For more information on the case against Ariel Sharon and others responsible for the 1982 massacre see the website of the International Campaign for Justice for the Victims of Sabra and Shatila, http://www.indictsharon.net.
It is said that massacres become a part of history and political episodes only through the remembrance of their horrors and savagery, and primarily through the raising of the victim's voice and the punishment of the executioner. In spite of all that has been written about the 1982 massacre of Sabra and Shatila, and inspite of all the efforts to commemorate the massacre, those responsible for the death of thousands of refugees remained immune from pursuit, until a group of lawyers including the two Belgian lawyers Luc Walleyn and Michael Verhaeghe and the Lebanese lawyer Chibli Mallat raised a case against Ariel Sharon and others in Belgium, on behalf of twenty eight of the relatives of the survivors from the massacre.
Since the case was lodged in 2001 it has passed through various stages. It achieved remarkable victories, but it also suffered painful setbacks. However, the case never lost its moral force and ethical strength.
|Pursuit of the Criminal and the Raising of the Voice of the Victim:
Testimonies at the 21st Anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila Massacre
by Jaber Suleiman
The greatest setback occurred when the newly elected Belgian government passed a draft law that effectively annulled Belgium’s law of "Universal Jurisdiction." The Belgian parliament subsequently adopted the law on 30 July 2003 by a vote of 89-3 with 34 abstentions. The Belgian Senate gave its final approval one day later (39-4 with 20 abstentions).
The new law allows cases to be brought before the Belgian courts only if the victim or suspect is a Belgian citizen or long-term resident at the time of the alleged crime. It also guarantees diplomatic immunity for world leaders and other government officials visiting Belgium.
Did the train of Belgian justice stop?! Did the relatives of the victims of Sabra and Shatila lose hope in following the executioner and putting him on trial?! What is the opinion of those people?! This article includes testimonies from seven members of the victims’ families and their reaction to the developments of the case and its fate on the 21st anniversary of the massacre.
The sample includes Palestinians, Lebanese, men and women. Most of these witnesses attended at least some of the hearings conducted in Belgium. The article also incorporates individuals who took part in solidarity activities in European and Arab countries with the victims of the massacre.
Some of the interviewees were eager to speak and felt that expressing what they had so long repressed would be enough to exorcize the horror. Others were reticent about expressing their true feelings as if forgetfulness was the way to purge themselves of the tragedy.
|The legal retribution should be based on the concept of necessity. It is in the first place necessary for human relations, to avoid declining to bottom of savageness, secondly it is necessary for the victim as to avoid the deterioration of humanity.
The latter group, thwarted by the inability to summon language capable of expressing their grief, was choked with tears. They retreated into an old wound, which they tried to smother with absurd forgetfulness. However, they were not any less expressive even if the tragedy exceeds that which could be put into words
Testimony No. 1: Sana' Moh'd Sarsawi (1963)
Relation with the victims: Hassan (30 years), husband.
After the massacre, we the relatives of the victims were demonstrating and holding sit-ins in front of Dar al Fatwa/Beirut every Thursday and we devoted ourselves to do so along four years. Besides, we were contacting MP's and ministers in the hope of receiving any help to find those who disappeared during the massacre and today are counted among the martyrs.
This is why when I was asked to entrust the team of lawyers to sue Sharon, I accepted without hesitation; as the word goes, "a drowning man will clutch at a straw". Although in the beginning, I was anxious about the usefulness of the prosecution, this anxiety soon dispersed especially when I traveled with the lawyer Chibli Mallat and the Belgian lawyer, Luc Walleyn to the United Arab Emirates to give my testimony at a seminar which the Zayed Center for coordination and follow up organized about the case (28 August 2001). I felt at that time the case was serious and wouldn't take a single session, but rather would take long time. In short, this "raised my morale". When I was faced with this big number of journalists and reporters at Zayed Center, and when I was asked the first question, I cried because I was deeply affected.
I think the war on Iraq had a great impact on the decision of the Belgian government; no country supported our case as Belgium did because all our previous action to propel the case was futile. If the case causes Sharon uneasiness, I think this will be a great achievement. We thank Belgium for this achievement: our efforts didn't go in vain.
Nothing at all compensates what we have lost… However, we don't want the blood of our relatives to be spilled with impunity. We want to seize our right and don't want to see the criminal at large. Whatever is achieved for the case in Belgium will shed light on crimes such as killing, arrest, house demolishing, uprooting crops, taking place in Palestine everyday. We share the same suffering and hopes as our people in Palestine, and the cause goes beyond Sabra and Shatila massacre.
Sharon is ruling in Israel today… there is no justice there. If there were, the road map wouldn't exist… a state dispossessing our rights can't prosecute Sharon. We don't count much on the peace forces or the Israeli womens coalition though they sent us a solidarity letter last year. These forces are invisible; had those women suffered as we did, their position would have been different. The attitude of those women against Sharon might be true… but at the end of the day they are not with us.
