On the 17th of September, Lajee Center in partnership with the Palestinian Ministry of Culture, the Cultural Advisory Council of Bethlehem and in collaboration with AIDON Lebanon Foundation (the Foundation of Returning, Lebenon) in Shatila camp, held a conference to commemorate the 36th anniversary of the 3-day massacre that occurred in Sabra and Shatila from the 16th to 18th of September, 1982.
Over those 3 days, Christian Lebanese militia known as the Phalanges, allied to the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF), permeated into the Palestinian refugee camp, Shatila, and the adjoining neighbourhood, Sabra in Beirut, to the knowledge of the Israeli army. They began a genocide that caused outrage around the world. The Phalanges were ordered by the IOF to clear out Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) fighters from Sabra and Shatila, as part of the IOF manoeuvring into West Beirut. The IOF received reports of some of the Phalanges’ atrocities in Sabra and Shatila but failed to stop them.
The conference was led by the director of the Alternative Information Center, Nassar Ibrahim, and an independent lawyer for Human Rights, Ala’a Ganaim, as well as eyewitnesses to the massacre through video conference from Lebanon.
The musicians of Lajee Center opened the conference by playing the Palestinian National Anthem and other Palestinian national songs. Then the director of the center, Salah Ajarma, welcomed and addressed the audience.
The director of the Cultural Ministry, Zuhair Tamizah, affirmed the need to revive such conferences commemorating the massacres that Palestinians have suffered, so as to educate and remind the younger generations of these atrocities and the need for justice for all Palestinians around the world.
The audience consisted of residents from Aida and Dheisheh camps. The Cultural Advisory Council was represented by the secretary, Hassan al-Lahham, while Colonel Adnan Al-Naif, represented the region's leader. Minister of prisoners, Issa Qaraqaa, and Khalid Al-Saifi, Director of Ebdaa Center were also present.
The meeting ended with a poem in the context of the event, written and delivered by the poet Mohammed Shehada, a refugee from Aida camp.
Today, 36 years later, there is still no precise figure for the total number of people killed in the massacre. Many of the victims were buried in mass graves by the Phalange and there has been no political will on the part of Lebanese authorities to investigate the matter. Between 700 - 3500 Palestinian and Lebanese civilians, mostly women, children, and the elderly, were murdered in one of the worst atrocities in modern Middle Eastern history.
For Palestinians in Palestine and the diaspora, the Sabra and Shatila massacre was, and still is, a traumatic historical event commemorated annually. During the conference, we heard live-testimonies of survivors who continue to live in Sabra and Shatila, struggling to make a living and are haunted by their memories of the slaughter. To this day, no one has faced justice for the crimes that took place.
For Palestinians, the Sabra and Shatila massacre serves as a powerful and catastrophic reminder of the vulnerable and precarious situation of millions of stateless Palestinians, and the dangers that they continue to face across the region, and around the world, especially now, in light of the US administration’s challenge of UNRWA’s definition of refugees.
Before the conference ended, it was discussed and noted that the history of the Palestinian people is full of injustices, atrocities and horrific massacres. Despite the density of the Palestinian calendar, the Sabra and Shatila massacres of 16-17 September 1982 will continue to be a disgrace on humanity and will always be remembered.