Seven Day Horror

How the Sabra/Shatila Massacre
was Buried with the Victims

The obscenity of the massacre, its sadistic details, the surrealist landscape of sun-bloated bodies and bulldozed buildings - all this tended to block out in Western media coverage less visible evidence of careful logistical planning. Once journalists succeeded in penetrating the massacre area, their detailed reporting and photography at first horrified but then 'naturalized' the episode in familiar Western stereotypes of Arabs - 'revenge', 'hate', 'primitive brutality'. Massacre photos took on a strange transhistoricity as they were used over and over again by Western media, as if these contorted and swollen bodies had never really lived.

Though journalists on the spot quickly found evidence of cooperation between the Israelis outside the camp and the Lebanese militiamen inside, and although they wrote about it, the image that lasted was of a kind of natural disaster. As an American journalist with whom I visited the massacre scene remarked, "These things happen in war". But of course such events don't just happen, they are produced.

  Western journalists mostly failed to notesigns of IDF advance before the assassination of Bashir Gemayel on September 14: moves towards the Kuwaiti Embassy from 3 September; the sniper-killing of a UN officer who photographed the advance; and Sharon's announcement on September 11 that '2000 terrorists' remained in Sabra/Shatila. Sharon and Bashir Gemayel were in continual contact between June and mid-September, and how to remove the Palestinians from Beirut is known to have been on their agenda. Several sources say there was a meeting at Bikfaya on the night of September 12/13 at which "the two men agreed on joint short- and long-term plans of action: Sometime toward the end of the month, Israel and the Lebanese Christians were to uproot the remaining 'terrorist' presence in West Beirut.

Later, Bashir and Israel would sign a full bilateral peace agreement".(1) After Bashir's assassination, Sharon decided to go ahead with the plan, using the Lebanese Forces under Hobeika to carry out the cleansing operation. The subsequent massacre horror drew the media from all over the world, evoking reportages that won prizes for meticulous investigation. But - as always - media interest quickly declined, and was not sustained by Palestinian or Arab information campaigns, nor by formal accusations of war crimes. There was no official Arab attempt to register all the victims, or to call for a war crimes tribunal. From Damascus, Yasser Arafat accused American emissary Habib, who had guaranteed the safety of civilian Palestinians, of bad faith, but nowhere was the PLO's absence so strikingly demonstrated as in the massacre site.

Whereas from 1969 until this moment, after every Israeli or Lebanese attack on the camps, the PLO had been there to rebuild, help the wounded, honour the dead and indemnify the living now, in the aftermath of the massacre, it appeared totally impotent. Shatila and its surrounding quarters offered a scene of desolation and chaos, filled with the smell of death, weeping women cursing the Arab governments, media people searching for witnesses, bodies and burial teams.(2)

Bulldozers with clear Hebrew markings, broughtin to demolish housing over bodies, stood like silent witnesses. Among organizations burying the dead were the International and Lebanese Red Crosses, and the Civil Defence. Body counts between them varied. As for the mass graves, there were many apart from the large one at the crossing of Abu Hassan Salameh Street and the  Airport Boulevarde where, later, Palestinians were prevented from raising a monument. The Lebanese Army, now reinstalled around the camp, stopped people from approaching others near the Kuwaiti Embassy, the Golf Course, and the Sports City. (There may be another near Sidon.) Many families removed bodies for proper burial, many survivors left the area altogether.

But the biggest obstacle to a complete count of victims was that many people, mainly men, were removed in trucks, never to return. In such conditions it was impossible to reach an accurate count of the dead and the missing.(3) More important reasons why the total number of victims will never be known are: i) neither the Israelis nor the Lebanese had an interest in producing an accurate count; ii) the massacre didn't end on September 18, 1982 at 10am, as in most accounts, but continued in piece-meal fashion throughout West Beirut and the South in individual assassinations and kidnappings, until the domination of the Christian militias was broken in February 1984

. This pogrom was carried out by anti-Palestinian militias free to move into areas from which they had been excluded up to 1982. In parallel fashion, the Lebanese Army (re-structured to ensure Kata'eb dominance) undertook a mass arrest campaign of Palestinians, men and women, as well as deportations of foreigners working with the Palestinians.

