Today marks the 38th anniversary of one of the most brutal massacres in modern history. Beginning at approximately 6:00 P.M. on September 16, 1982, shortly after Israeli troops seized control of West Beirut, the right-wing Lebanese Phalange forces operating under the direction of Israeli forces massacred, wounded, and left homeless thousands of defenseless men, women, and children in the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps. The widespread massacre was carried out methodically over the course of two days until 8:00 A.M. on September 18.
This year, the anniversary of this brutal massacre falls just a day after normalization agreements were signed between Israel, UAE, and Bahrain- agreements that did not include Palestinians in the talks, neither were they signed between countries that were in conflict. The normalization agreements whitewash the occupation of Palestine and ignore the human rights violations of the Israeli apartheid regime. Human rights violations that include the very massacre that we are remembering today.
During the massacre, Israeli forces were in full control of the area in which the Sabra and Shatila camps are located. They allowed Phalange militants into the camps, prevented refugees from fleeing for their lives, and lit the night sky with a continuous series of flares as the killing raged on. The massacre received swift and severe UN condemnation as just a few months later the UN General Assembly voted unanimously (with 12 abstentions) to pass a Resolution that the Sabra and Shatila massacre constituted an act of genocide. Moreover, the Israeli government’s own inquiry into the affair, the Kahan Commission, found that Israeli military personnel were well aware of the ongoing massacre and stood by idly as it continued. Senior Israeli officials who were found responsible for the massacre continued to hold high governmental and political posts in Israel.
Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Defense Minister at the time and the man who orchestrated the Israeli occupation of Lebanon leading up to the massacre, was forced to resign. Israel’s own Commission concluded that he was personally responsible for the harrowing and inhumane tragedy. That being said, Sharon would eventually go on to become Israel’s Prime Minister in 2001. Additionally, General Amos Yaron, commander of the Israeli occupying forces in the Lebanese capital of Beirut during the massacre, became a Director-General of the Israeli Defense Ministry. The ability for Sharon and Yaron to hold the highest offices in Israel, even after their very own government essentially found them guilty of war crimes, is indicative of the continuing brutality of Israeli forces.
Thirty-eight years later, the Sabra and Shatila massacre remains one of the most symbolic events in the history of the Palestinian people and their plight. The massacre demonstrates the tragedy of the Palestinian refugees, who have been dispossessed from their homeland for over 70 years. This tragedy is an example of the need for a just settlement of the refugee issue based on the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194, which affirms the right of return for Palestinian refugees.
The atrocities of Sabra and Shatila continue to traumatize survivors, who still seek justice and mourn the victims. Decades later, the painful memories of the massacre persist and the perpetrators remain unpunished.