Refugee Camps become Mass Graves
Between September 16 and 18, 1982, people in Beirut’s Sabra and Shatila refugee camps were massacred. Estimates vary, but about 2,000 Palestinian refugees, mostly women, children, and the elderly were killed. The attack took place during Lebanon’s civil war, a few months after Israel’s invasion of the country.
Robert Fisk, ‘It was a war crime’
The massacre was committed as revenge for the assassination of Bashir Gemayel, the leader of the Phalangists. The Lebanese Maronite-Christian Phalangist militia wrongly blamed the Palestinians for the assassination, and murdered hundreds while the Israeli army was accused of standing by.
Boys older than 15 were separated from their families and lined up against walls to be shot. The examination of other corpses, including women and children, showed signs that they were shot at point-blank range. Robert Fisk, one of the first journalists to arrive at the scene, described the events as a war crime. In December 1982, the United Nations General Assembly condemned the massacre as ‘genocide.’ An independent commission was then chaired by Sean MacBride, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. The commission agreed with calling what happened a genocide, and accused Israeli authorities and the army (right?//dh) of being responsible in the massacres and other killings that took place in Sabra and Shatila. The MacBride commission published its findings in 1983. That year, Israel’s own Kahan Commission also found Israel responsible, although indirectly. The commission said Ariel Sharon bore personal responsibility, and should be dismissed as Defense Minister. Sharon reluctantly resigned, but remained in the cabinet. He would later become Prime Minister.
A trial to proceed
In 2001, the survivors of the massacre and relatives of the victims filed a lawsuit in Belgium against Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Defense Minister during the massacre. Belgian law allows foreigners to be prosecuted for war crimes regardless of where they were committed. Sharon’s lawyers won an injunction, and the inquiry was suspended. An appeals court ruled the case inadmissible in June 2002. The Belgian judges said that a case could not proceed against a person who was not in Belgium. By then Sharon had become the prime minister of Israel which gave him immunity against prosecution. And when the International Criminal Court was established in The Hague in 1998, the ICC couldn’t try anyone for the massacre because when it was established, it was decided it wouldn’t hear cases pre-dating July 1, 2002.
Every year, Palestinians fill the streets of their hometowns to commemorate the lives lost during the 1982 massacre. After 33 years, they remember the victims of Sabra and Shatila and continue to demand trials for those they believe have so far got away with murder.