An examination of Newsweek's coverage of the massacre is revealing as an example of how Western media highlighted its macabre aspects but buried its political and legal implications. Its September 27, 1982 issue (more than a week after massacre news was carried by the wire services) has a cover picture of Grace Kelly with a small patch headline: "Massacre in Beirut". Inside is a 2-page article illustrated with body photographs, and one of an Israeli soldier captioned "A horrid mistake". An Israeli official is quoted as saying "We should get some credit (for stopping the massacre) even if it was a little late".

The massacre article is followed by an article on the Nazi holocaust. In the next Newsweek (October 4) the lead article is titled "Israel in Torment: A Time of Reckoning"; a sub-title sets the leitmotif for future recall, "Bodies in Beirut: Protest in Israel". While local correspondent Ray Wilkinson does an excellent job of reporting (including evidence of Israeli-Lebanese Forces cooperation), the editorializing refocuses attention to Israel with titles like "The troubled soul of Israel", translating the massacre from a crime into an internal Israeli problem.

After this, Newsweek forgets the massacre until December 6: "Israel: the Massacre Enquiry" (leaks from the Kahan Commission aimed at Sharon); January 3, 1983: a stock massacre body picture has been chosen as one of the 'Images of '82'; and February 21 ("Sharon Takes the Rap"). Here the cover shows a photo portrait of Sharon superimposed on part of a body picture. Inside, the Kahan Commission.

Report is praised as "a brave and meticulous accounting of Israel's role in the Beirut massacre" and contrasted with "the moral indifference of Lebanon". Newsweek's moral concern is well illustrated by its casual acceptance of a massacre death toll as "700 or more".

 Investigations, Official & Unofficial

As necessary as the bulldozers to bury the bodies were the official enquiries to bury the massacre itself, consigning it to history, and making sure that its perpetrators would not be brought to justice. There were two official investigations, Israeli and Lebanese. Established relucta ntly by Begin (himself a participant in the Deir Yassin massacre of April 9, 1948), the Kahan Commission's main objective was to pacify Israelis outraged by the massacres, and to impress American public opinion. It salvaged Begin by blaming Sharon whom it judged guilty of 'indirect responsibility' through negligence.

However, the Kahan Report stopped short of accusing Sharon of intentionally introducing the Lebanese Forces into the camps to carry out a massacre, and did not question the truth of Sharon's claim that '2000 terrorists' had remained in the camp. It did not probe the prior relations between the Israeli Army and the massacre perpetrators, some of whom are known to have received training in Israel. It also furthered Israel's Lebanon policy by singling out the Phalange for blame and exonerating Haddad's militia in spite of eye-witness and journalistic evidence that Haddadists were there.

Further, certain evidence submitted to the Commission was classified as 'secret' (Appendix B), and remains so up to today. According to Newsweek (February 21, 1983) the 10-page annex was thought to contain details of Israel's relations with the Kata'eb, perhaps also Mossad's notes on a meeting between Sharon  Amin and Pierre Gemayel the day before the massacre began (September 15). Perhaps a more basic problem with the Report is that by focusing on the Sabra/ Shatila episode, which it aimed to 'close' by forcing Sharon to resign, the Kahan Commission deflected attention from the 1982 invasion as a whole, which not only lacked justification but included war crimes such as the bombing of civilian shelters, the use of forbidden weapons, and torture of detainees. The Kahan findings thus also corresponded to US policy needs: to close a 'regrettable episode'.

