40 years later, a look back at an unpunished massacre

Within forty hours, between September 16 and 18, 1982, hundreds of Palestinian civilians, mostly women and children, were killed in the Sabra and Shatila camps. Forty years later, we know so little about this massacre that no one has been convicted.

On the morning of September 17, 1982, a terrifying scream spread through the neighborhoods surrounding the Palestinian camps of Sabra and Chatila, south of Beirut.

Women, children and the elderly flocked to the heavily populated Lebanese areas. The haggard look, the voice shaking with emotion, they swore that the dead happened in these camps that were left to themselves after the evacuation of the last fighters of the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) by sea in those August 25, and the retreat, on September 11, of the multinational force, made up of Americans, French and Italians.

Residents of the neighborhoods where the Palestinians are hosted find it hard to believe the chilling stories told by civilians who are still in shock. After a few hours, the terrible truth came to light, supported by the testimonies of the survivors.

In the afternoon, while the killing continued in some sectors, the first journalists, including Europeans, entered Shatila. The scenes they immortalize in their photographs or their writings are unbearable. The streets were littered with the corpses of children, women and men. Some tied their fists and ankles, others, stunned in their sleep, wore their underwear or pajamas.

Mutilated bodies with knives

Many bodies have signs of torture and torture. Here, a broken pregnant woman. There, an infant was cut in two, ahead, a man with his head cut off. The assassins showed unspeakable cruelty, massacring all who moved with edged weapons, leaving no one behind, not even the horses.

The fingers of both hands were cut off and the ten fingers were cut off like garden shears […] The tips of the fingers, the knuckles, along with the nail, are in the dust “Jean Genet wrote a touching story entitled Four hours in Shatilawhich was published in January 1983. The French writer and poet was one of the first Europeans to visit the disaster camp, on September 19, when the rotting bodies were still lying in the streets where the tolerable smell.

The force of the images caused panic around the world. The Israeli army, which recently invaded the western part of Beirut, the day after the assassination of the Lebanese President-elect Bachir Gemayel, on September 14, was chosen. The Israeli media, for their part, accused the militias of the Christian right (Lebanese Forces, party of the phalanges-Kataëb and militias of the dissident commander of the Lebanese army Saad Haddad), who carried out the massacre to avenge the death by Bashir Gemayel.

To date, no final assessment has been published. The figures vary from 460 dead, given by the Lebanese justice system, to 3,500 victims, attacked by the Israeli journalist and writer Amnon Kapeliouk, author of Sabra and Chatila, Investigation of a massacre (The threshold). The Israeli army cited 800 dead.

A prominent Palestinian historian, Bayan Nouyawwhed al-Hout, published the names of 1,400 victims, identified through the testimonies of survivors and relatives.

Hundreds of missing men

But that doesn’t count the hundreds of missing people, mostly men, who were systematically separated from their families and loaded into military vehicles never to appear again.

The enormity of the crime evoked great emotion around the world. Under strong pressure, the Israeli government concluded, on September 28, a “commission to investigate the events in the refugee camps in Beirut”, led by the president of the Supreme Court of Israel, Yitzhak Kahane .

After months of investigation, the commission published the Kahane report in 1983, concluding that Christian militias were directly responsible and Israel was indirectly responsible. Investigators believe that Ariel Sharon, Minister of Defense at the time, did not take “appropriate steps” that could have prevented the massacre. He was asked to resign, which he did in February 1983, only to be appointed minister without portfolio a few days later.

Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, Minister of Foreign Affairs, were blamed for what they did “carelessly” or “negligently”. No punishment was recommended against Rafael Eytan, army chief of staff. General Yehoshua Saguy, head of military intelligence, should be removed, as well as the director of the Mossad, while General Yaron, commander of the Beirut sector, should be excluded from any command post for three years. The Lebanese investigation, carried out under the orders of President Amine Gemayel, himself from the Kataeb party, will never succeed.

Over the years, new revelations made by researchers and journalists have made it possible to better understand the role of each actor in this massacre.

In 2012, the American researcher at University College London, Seth Anziska, had access in Israel to the secret declassified annexes of the Kahane report. In an article written for New York Times (NYT), he pointed out that American officials knew what was happening in the camps and did not react to stop the massacre.

The researcher wrote that after a meeting, on September 17, 1982, between the American diplomat Morris Draper and the ambassador of Tel-Aviv Sam Lewis, on the one hand, Ariel Sharon, Rafael Eytan and Yehoshua Saguy in other, ” Israelis get from Americans to maintain Phalangist militiamen in camps for another 48 hours “.

A long-planned massacre

Last June, Ronen Bergman, an Israeli investigative journalist, published in Yediot Aharonot a report that sheds light on Israel’s role in the killings.

Mr. Bergman provoked a secret meeting, on September 19, 1982, between, on the one hand, Lebanese Christian leaders and, on the other, Raphaël Eytan and other Israeli military officers. The purpose of the meeting, “to build a unified version of the facts to present them internationally”, while the condemnations of the massacre began to increase. ” Raphaël Eytan is not worried about the moral aspect, but about the possible withdrawal of Israeli forces from Beirut under pressure “, said Ronen Bergman.

The report suggested that the massacre had been planned weeks before the killing of Bachir Gemayel. The researcher reported that during a meeting on July 11, 1982, Ariel Sharon allegedly made comments as required ” wipe out the southern part of Beirut “, which is contrary to the official version according to which the former Israeli defense minister never proposed ” no attack against the capital of Lebanon.

Despite all these revelations and even 40 years later, no one has been convicted for this massacre. The Amnesty Law enacted in Lebanon in 1991 prohibits the prosecution of crimes committed during the civil war.

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