I often find myself wondering, “Why must Palestininas struggle wherever we are? Are we cursed?” Forcing us to flee our homes and leave everything behind in 1948 (the year of the Nakba, when Israel was created at our expense) was not enough. Our punishment continued. There are so many examples that could be cited. But in this piece I focus on the one I personally find the most shocking–even for me, a Gazan Palestinian who has lived through three wars. This week is the 38th anniversary of the massacre in Lebanon’s Shatila refugee camp. For those who survived it, It’s a nightmare that still haunts. I share the memories of a few of those survivors below.
“A strong knocking on the door woke us. I was so very frightened and clenched my dad,” she recalls, her voice shaking even so many decades later. A couple of her family members rushed to the roof to see who was there and saw a group of armed men, shouting loudly and angrily for Nohad’s family to open the door. When they did, the men rushed in.
What followed was chaos and terror. The armed men, who they later learned were members of the Christian Phalange militia, a right-wing faction allied with Israel. The Israeli army had ordered the militia to clear Shatila and the neighboring town of Sabra of members of the Palestine Liberation Organization. However, they did not discriminate.
Nohad and her family were herded in and out of their home repeatedly, as if to confuse and disorient them. Then they were lined up against the wall. Nohad sensed what would come next: a rain of shots. “We all fell to the ground, trying to pretend we were already dead. I was holding my little sister, Shadia (a year and two months old). She was shot in her head and couldn’t bear the pain. She tried to crawl to our mother, moaning ‘Mama, Mama!’” Then Nohad heard another shot and never heard her sister’s voice again.
“I shouldn’t have let her leave my hands,” Nohad says, the regret and pain breaking her voice. Her three brothers and another sister were killed as well, and a bullet pierced Nohad’s elbow.
Nohad recalls hearing the men say to each other, in their native Lebanese accent, “Reshon, reshon!” (shoot them, shoot them!). “I expected the Israelis to attack us, but not our Lebanese brothers.”
Mahmoud al-Afifi is another eyewitness of the massacre. He was 12 years old at the time and lucky enough to escape the camp with his family. However, on Sunday, September 18, he returned to his home and was greeted by the stench of death. Corpses were strewn everywhere on the streets. Crews from the Red Cross covered the bodies with lime, because the smell was so strong. “The image of a pregnant woman whose belly was slit and her fetus slaughtered before she was killed herself will never leave my mind.” Mahmoud tells me.
The Phalangists killed with machine guns, Kalashnikov rifles, hatchets and knives. Some people were burned alive in their houses. Even Lebenese families who lived at the border of the camp were slaughtered. According to Zeinab, her Lebanese neighbors who sought refuge in her house were killed.
“We asked them to escape with us, but they refused. They said the Israelis were coming to kill only Palestininas,” she said. The militias didn’t know the exact borders of the camp, so they killed anyone in or close to the camp, thinking they were Palestinians. Hundreds of people (mostly women and children) were ordered to stand in front of a wall in some open land next to the camp, then shot all at once. More than 3,000 people were buried in what became a mass grave.The legacy of the Sabra and Shatila massacre lives on through its survivors