Military Prosecutor Assad Germanos was put in charge of the official Lebanese investigation. On January 5, 1983, the Lebanese press reported that Germanos had made two or three visits to Sabra/Shatila, and that his report was expected to be ready in March or April.(4) In August 1983 the Kata'eb news agency al- Markazieh said that the report "had cleared the Kata'eb of any involvement and that there would be no prosecutions".(5) The Germanos report was never published. Given the identity of the massacre perpetrators, no other outcome was likely.Besides these, there were two independent international investigations, the International Commission of Enquiry (ICE) chaired by Sean MacBride, and the Nordic Commission, organized by the Palestinafronten and EAFORD.(6)

Both held hearings in Oslo late in 1982. The ICE report differed from the Kahan Commission Report in several crucial ways. It examined the total conduct of the war, not just the Sabra/Shatila massacres, and judged it as warranting a war crimes tribunal along Nuremberg lines. It underlined Israeli responsibility under the Geneva Conventions as the 'occupying power' totally controlling the area where the massacres took place, and pokes holes in Israeli claims of noncomplicity, presenting evidence of the presence of Israelis inside the camps' area.(7)

 It also affirms the overwhelmingly civilian nature of the residents of the area on the eve of the massacre and concludes with charges against Israel of intention, assistance and control. Another, less well-known investigation was the Nordic Commission whose report includes eye-witness testimonies. Unlike the Kahan Commission Report, which was widely praised in American media and reprinted in the New York Times, the ICE and Nordic Commission Reports were hardly noticed in the Western media. Neither of the two independent investigations became the basis of a Hague-style war crimes tribunal even though Israeli war crimes in Lebanon far surpassed anything that Milosovic is accused of today.

Amnon Kapeliouk's reconstruction of the three days of the massacre and the two days following it is a 'quickie' aimed at rapid publication, but is valuable  because done by a journalist on the spot who had access both the IDF and survivors from the camps. His account confirms what Newsweek reporter Ray Wilkinson also says, that ordinary soldiers reported having informed their superior officers of a massacre as early as Thursday, the day the killing began. Kapeliouk's book appeared in Hebrew, French and English, and was well reviewed.(8) It remains probably the most widely read account of the massacre.
 Palestinian Investigations

Almost unknown to the world are three Palestinian investigations .  Though carried out by activists and researchers connected to the national movement, they were not called for or financed by the PLO. The one I first became aware of, soon after the massacre, during visits to Shatila, was being carried out by local members of the General Union of Palestinian Women.

What happened to this exemplifies the obstacles that Palestinians faced between September 1982 and February 1984 in carrying out any kind of organized work. The volunteers filling out the forms were often stopped and questioned by the Army. Eventually other urgent tasks such as distributing aid to the homeless took priority over registering massacre victims. The documents that had been collected were finally destroyed, either in the Battle of the Camps (beginning in May 1985), or when the Army threw GUPW archives onto the street during one of its searches in Fakhany, West Beirut. None of those who helped with this work have any documents today.

Among national institutions that persistedafter the evacuation of the PLO fighters was the Palestine Research Centre, looted by the IDF during their invasion of West Beirut. Its director, Sabry Jiryis, together with head archivist Jaber Suleiman set about restoring the archive collection that the IDF had looted. Another researcher present in the PRC at that time recruited colleagues and local Shatila people to carry out an investigation of the massacre. Their aims were to reconstruct exactly what had happened through eye-witness accounts, and to register the killed and missing. They interviewed more than 120 witnesses before being forced to stop by the blowing up of the Research Centre on February 5, 1983. After the explosion, most PRC employees were arrested and deported. There are different accounts of what happened to the Centre's documents. Some say they were destroyed in the explosion, some that the Army trucked them away, others that Jiryis managed to salvage some, taking them with him into another exile.

The initiators of the PRC massacre investigation managed to publish their preliminary results in two issues of Shu'oon Filastiniyyeh (numbers 132/133 1982, no 138, 1983). In the first of these, the researchers give nineteen brief eyewitness accounts. Full names are not disclosed, though age, occupation and residence are given. From the answers it appears that these researchers were mainly concerned to establish the identity of the massacre perpetrators, whether through their uniforms, insignia and accent. Eyewitness evidence corroborates journalists' reports that Haddad's men took part in the massacre.

