PALESTINIANS are remembering 25 years since the Sabra and Shatila massacre in the Lebanese capital Beirut – in which over 2,000 defenceless Palestinian refugees were slaughtered.
And following last year’s defeat for Israel in Lebanon, they are also affirming that they will not give up the struggle for their homeland.
The September 1982 massacre was committed by the forces of the Lebanese fascist Falangist militias, who were allowed into the camps after the area was completely surrounded by Israeli troops.
The Falangists were allowed into the camps to do their worst by Israeli commander Ariel Sharon, despite assurances from Israel and the American government that the unarmed inhabitants in the camps would be protected.
Those who tried to escape were turned back by Israeli forces.
Such was the worldwide revulsion that the massacre caused, that an Israeli tribunal set up afterwards was forced to condemn Sharon for his conduct.
Today, the US and British governments continue to support Israel, which was established through earlier atrocities by Zionist terror gangs against the Palestinian population, forcing the Palestinians to flee their towns and villages and seek refuge in other countries.
This was during the British Mandate over Palestine after World War Two.
Between September 15 and 18, 1982, Falangist paramilitaries, under the watchful eyes of the Israeli military occupying Lebanon at the time, slaughtered more residents of two refugee camps in Beirut.
The overwhelming majority of those murdered were women, children and elderly men.
This was after Israel had launched a massive invasion of Lebanon in June 1982, with the full support of the Reagan administration in Washington.
The objective of the invasion was to destroy the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), then based mainly in Lebanon.
The US government continually re-supplied the Israeli military throughout the war.
For the entire summer of that year, the Israeli military mercilessly bombed the Lebanese capital Beirut, killing more than 20,000 people, the vast majority of them civilians.
In September 1982, a ceasefire agreement was forced upon the Lebanese and Palestinians resisting the assault.
Palestinian refugees made up more than 10 per cent of Lebanon’s population of around three million people at the time.
Under the agreement, the PLO would be evacuated to Tunisia.
In return, the safety and security of the Palestinian refugee camps would be guaranteed.
Among the signers of this agreement were the American and Israeli governments.
The security guarantee was critical, because it was well known to all parties that the Lebanese Forces and other racist and fascist Falangist militias would butcher the residents of the camps if they were left unprotected.
By September 15, with the PLO fighters gone, the Israelis had completely surrounded Sabra and Shatila refugee camps to the west of Beirut.
Ariel Sharon, then the Israeli military chief and defence minister, declared that he and his commanders believed there were still PLO fighters hiding in the camps.
Using this pretext, Sharon allowed the Lebanese Forces (LF), commanded by Elie Hobeika, to enter the Palestinian camps.
A weekend of unimaginable horror ensued.
The LF first went door-to-door, forcing the terrified inhabitants out into the streets and dividing them into groups.
Shortly after they entered the camps, a Falangist commander radioed Hobeika, who was in the presence of Israeli officers.
According to testimony some six years ago, the LF commander asked Hobeika what he should do with the women and children, to which Hobeika responded angrily, shouting over his radio: ‘You know exactly what to do!’
The slaughter then began in earnest.
There were hundreds of bodies everywhere, even the mutilated bodies of children.
Israeli commanders, including Sharon himself, were repeatedly informed of what was going on.
When the Israelis finally instructed Hobeika to pull the LF forces out on September 17, the LF asked for, and received, a one-day extension to ‘finish their work’.
The images of the Sabra and Shatila massacre that were flashed around the world were hideous and caused a wave of worldwide anger.
The Israeli Kahan Commission was set up in the wake of the worldwide outcry, to try and give the appearance that Israel was prepared to investigate the conduct of its forces.
This hardly impartial body was forced to find that Sharon was ‘indirectly responsible’ for the massacre.
He was forced to resign as defence minister, although not from the Israeli cabinet.
And two decades later, Sharon ascended to Israel’s highest office, prime minister.
Sabra and Shatila was neither Sharon’s first nor last massacre.
The fact that this war criminal could commit such widely-known acts and yet go on to become prime minister is the clearest sign of the Israeli state’s profoundly racist character.
The aim of the 1982 massacre was to break the spirit of the Palestinian people and crush their resistance by means of an extraordinarily horrific terrorist act. It failed to achieve that objective.
Remembering the massacre, survivor Jamile Khalife, then a 16-year-old refugee from Jaffa living in the camps, said: ‘After it was over, on the way to find my mother at the nearby hospital, I saw a woman on the street, her intestines were spilling out.
‘She died holding her baby.’
Her father was slaughtered.
‘They shot him in the head,’ she said.
Three of her other relatives were also killed.
She remembered seeing Falangists and Israelis in the camps during the massacre.
‘The Israelis were wearing military uniforms. The Falange wore jeans, normal clothes and military arm bands. They swore at us in Lebanese Arabic.’
Memorials mark the events at the camps but also push for bringing perpetrators to justice.
To this day, there has been no direct accountability for the killings.
LF commander Elie Hobeika, who led the incursion into the camps, received an amnesty like all militia leaders following the Lebanese civil war, and went on to become a member of parliament.
He claimed he had evidence that would prove his innocence and directly implicate the Israelis, but was killed one month before he was to testify against Sharon in a case brought by camp survivors in Belgium in 2001.
One Palestinian describing the massacre writes: ‘For close to 48 hours, the cannibalistic beasts scoured the camps, house by house and shack by shack, murdering and maiming and raping.
‘Nobody knows the exact number of the victims, but according to various accounts, the number ranged between 2,000 and 3,500.
‘The utter Nazi-like nature of the atrocities was as numbing as it was conspicuous. Human corpses were in every corner, every street, every home, everywhere.’