We thank the Belgian government…they might have good reasons to fear the American/Israeli pressure… the Belgian judicial authorities have given its part; through the Belgium courts, the whole world could hear our voices. We couldn't achieve that along the past twenty years. There were people in the world that hadn't even heard of the massacre before raising the case in Belgium. We thank our lawyers from our hearts. They resisted for two years and achieved something important… the case is brought up internationally and there is an anniversary commemoration which brings together European and non-European solidarity delegations from many countries. The case is going on. We've achieved a lot so far… the mere pressure on Belgium is an indication of Israeli fear and upset and at the same time success for our lawyers. I liked to go to Belgium to thank the lawyers and judges and speak in the court rather than speaking here only for the journalists.
Testimony No. 2: Nazik Abed Al Rahman Al Jammal (1928)
Relation with the victims: Salim, (22 years) and Samih (20 years) sons
When we were asked to file the case, our hope in success was as the hope of "a drowning man who clutches at a straw". At that time I thought "the killer must be tried and the criminal must be punished sooner or later… our families were killed with impunity. I lost my brothers at the time I needed them most. After raising the case, my mother's health deteriorated dramatically to an extent that she lost her sight… the case reopened her wounds and renewed her pains and grief for the loss of her two sons. She liked to see Sharon behind the bars in her life.
It's shameful for a state to enact a law and fail to defend it and keep it because of American and Israeli pressures. The Belgian government yielded to the American pressure, which was asserted for the interest of Israel. This means both have the same interests. The prosecution wouldn't return my dead brothers even if it happens. I lost them, and they won't be resurrected. They are like a collapsed mountain. Our grief is that they didn't have a natural death. The prosecution will relieve me psychologically. It will give all criminals a clear message saying: "No crime goes without punishment… Besides, it may prevent victimizing others as the case in Palestine today.
I absolutely reject prosecuting Sharon in Israel: "Dogs don't bite dogs… an Israeli won't prosecute another Israeli."
We ask the lawyers and the supporting committee to keep going and "we are with them till the end." We have to support the lawyers. They have many ways, which I don't know, to keep the prosecution going. Perhaps it is useful if the plaintiffs go to protest before the Belgian embassy in Beirut.
Testimony No. 3: Mohammad Shawkat Abu Rodaina (1977)
Relation with the victims: Shawkat, (40 years) father; Amal (27 years) sister, who is mute and deaf. She was pregnant when she was killed; Hussein, brother in law; Mohammad (50 years), his uncle; Aida (17 years) his cousin; and Kayed another cousin.
Since the beginning I had a feeling and conviction that something can be achieved through prosecuting Sharon. This feeling grew later on when the case achieved success on legal, political and media levels. However, I was highly depressed after the events of 11 September. Why? Because I am aware of the US hegemony over the whole world including Europe and Belgium. On the other hand, it's not strange to me to provoke the case after 19 years of silence. Simply before this, we didn't have a law like the Belgium one (1993/1999) to enable us to file such a case. Yet, I think the PLO should have provoked the case legally rather than relying on media activism which prevailed since 1982.
I'm a pessimist. I don't see light at the end of the tunnel. We are the weakest party in this process. As Belgium subdued to the American and Israeli will, practically it would be so difficult to proceed except activating the case politically and in the media especially after Israel chose to abandon the legal battle and chose fighting through politics and media instead. When I was invited by the Association of Norwegian Organization for Palestine (16 August 2002) to participate in the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the massacre, I realized how important media is on the international level. The participants were raising slogans: "we won't forget Sabra and Shatila… Jenin never again… Try Sharon… Defend the Palestinian right of return."
The loss of the father and family and their care and love is something that can't be compensated… I always blame my father (God bless him) because he didn't leave the camp when news spread about the massacre… He didn't believe it. Besides, he accused my mother (God bless her soul too) of fear when she asked him to leave the camp. However, what is the use of blame today? This tragedy accompanies me all my life… whenever I face one of life's difficulties, I return back 20 years to that black and horrible moment… Sharon's prosecution, if it takes place, won't be more than a psychological compensation for the loss, which can't be compensated at all. The trial can never turn the time back… I feel lost. There is no use to move the case to the Israeli courts. This trial is illegal… we don't recognize the legality of a trial conducted by the occupier… How can an occupier try himself?! As for the peace forces in Israel, including the initiative of the Israeli Women's Coalition for Just Peace, I think it has a very limited effect. For example, the big demonstration of Tel Aviv in 1982 to condemn the massacre only polished Israel's image internationally by showing a false humanistic side for the Israeli community.