Several witnesses claimed that there were 'Jews' (i.e. Israelis) among the attackers, for example one woman said, "I knew...from his poor Arabic accent". Another described a commander speaking to the (attacking) fighters: "His Arabic was poor. He was tall and blond, an Israeli". I heard similar evidence from massacre survivors when I began fieldwork in Shatila (October 1982). It is worth noting that none of the other investigations - Israeli, Lebanese, or international - recorded local witnesses. Of special interest is an account in English written by a Palestinian from Shatila who was present during the massacre, and who attempted with a handful of comrades to resist the attackers.(9)

His accounts convey the horror from the inside, how no one knew what was happening, his efforts to convey the wounded to hospital, his grief for dead friends, his rescue - almost too late - of his own family. In a surrealist episode, an Israeli officer addresses men gathered in the Sports Stadium, after the ending of the killing, telling them that the Israelis have come "to prevent any massacre". Eyewitnesses said that men indicated by a hooded informer were led away and never reappeared. Another investigation was directed by Palestinian scholar Bayan al-Hout with a team of field-workers, beginning towards the end of 1982.

In 1985 Dr. Bayan presented part of her findings to a conference held by the International Commission of Enquiry into Israeli Crimes Against the Lebanese and Palestinian Peoples, in Bonn. Dr. Bayan withheld her paper from publication pending further data analysis. She estimates that her investigation succeeded in registering most of the killed but not all the missing.

The Fate of the Survivors

Visiting Shatila after the massacre, I was struck by the energy with which people - mainly women - were rebuilding their homes before the winter. Children were being registered in school, the wounded and sick were being taken for treatment. Schools and clinics were working at top speed to restore normality. One of the survivors I got to know that first winter was Umm Nabil, who I found rebuilding her home with her own hands, with her three small children (under five) dozing in a pram. Their home was on one of the main paths the attackers had taken to
enter the camp area. They left early on Thursday because of the shelling, but Umm Nabil's husband went back to retrieve milk powder for two-month old Nabil. She found his body later in the jaws of a bulldozer. In the spring of 1983, her rebuilt home was bulldozed by a Lebanese Army unit, and Umm Nabil was forced to move into a building that the PLO had built as a school. There she still is today.

Beit Atfal al-Summood, originally established by the Women's Union to care for the orphans of Tal al-Za'ter, took charge of orphans from this second massacre after it returned to Beirut in 1984. Beit Atfal is not an orphanage in the Western sense and since 1984, it has evolved into a multi-activity NGO, among whose activities is the support of orphans and their natural families, including sponsorships, visits, help with education and training. Renamed the National Institution for Social Care and Vocational Training, it has helped raise seventeen massacre orphans. This is certainly not a complete register.

It would take resources and time to trace all thechildren whom journalists or medical personnel found in the massacre aftermath without parents. For example Newsweek's Ray Wilkinson found an 11-year old boy, Milad Farouk, whose father, mother and brother had been killed. Jack Redden, an UPI reporter told the MacBride Commission of finding a 13-year old girl who was the only survivor of her family.(10) During the winter of 1982, I photographed a boy of about eight years old pushing a cart loaded with water containers.

People told me he had lost his parents, and was earning money to support younger siblings. What has happened to these child survivors? There's no quick answer. On March 8, 2001, Al-Jazira TV reached the massacre episode in its current series on the Lebanese Civil war, showing a long interview with Suad Srour and her brother Maher. Suad was both victim and survivor of the massacre, and has attained fame by attending events like the Women's Court (1996, Beirut) and the Beijing Conference, in spite of semi-paralysis caused by five bullets, one of which is still lodged in her spine.

Her father, three brothers and two sisters were shot dead with her; only her mother, one brother and one sister remain. The story of Suad's rehabilitation and activities as member of a cooperative for handicapped people is one of amazing courage and persistence, especially that she was subjected to rape by the Lebanese Forces at one of their checkposts while being transported in a Red Crescent ambulance for treatment abroad. There has been no gradual forgetting for this family which was recently forced to return to the house in the Horsh where their massacre took place. Suad admits to the need for psychiatric counselling and pills to help her sleep. The bullet in her spine ought to be removed.

