An Everlasting Trauma: Sabra and Shatila by the Hours

September 16, 2021

Source: The Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 31, No. 1. 16 Sep 23:31

By Al Mayadeen

Ariel Sharon gave the commands, the Israeli-backed militiamen did the dirty work.

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On one occasion of forty hours of ruthless slaughter, “Israel’s” June 6, 1982 invasion of Lebanon, called “Operation Peace for Galilee,” hardly experienced any sense of peace. Linda Butler, an associate editor at the Journal of Palestine Studies, narrates it well

According to “Israel,” the aim of the operation was to push back the frontiers of the Palestinian resistance fighters to “protect the people of Galilee” – however, little did 3500 Palestinian and Lebanese know about how their death, sans criminal record, would protect settler colonialism miles and miles away. The second goal of the invasion was to station a government that has an affinity to Israeli settler colonialism. In this case, the president that was to assume office was right-wing leader Bashir Gemayel. 

Sharon called it, “ridding the world of international terrorism.” 

West Beirut, which engulfed the Sabra and Shatila camps, was besieged for 70 days. Three months into the invasion, 17,825 people were killed in occupied regions. West Beirut’s death toll alone, due to airstrikes, artillery and gunfire, took up 2,461 civilians.

As the death toll incessantly mounted, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) came to an understanding in August: to evacuate 11,000 Palestinian fighters and officials under the supervision and auspices of French, US, and Italian troops. The troops left by September 10, 1982. 

On the afternoon of the 14th of September, Bashir Gemayel was assassinated in the Kataeb (Arabic for Phalengist) headquarters in Achrafieh, East Beirut. Habib Shartouni, a member of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, was blamed for the explosion. 

Ariel Sharon, the security minister at the time, capitalized on the assassination to execute a plan that has impacted the lives of thousands.

Sharon immediately pused the narrative that the Palestinians were behind the assassination of the Christians’ leader, and that they must be avenged as soon as possible.

Accordingto an Israeli journalist, Amnon Kapeliouk, the horrendous operation to be launched by Sharon had been “meticulously planned long in advance.” 

At 3:00 AM on the 15th of September, Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan, Major General Amir Drori, Chief of Intelligence Elie Hobeika, and the Lebanese militia’s new commander-in-chief Fadi Frem met to discuss entry into the Sabra and Shatila camps. Sharon instructed, “Only one element, and that is the IDF, shall command the forces in the area.” While the IDF gave the orders, the Phalangist militiamen did the dirty work:

Fighter jets flew at a low altitude and tankers and troops surrounded the camps from all sides. Israeli snipers were at work, tanks were shelling the premises, and all exits and entrances were blocked by the IDF. Families locked themselves in their homes. 

By 11:30 AM on the 16th of September, the Israelis announced that they had taken control of Beirut. 

At 4:00 PM, jeeps supplied by the Israeli occupation forces drove into Shatila with the guidance of arrows drawn on the walls by the Israelis. 

A platoon of 150 militia soldiers, armed with guns, knives, and axes, stormed the camp. Immediately, they entered homes, slit throats, axed, shot, and raped. On many occasions, they would also slit pregnant women’s bodies open, leaving them and their fetuses to bleed to death. Entire families and neighborhoods were lined up on the streets and shot ruthlessly. 

On Thursday and Friday, Israelis fired light flares into the camps to guide the militiamen in the massacre. One Dutch nurse described the camp as bright as “a sports stadium lit up for a football game.”

By 8:40 PM, a briefing by an army general, Yaron, took place: He said that the militiamen are confused as to what to do with the men, women, and children. They were concerned that they found no terrorists, which left them to wonder what to do with the population they have rounded up. 

At this point, the Israelis were divided on whether the operation should proceed or not. On the one hand, one commander thought things “may have gotten too far,” another commander was impressed with the militiamen’s work and that they should continue, as they called it, “mopping up” till Friday, 5 AM the next day. Upon requesting another bulldozer to “demolish illegal structures,” the Israelis unconditionally granted it to the Phalangists. 

On Friday the 17th of September, the systemic murdering persisted. Bulldozers were at work: they were digging mass graves, and scooping bodies into piles on trucks just outside the camps. The “illegal structures,” which were inhabited buildings, would be destroyed so that bodies would be buried under the wreckage. At the height of this round of massacre, 400 militiamen were involved.

On Saturday at 6 AM, loudspeakers passing through the camps would order civilians to give in to the militia, to exit their homes, and turn themselves in. At that point, it was reported that a thousand people marched out of their homes in lines. The Israeli-backed militiamen would take some of the civilians out of the line and execute them on the spot, whereas others would be dragged to trucks nearby the Kuwaiti embassy and kidnapped…never to be found again. 

At 9 AM, international journalists and media outlets entered the camps only to find piles of bodies lying down on the floor – many mutilated, maimed, and unidentifiable. Many graves were shallowly dug, leaving dead body parts to appear arbitrarily. 

By 10 AM, the militiamen left the camp and the Israelis stayed out of the “scene” as to not be blamed for anything, refusing any accountability and denying any involvement in the disaster. 

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