The case hasn't been defeated morally. If the regional circumstances don't help to push it forward now, this might not be the case in the near future. If the case isn't provoked in the future, it won't have the same momentum it acquired along the past two years. Besides, the lawyers have to find another way and other channels in international law to reactivate the case. Mohammad ended by saying: "The case is related to the Road Map and the current development of the peace process… Sharon becomes an angel in the eyes of USA and its president Bush while we are designated as devils."
Testimony No. 4: Wadha Hassan Al Sabeq (52 years)
Relation with the victims: Mohammad (19 years) and Ali (16 years) sons; Mohammad brother; Besides, 15 of her relatives disappeared.
I felt it odd for someone to come after 19 years to raise a case against Sharon. After the massacre happened, nobody cared for us. It could be because we were experiencing successive massacres and continuous wars as the war against the camps… when we were asked to authorize a lawyer to file the case, I felt that at last some one noticed our tragedy. Yes I had hope that Sharon could be prosecuted especially when I attended one of the hearings in Brussels (28 November 2001). I felt how much the international media cared for the case and the suffering of the survivors. Besides, I could feel the support of the Belgian people and the parliament. We will never forget that young MP (Mr. Quiken Bome) who received us at the airport and insisted on carrying my luggage from a hotel to anther looking for a suitable residence for us.
God is greater that the American and Israeli pressure, so we have to keep going in the case. Everybody knows that Sharon is a war criminal, but the American support for Israel brought the case to the present situation. However, God is greater.
The trial won't change our reality. It won't return those I lost… the plight will always exist even if Sharon is prosecuted. We won't forget our loved ones, but what sometimes belittles our plight is the fact that Palestine is a bigger tragedy… However, Sharon's prosecution will relieve us now because his crimes are still taking place in Palestine. Although there are many Sharon's in Israel now, his prosecution will still have a great effect on the situation in Palestine. It will help our people there… but still won't make us forget our loved ones. Our solace is that the tragedy of Palestine is overwhelming.
The case has achieved success on international public opinion. I myself felt that during my visit to Brussels. In the beginning we were participating in sit-ins in front of Dar al Fatwa, the national museum of Beirut, and the Hobeish custody at Ras Beirut. We registered the names of our disappeared sons. At that time, I thought they weren't killed, but among the disappeared. Till now I don't know whether they are dead or alive. However, one doesn't lose hope. Even ten months ago, after a Lebanese committee started to follow up the cases of disappeared people in the wars, I went and filled in a questionnaire at Ouzai police station/Beirut. Filing the case revived hope in our hearts. We live on hope, which is God's gift to us.
Although words are useless, I hope the case will go on. Circumstances might change, and Sharon's trial becomes a reality. If we talk for days and nights, nobody will listen or reply… we have to keep commemorating the massacre annually with the support solidarity foreign delegations so that the whole world will always remember that there is a case.
Testimony No. 5: Bahjat Zein/ Im Salim (1948)
Relation with the victims: Walid (22 years) disappeared brother
I accepted to file the case and authorize a lawyer on the hope of returning part of our rights. I had big hope despite the fact that some relatives of the victims refused to authorize a lawyer after 20 years of despair. Some of them might have refused because of fear. I asked her: "Fear of whom and what?" she answered: "If we don't speak up, the massacre might be reproduced… we lost our homeland. What could we lose more if we lose the case?! Let's try again."
America is Sharon's right hand; it pressures the whole world. Sharon was given immunity to escape trial. If Sharon had won the case, Belgium wouldn't have amended the law. America and Israel resorted to political pressure because they lost the legal battle. However, Belgium is obliged to carry out what America and Israel want.
If we win the case, it doesn't mean we win our sons because they won't come to life again. All we want is that the massacre won't happen again. Sabra and Shatila wasn't Sharon's last massacre. Look what he has done in Jenin camp. Had he been prosecuted, we would have got part of our right, which in turn would support the Palestinian cause. Winning the case is not only through the law rather through our steadfastness and insistence and upholding our right to return to our homeland. Our silence is a bigger loss. Not compensation but retaining our land is the substance of our rights. The homeland is indispensable even when you are away and a refugee, you are still Palestinian. "I was born and lived in Sabra… when I go away, I long for it… but we have a homeland, so why don't we go back to it?" After the liberation, when I visited south Lebanon and looked at Palestine through Fatima Gate, I said: "This is Palestine: how beautiful it is!" "Every generation is more dwelled with Palestine love than its predecessor."
Israel won't prosecute Sharon. If this takes place, "Israel would be prosecuting itself not only for Sabra and Shatila, but for all the current crimes. A tyrant won't prosecute himself, so everyone should fight for his right."
We won't abandon the case. "We should keep our voices loud and our narratives should be heard outside." All advocates for human rights should back Sharon's trial… all tyrants should be tried… "Besides, the Belgian judiciary should move to defend itself."