Between Shatila camp and the Airport Boulevarde, Horsh (the forest) is an area where Palestinian and Lebanese displaced by fighting in the South built 'squatter' homes. Horsh was one of the centres of the slaughter. Until recently, Palestinians were prevented from returning there, since the area is politically dominated by the Amal movement. Palestinians forced to return through lack of alternative housing feel threatened by their neighbours, and sometimes resort to Syrian 'protection'. Among massacre victims in Horsh, I found Samiha Hijazi. She lost her newly married daughter and son-in-law in the massacre. A widow of 50 plus, with severely swollen legs caused by shrapnel wounds during the war of 1975/76, Samiha is forced to work for a living as a cleaner in a not-so-close school.

Lebanese by nationality, she was cut off by her family for marrying a Palestinian. During the Battle of the Camps, Amal militiamen vented their anger against her by killing her only son. The apartment she lives in is not her own, and when its owner returns she will have to find somewhere else to live. These are only three out of hundreds of massacre survivors, many of whom still live in Beirut's poorly serviced southern suburbs. No committee has emerged to represent people such as Umm Nabil, Suad or Samiha, or to lobby for their indemnification.

If Suad were Bosnian, she would have some hope that her attackers would be arraigned before the Hague tribunal, but up to now neither the Palestinian authority nor the Lebanese state appears about to embark on such a course. Moreover Shatila people's lives today are even more impoverished and insecure than they were in 1982. To visit the area today is to be shocked by the total absence of improvement. Instead you find a community flayed by unemployment, a degraded habitat, declining services, and an unknown future - in short massacre by other means.

What Happened to the Attackers?
The memoirs of Robert Hatem, nicknamed 'the Cobra', bodyguard to Lebanese Forces commander Elie Hobeika, are neither honest nor history.(11) His intent to exonerate Sharon of guilt for the massacre points to Israel or the Lebanese lobby in Washington as probable initiators. The Association for a Free Lebanon cooperates closely with Israel, and Hatem's book concludes with an appeal to Lebanese Christians to side with Israel against Syria.

Though far from a 'true account' of the massacre, Hatem's book has certain details that were not widely known earlier, for example the names of the leaders of some of the killer units: Joseph Asmar, Michel Zouein, George Melco, Maroun Mashaalani. He also names the LF leaders who "arrived to inspect the butchery" - Fadi Frem, Fuad Abi Nader (both subsequently became LF commanders), SteveNakkour, Elie Hobeika. Hobeika is quoted as giving the order "Total extermination...camps wiped out". Sharon is quoted as telling the unit leaders that there must be no attacks against civilians.

Haddad's militia are not mentioned - another sign of Israeli influence. What is most interesting in Hatem's book is the picture he gives of the in-fighting and breakup of the Lebanese Forces after Bashir Gemayel's death, as well as the sordid deals and thefts through which some of them - in particular Elie Hobeika - became immensely wealthy. Hatem gives a clue to the current situation of ordinary Lebanese Forces fighters when he says, "I am bring up such sordid details but I have to do justice to the militiamen who... never asked for payment or consideration. (Today) they live in fear and poverty..." He complains that men like himself are forced to survive on $400 amonth, and live in constant fear of arrest. By switching fealty from Israel to Syria, Hobeika betrayed the Christian community and honest patriots like himself. Hatem ends his book by urging the Lebanese to reverse this choice.

Christian disillusion with the militias ofcourse preceded Hatem's revelations, going back to the battles and assassinations of the eighties. It was then that the militias began to be discredited in their heartland, talked of as 'Mafia' and drugpushers rather than as heroes. In today's Lebanon, no one would boast of having taken part in the massacre, as several militiamen did to foreign journalists at the time. Probably many have taken Hatem's road to exile. Yet elements loyal to Bashir Gemayal or to Samir Geagea are still active in Lebanon; though dissolved, the Lebanese Forces form a vocal part of the opposition to the present regime.

