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30th Anniversary of Sabra-Shatila Massacre: New Challenges

30th Anniversary of Sabra-Shatila Massacre: New Challenges

Franklin Lamb
Shatila Camp
Graphics by Alex
The Sabra-Shatila Massacre: it seems like a dozen weeks, not 30 years ago.  This year American citizens received messages to stay away from Beirut and the  annual commemoration of the Israeli facilitated Massacre at Sabra-Shatila from  their State Department and Beirut Embassy. The latter’s staff on 9/19/12  completed destroying sensitive documents and packing all non-essential items.   The French government too told its citizens not to come to Beirut or participate  in “mass gatherings because of concerns over sudden random violence”.
Sabra Shatila massacre
But they came.  Despite the well-meaning admonitions from their governments,  they came in numbers greater than ever before.
They came to bear witness with  the survivors and their families to the horror of this crime against  Palestinians and to plead for justice.
One elderly lady from Haifa, Palestine said bitterly, as foreign delegations  paid their respects at Shatila’s Martyr’s cemetery, “At least God is punishing  Sharon!”  She was referring to the coma the architect of the massacre went into  six years ago and who is being sustained in a vegetative mass at the cost of $  400,000 annually, partly paid for by American taxpayers.  She lamented, that not  one person has ever been arrested, no one tried, or convicted and Israel has  refused to open its file on the events surrounding the slaughter. Nor has the  American government ever demanded that Israel do so. The Lebanese government has  never even investigated the massacre as a crime.
Authors, photo-chroniclers and historians of the 1982 massacre, Mya Shone and  Ralph Schoenman, replied to a recent New York Times article on the massacre by  reminding us this week that “Ha’aretz recounted on September 26, 1982 the high  level planning that preceded the invasion in service to “the long term objective  aimed at the expulsion of the whole Palestinian population of Lebanon beginning  with Beirut.”  Shone and Schoenman remind us that the London Sunday Times  reported on the same day: “This carefully pre-planned military operation (to  send Israeli selected militia into Shatila while the IDF sealed the camp to  prevent possible escape) to ‘purge’ the camps was called Moah Barzel (Iron  Brain); the plan was familiar to Sharon and Begin and was part of Sharon’s  larger plan discussed by the Israeli cabinet on July 17.”
Each year, local or regional events impact the annual Shatila commemoration  events differently. This year during some of the five days of events that took  foreign visitors to Palestinian camps including Shatila and Mar Elias camps in  Beirut, Burj Shemali and Al-Buss camps in the south and up north to Nahr al  Bared (Cold River) which was destroyed by the Lebanese army in 2007 during the  Fateh al Islam events, there were discussions at meetings and on the buses of  the arrival back into Shatila camp and the other 11 camps of approximately 10,  000 Palestinian refugees from Syria. They are being received as honored guests  by fellow Palestinians but they urgently need help.
Palestinians refugees in SryiaArriving refugees tell of how there are some splits in their community over  the Syrian chaos the same as in the Shia, Sunni, Christian, and Druze  communities. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command  (PFLP-GC), which was ejected five weeks ago from Yarmouk camp by other  Palestinians,  is claiming that Palestinians who do not endorse President Assad  100 percent are with Al Qaeda and the FSA (Free Syrian Army).  On the other  hand, the FSA claim that Palestinians who refuse to join them are with Ahmad  Jabril, the PFLP-GC leader. Yamouk camp residents pay the price from both sides.  Most Palestinians want nothing to do with the politics of the Syrian crisis but  only to live in peace.
Most of those who were recently forced out of Yarmouk camp in Damascus and  back into Shatila had never visited the locus of the slaughter they miraculously  survived 30 years ago. Some expressed deep emotions on returning and observing  parts of the camp that remain much the same as they were following the nearly 50  hours of butchery between September 16-18, 1982.
One gentleman from Yarmouk camp,  a Christian, who in 1976 was driven out of  Tel A Zaatar Palestinian camp as it was destroyed by Christian militia, and who  was living in Shatila at the time of the 1982 massacre, expressed his shock of  how the current residents are living at such low heath, nutrition, and  social-economic standards.  He expressed surprise to a visiting American  delegation at finding no right to work or ability to own a home. Both of which,  he explained, plus many more rights are enjoyed by Palestinian refugees in  Syria. All the Palestinian refugees arriving from Syria, who were interviewed by  this observer, found conditions in Shatila to be much worse today than at the  time of the massacre, 30 years ago.
Most of the Palestinians arriving from Syria are temporarily staying with  friends or relatives in Lebanon’s 12 camps. 500 families are temporality lodged  in Saida, 30 miles south of Beirut, with 350 families sardine-canned in Ein el  Helwe camp, already extremely densely populated with approximately 20,000  refugees. Roughly 500 Palestinian families, refugees once more, are housed  temporarily in the Bekaa valley bordering Syria, including 250 families staying  at Jilil (Wavell) camp. Scores or other Syrian Palestinian refugees are being  housed in Bedawi camp near Tripoli. A major problem in all the camps is that the  severe overcrowding and limited water and electricity are creating extended  family tensions.
To date not much organized aid has been distributed.  UNWRA is still in the  process of making lists of the arriving refugees from Syria, reminding one of  the time it took for that UN agency to access the needs of the Nahr al Bared  displaced refugees in 2007. The UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, whose  mandate does not include Palestinians, is also studying the problem.