Testimony No. 6: Nadima Yousef Nasser (1956)
Relation with the victims: Musa Aidi, husband; Mustapha Aidi, father in law; Said, Hassan, and Ibrahim, brothers in law; she also lost 5 other relatives.
I felt at ease when we were asked to authorize a lawyer to file the case. I also thanked God that someone took upon himself to raise the case. I didn't have much hope that Sharon would be tried. He's still committing massacres… what is happening in Palestine now is evidence that Sharon won't be tried.
We prefer that the case go on… and we also hope that our lawyers find a country other than Belgium that accepts to prosecute Sharon.
America is dominating the world, and it was behind the abolition of the case. Besides, it is behind the suffering of our people in Palestine.
If the case ended with Sharon's prosecution only, we would be psychologically relieved. "God knows our situation." My husband was killed two years after our marriage. At that time I had twin girls: one got married and the other is still living with me and looking for work after she studied a one year course in business administration at NPA. I worked hard to support my mother. Now I am sick. I hope my daughter finds work soon. For the time being it's hopeless.
They occupied our country, disposed our people and nobody accused them. It's impossible for Israel to prosecute Sharon… I don't believe it. As long as Israel is powerful, Sharon won't be prosecuted.
We have to keep going in our case…" Let's seek a country other than Belgium. I say to the lawyers, "Don't forget us… and keep looking for a new country."
Testimony No. 7: Abed Al Nasser Alameh (1967)
Relation with the victims: Ali (19 years) disappeared brother; Abed also lost a number of his family
In the beginning, I didn't have a glimpse of hope that the case would come to fruition despite the seriousness and commitment of the lawyers. Recalling the case after 19 years brought me back to the awful memories and first shock… I guessed the circumstances now might help to prosecute Sharon. However, I wasn't sure. After attending one of the hearings in the Palace of Justice (Brussels), and listening to the course of the session, especially the arguments of Sharon's lawyer and the Belgian Prosecutor General's response, I was filled with hope that we were strong by the rule of the law.
As soon as the case was accepted in Belgium and the pre-trial procedures initiated, America and Israel started to pressure on the Belgian government threatening to use political and economic means to hurt Belgium. As the case was about to achieve success, the American/Israeli interference increased on the legal course of the case till they succeeded to force Belgium to abolish the law. The American influence aimed precisely at polishing the image of Sharon, illustrating him as a man of peace rather than a war criminal…. Bush needs Sharon's help to support his occupation of Iraq and to avoid prosecution of American military figures who might commit war crimes in Iraq. What we are looking for in the future is prosecuting all war criminals regardless of their nationalities.
Sharon's trial for me is bringing justice and equity for victims. It also means that criminals could be encountered and punished. If the trial occurs, it will give me security, safety and feeling of self-esteem and dignity. Moreover, it's a moral rather than a physical compensation. We look forward to seeing a just trial that would comfort our souls taking place.
If we were asked to file the case in Israel from the very beginning, we would have refused. Were Israel wiling to try Sharon, it would have done it in 1982, while the blood of victims was still wet. The substance of Israel as a state is expulsion of the Palestinian people from their homeland. Israel was established on the expense of innocent people. Such a state can't claim democracy and it is not qualified to carry out a just trial. Both America and Israel founded themselves through genocide of the indigenous populations. Some believe in the necessity of acting among the Israeli peace bloc taking into consideration the big demonstration against Sharon that took place in Tel Aviv in 1982. In this regard, I would say some people of conscience among Israelis might refuse to support Sharon's practices and measures against Palestinians under occupation. Those people won't bring us justice and equity because at the end of the day they are contributing to polish the image of Israel. Besides, I am also against carrying out the trial in Lebanon because I don't trust the credibility of justice in this country. For example, Mr. Hobeika, who is involved in committing the massacre, had been granted immunity in Lebanon and became a minister in the Lebanese government before his assassination.
I believe that we won the legal battle that Sharon lost… the Belgian government can't do anything to face the American/Israeli pressure. We call on the Belgian people represented by the parliament especially those MP's who backed our case to move again to achieve justice and equity. Sharon caused a deep wound, which was reopened once the case was filed. Later on the Belgian people granted us hope to remedy our awful wound in this world of real politick. Once again, I beg the Belgian people to stand with us and back our case and help remedy our wounds. Also we call on the founding committee to support the case against Sharon along with the team of lawyers to advocate the human rights organizations to push the case through the international human rights organizations though such a move won't basically change the American and Israeli positions.
Jaber Suleiman is currently acting as the coordinator of the Founding Committee to Support the Case against Sharon/Lebanon. This study does not necessarily reflect the views of the lawyers for Sabra and Shatila survivors.