Of course Hobeika himself is still here. Since the end of the Lebanese civil war, he has been minister in three governments, once with Omar Karameh, twice with Hariri, responsible byturn for Social Affairs, Electrical and Hydraulic Resources, and Displaced Persons. However in the last parliamentary elections he failed to be elected, and has no place in the present government. A "Middle East Intelligence Bulletin" posted on internet by the US Committee for a Free Lebanon notes that last year (February 2000) state prosecutor Addoum opened the dossier of the 1984 assassination attempt against Dr. Salim al-Hoss, in which Hobeika was thought to be implicated. Nothing has come of this case so far but without any real constituency his power days may be nearing their end.
 No Justice, No Indemnities

In conclusion, it must be asked why the perpetrators of one of the most brutal massacres of the 20th century have never been brought to trial? And why have the relatives of the victims not received justice or compensation? It has to be admitted that no official Arab entity - PLO, Arab governments, Arab human rights associations - took any step to pursue the matter. Some would say in defence of the PLO that itwas too beset by other problems in the aftermath of the invasion to take any legal steps, but a more basic reason is that the PLO never worked seriously on legal aspects of the Palestinian cause, and had little knowledge of international law.

 Even the many Lebanese victims were ignored by Amin Gemayel's government, not surprisingly given its sectarian colouring. The Arab governments were only concerned to pursue illusory United States' initiatives such as the 'Reagan plan'. Arab human rights groups at that time were still in their infancy. Another crucial factor is that the Arab media in 1982 were much less developed than today, and their coverage of the massacre was not strong enough to create Arab public pressure on governments to take action. Ultimately, however, it was the hierarchy within the international order that made it impossible for a war crimes tribunal like Nuremburg to be held. Without the backing of a strong state, appeals like those of the Independent International Commission got nowhere.

Eastern bloc governments and progressive lawyers campaigned to throw light on the massacre but no Western government did more than condemn and forget it. The local community did not forget its victims. On the 40th day after the massacre there was a march - mainly by women - to the bestknown of the mass graves. The Lebanese Army harassed them and detained several of the leaders. There were also attempts to clean up and fence the area, and the Japanese photographer Riyuchi Hirowaki designed a monument to the victims.

But the site of the mass graves lies in the Horsh, far from Shatila camp, so that for many years commemoration marches had to stay within the confines of the camp. In 1998, however, there was a candle-light procession, while last September a large march took place, in which several Lebanese parties and a substantial Italian delegation participated. There are plans to create a permanent memorial at this site. As the Armenian campaign for recognition of their holocaust reminds us, war crimes will never be fully buried as long as a 'people' lives.

(1) Benny Morris, The Righteous Victims. (New York: Knopf, 1999), p. 540. Morris does not give a source for the 'Bikfaya agreement' which suggests that he had access to Mossad records.
(2) There are many excellent descriptions, e.g. Jean Genet, "Four Hours in Shatila," The Journal of Palestine Studies, vol. XXII (3), Spring 1983; and Robert Fisk in Pity the Nation (London: Deutsch, 1990).
(3) An article in Shu'oon Filastiniyyeh "Sabra and Shatila Massacres: The Results of the Research" (Arabic) lists approximate totals give by the International Red Cross (around 1,000); Israeli Intelligence (700 to 800); Arafat (3,200). The international Commission of Enquiry's estimate was 2,750.
(4) Chronology, Journal of Palestine Studies, no. 47, Spring 1983, p. 151.
(5) Tabitha Petran, The Struggle Over Lebanon. (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1987), p. 289.
(6) Sean MacBride et. al Israel in Lebanon (London: Ithaca Press, 1983); EAFORD, Witness of War Crimes in Lebanon: Testimony Given to the Nordic Comission (London: Ithaca Press, 1983). (NB: EAFORD stands for the International Commission for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.)
(7) These included IDF food rations, the ID tag of IDF sergeant Benny Chaim, a pass written in Hebrew allowing a doctor to transit the area, the Israeli bulldozers, and the use of IDF units to prevent residents leaving: see Israel in Lebanon, p. 177-18.
(8) Amnon Kapeliouk, Sabra et Chatila: Enquete sur un massacre (Paris: Seuil, 1982).
(9) Zakaria al-Shaikh, "Sabra and Shatila 1982: Resisting the Massacre," Journal of Palestine Studies, vol. XIV (1), Fall 1984.
(10) Israel in Lebanon, Appendix V: Selected Testimony.
(11) Robert Hatem, From Israel to Damascus (Pride Publications, US), banned in Lebanon but available on the  internet.