But the need for aid is now and urgent. Meeting with individuals on 9/20/12  from the Palestinian camp committees and the local and international NGO  community, three urgent needs were identified facing the refugees from Syria,  whose numbers swell following each Palestinian killed in Syria.  On 9/19/20, 18  more Palestinians were killed and so the numbers coming to Lebanon will swell  over the next few days.
Among the three most urgent problems facing the arriving Palestinians from  Syria are Social problems ranging from finding places to live, food, education  and preventing youth from joining local Lebanese militia who offer $100 per day  to Palestinian youth to work as hired guns. A few do fight on both sides of the  Syrian conflict while their mothers and fathers are urging them to ‘stay off the  streets.”
UNWRA has the capacity to help with elementary and secondary schooling in its  52 schools in Lebanon. Hoda al Turki, the hard working spokesperson for UNWRA in  Lebanon has been worried about the difference in curriculum in UNWRA schools in  Lebanon and Syria schools where Palestinians are educated. UNWRA does not  operate schools in Syria. But the afternoon of 9/20/12 a solution was announced  and a curriculum has been agreed on. One of the problems was that Syrian school  teaches the Nakba and Palestinian history but UNWRA schools are forbidden to  teach anything about Palestine lest its funding be cut by the US government  under pressure from the Zionist lobby.
So far the medical needs of the arriving refugees are being met at UNWRA  facilities. Some are proposing housing the refugees in schools, as was done  following the Nahr al Bared fighting, but the schools are needed for  classes.
One very important Lebanese governmental humanitarian gesture was announced  today ( 9/20/12) and it is that Lebanese General  Security, in charge of visa  and immigration matters, has waived all fees for arriving and departing  Palestinian refugees.  Permission to remain, previously granted for only 7 days,  will be granted indefinitely without Kafkaesque applications and interview  processes. This is a major boon for the refugees since they have been ruthlessly  exploited on both sides of Maznaa Lebanon-Syria border crossing, with demands  for bribes and per head “transit fees” which quickly stripped many families of  the limited cash they had.
One example: While trying to cross into Lebanon two weeks ago, Um Ahmad was  confronted by a security guard who barked:  “if there is no phone number in  Lebanon you need to go back to where you came from in Syria”. She replied to the  security officer, “Sir, you should show us some mercy please.  You know that we  are running away from war, we are not here on a vacation.”  He replied coldly:” no phone number, no entry!” A request for a bribe was delivered.
The government of Lebanon deserves praise for its humanitarian action.  Hopefully the Syrian government will follow suit and facilitate the departure  and hopeful return of Palestinian refugees.” The main economic problem is that the arriving refugees, like all  Palestinians in Lebanon will not be allowed to work.
The third problem is  with security issues.  Lebanon has announced that it cannot absorb more  refugees. Yet the figure of 10,000 more expected Palestinians may easily double.  For Palestinians who have been in Lebanon since 1948, many are reaching their  limits of tolerance of the conditions they are forced to live in without  elementary civil rights.
There is general agreement here that while ‘photo-op’ one time NGO aid distributions help and are much appreciated, the way  they tend to be unorganized so far is resulting in refugee families being herded  like cattle from place to place to receive various forms of limited aid and they  are being stripped of their dignity.  Sometimes refugees are forced to sit in  the sun until the TV crews arranged by the donors arrive to film this “act of  charity in solidarity with the Palestinian people.”
To its credit, Hezbollah have been helping some. The Syrian refugees whether  Sunni, Christian or Druze have received some aid from a center near Saida.   Hezbollah Social Work Committee member Alhaji Mohammed al-Haj said Hezbollah was  assisting our “Syrian brothers as part of the duty to return the favor for what  they did for us in the July war and out of a moral and national obligation of  the resistance.”
What is required without further delay is for an urgent stakeholders meeting  to be convened. Including the PLO factions, local and international NGO’s,   Donors, the Palestine Red Crescent Society, UNRWA, EU and UN groups as well as  local political parties in order  quickly produce an executable plan  avoiding  duplications, to address these needs.
Shatila camp residents, on this 30th anniversary of one of their  darkest hours, are planning to lead this call with a unified, strong, sustained  Palestinian voice to help their sisters and brothers from Syria.
Franklin LambFranklin Lamb is doing research in Lebanon. He is reachable c\o

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2 Responses to 30th Anniversary of Sabra-Shatila Massacre: New Challenges

  1. who_me September 22, 2012 at 7:30 pm #

    another side of jp’s war crimes we don’t hear about in the media. thanks for posting this, alex.

  2. Alex September 23, 2012 at 4:09 pm #

    As a Palestinian I am sad to see Palestinians divided on Syria, failing to see that in the final analysis, their cause is the real target.
    The story of Palestinian interference” in the Syrian affairs, is not new, it goes back to  the crisis of the eighties when clashes broke out between the Authority and the Muslim Brotherhood.

    Today, “Khaled Meshaal” is playing the same game Arafat played in 1980’s. Palestinians paid and still dearly (OSLO)for that bloody game.