violation of Article 7 of Lebanon’s Constitution, which states that all Lebanese are equal before the law and enjoy civil and political rights without any distinction. They also violate the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racism, to which Lebanon is a signatory. The “Resistance” sat on its hand during these proceedings and did not oppose the decisions taken.
A major legislative initiative was attempted during Lebanon’s June 2010 legislative session. The Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) led by Walid Jumblatt introduced four draft laws that called for allowing Palestinians born on Lebanese soil to work, to benefit from pension plans, to receive an end-of-service gratuity and medical care for work-related injuries, to own one residential apartment and to own property through inheritance. The Parliament split across sectarian lines and opposition and loyalist Christian Parliamentarians united to block the proposed legislation. The “Resistance” essentially sat on its hands. During the sometimes heated debate, it was largely mute in order not to upset the anti-Palestinian Free Progressive Movement (FPM) led by Lebanon’s current President Michel Aoun. Had they applied their political power during the 2010 vote Palestinians in Lebanon today would have many civil rights.
The “Resistance” to gain credibility should assume some Parliamentary leadership by immediately proposing a “Ministry of Palestinian Affairs” to oversee and help implement civil rights for every Palestinians in Lebanon.
The “Resistance” can no longer justify marginalizing Palestinians in Lebanon for political purposes and hope not to face popular criticism in Lebanon and globally. Palestinian basic human rights which include the rights of Palestinians to work, social security, property ownership and inheritance, education, and freedom of movement and association are enshrined in international law and Lebanon’s Constitution. The “Resistance” is obliged to eschew sectarian politics and take the lead in their enactment. Thereby honoring its oft-proclaimed “Moral and Political Resistance duty” to support Palestine.
The “Resistance” should also encourage its political partners to end their verbal attacks on Lebanon’s Palestinians which encourages incitement. On 8/30/2017 Lebanon’s Foreign Minister, the anti-Palestinian FPM’s Jebran Bassil, yet again attacked Lebanon’s Palestinians in a call for the removal of any “terror hubs” in Lebanon’s Palestinian camps. “We must… reject the persistence of terror hubs in Palestinian refugee camps topped by the challenge of the Ain el-Hilweh camp.” He added, “The scheme of terrorism in Lebanon has fallen and the Palestinian naturalization schemes should fall next.”
Bassil knows, the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon have never sought, nor do they today seek naturalization. What they seek is to return to their own country Palestine the very minute it becomes possible. But Bassil and his ilk frequently bash Palestinians to curry political favor from those holding similar views. The “Resistance” for the past decade has been political partners with Michel Aoun of the “Free Patriotic Movement”, the anti-Palestinian father-in-law of Bassil, for whom the very idea of granting civil rights for Palestinians is anathema.
Is there still a “Resistance” 35 years after the Sabra-Shatila Massacre?
Thirty-five years after the carnage of the 1982 Massacre at Sabra-Shatila the question remains, where is the “Resistance”? For the survivors of the massacre and loved ones of its victims, the “Resistance” appears nowhere to be found. The “Resistance” is in danger of becoming irrelevant to the Palestinian civil rights struggle in Lebanon and the Palestinian cause generally.
If still serious about its claimed “Moral and Religious duty toward the Palestinian cause” the “Resistance” should seize the opportunity to burnish the “Resistance” brand which the Party of God claims to lead. And it should recognize that “Resistance” means helping the Palestinian camp’s needs including infrastructure improvements. And crucially it means that the “Resistance” must become serious about immediately granting Palestinian refugee the most elementary civil rights that every other refugee is automatically granted when her or his foot touches Lebanese soil.
On 9/11/2017 according to Beirut’s pro-Hezbollah al-Akhbar daily Hassan Nasrallah insisted that Hezbollah “won the war in Syria,” and that the party is “making history in the region.” “We are aware of our situation regarding the war in Syria…and writing the region’s history, not Lebanon’s.” Words that suggest that the “Resistance” has wider ambitions than supporting any fundamental rights for Palestinians in Lebanon.
Hopefully “The Resistance” will prove this tentative but rapidly growing conclusion premature by enacting via its political power in Parliament, civil rights for Palestinians in Lebanon, first among them being the rights to work and to own a home.