By Musa Al-Hindi
August 27, 2005
Beirut, Bourj el-Barajneh- September 16, 1982 - I was 16 year old when I first heard about the Sabrah and Shateelah Massacre. It was a sunny and muggy morning, a typical September day in Beirut, and I was on my way out of Uthman Pharmacy in Bourj el-Barajneh, having bought tranquilizers for my 8 month pregnant mother who was on the verge of a nervous breakdown after 3 months of Israeli bombardment of West Beirut. And only when she thought the worse was over, Israel invaded the city and its southern suburbs, thus ignoring its promises to the US that it would not do so if the PLO fighters agree to withdraw. The Israeli army, according to a statement released by Tel Aviv, had no choice but to invade the city in order to protect its inhabitants from the Lebanese Phalangists who were enraged by the assassination of their leader, Bashir Jimayyel a day ago.
Israel’s occupation of West Beirut did not last long. Israel was no match to the determination of the Beiurutis, and after losing few soldiers and officers at the hands of the underground resistance, the Israeli army decided to withdraw. Tel Aviv was neither ready nor willing to get bogged down in guerrilla warfare in a city of over a million hostile and armed Arabs and Muslims.
However, prior to its withdrawal, Israel, who had always bragged about the IDF’s "purity of arms", precipitated the massacre of 3000 Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrians and Egyptians in the camps of Sabrah and Shateelah. Israel has always denied responsibility for the gruesome killings of the men, women, and children of the two camps. Its soldiers might have not participated in the actual killings, but any body who is familiar with the camps and their surroundings, would have no doubt that they could see and hear the screams of the men, women and children who were being executed. After all, the blood orgy carried out by the scavengers of the right-wing Phalangists lasted for two days, and the Israelis had established posts on top of the buildings surrounding the camps.
During the siege of Beirut, which lasted over 60 days, I, like many others who refused to leave the city, had developed a sense of reckless fearlessness. It was a carelessness vis-à-vis death which I had consciously cultivated. It was rooted in a mixture of feelings of defiance, fatalism and religious conviction. Couple of weeks after the beginning of the invasion on June 4 I resolved that I will not permit Israeli bombs to scare me. For the first time in my life I could FEEL the presence of God. As I reflected on my situation it became clear to me that I could not lose. It downed on me: Hey, I told myself, this is a win situation. If I get killed I would be with God. If I don’t, I would have survived the worst that the Jewish state could deliver. The next step was to train myself to get rid of my fear, which I did by strolling purposelessly in the streets of Bourj el Barajneh while the city and its suburbs were being mercilessly bombarded. Sometimes, to the great distress of my grandmother and aunts, I would show up at their doors with bread and/or Arabic sweets, neither of which they needed. But I wanted an excuse to justify being on the streets when everybody else were in bomb shelters (many of which proved useless in the face of state-of- the- art American bombs and missiles. Sometimes I felt as if we were guinea pigs or mice with the American industrial-military complex and its Israeli allies testing their latest weapons on us).
After few days of exposing myself to danger, I succeeded in greatly reducing (rather than completely eliminating) my fear. It was an exhilarating and liberating feeling. What surprised me the most, though, was that, in the process, I had lost my anger, especially towards the Arab states and peoples, who were busy following the 1982 World Cup matches taking place in Spain. (I have to admit, the people of Beirut, most of whom are fans of either Brazil or Germany, also followed the games when there was a break in the fighting. I still remember how the Palestinian and Lebanese fighters stationed at the Boys Secondary School in the al-Ma’morah area of Bourj el Barajneh hooked up a 9-inch black and white TV to a car battery (Israel had cut off electricity) to watch the Brazil-Argentina match. And when Brazil won 3-1, we were all jubilant as if we had liberated Palestine, shooting in the air, while the fans of Germany among the fighters could not hide their fears that their team was no match to the brilliant Socrates, the Brazilian team’s Captain, and his team. Less than two hours later Israeli bombs brought us back to reality.)
Although my triumph over fear outlived the siege of Beirut, my anger did not. It resurfaced with an overwhelming intensity, on either the 16th or 17th of September, as I learned about the Sabrah and Shateelah massacre. It was a former Palestinian fighter who informed me on that fateful morning of the massacre on my way back from the pharmacy with the tranquilizers for my mom. I still remember his face. He was blond. He had a short beard and tired blue eyes. His name was Tarek. He told me and other bystanders that the Israelis and some Lebanese are killing people with knives and hatchets, and that they were killing children and raping women. At first I did not believe him. More accurately, I did not want to believe him. So I went home and turned on the radio. I methodically moved from one station to another: the BBC, Radio Monte Carlo, Voice of America, Voice of Lebanon, Voice of Free Lebanon, Voice of Arab Lebanon, etc....).
It was during the late hours of that evening when I realized that something awful was happening. The sight of "light bombs" illuminating the dark sky over Sabrah and Shateelah confirmed my fears. Only later would the world know that the source of those bombs was the Israeli invaders, who illuminated the sky over the camps so that the scavengers of the Phalangists, some of whom were high on drugs, could see their way around the camps.
I spent the rest of the night on the roof, find to a transistor radio. It was during the early hours of the morning that the Voice of Arab Lebanon began broadcasting eyewitness accounts of the massacre. Reports were reaching it from various sources that a massacre had taken place in Sabrah and Shateelah. The reports were confirmed by other stations. By mid-morning, the official Lebanese station announced that the Israeli army and its Lebanese allies had withdrawn from the camps’ perimeter and that the impotent Lebanese Army and Lebanese Internal Security Forces had taken charge of them. Lebanese and foreign journalists and TV stations poured into the camps.
It was around noon when I decided to go and see for myself. The camps were about 2 miles from Bourj elBarajneh. So I made up my mind to walk. I still remember the route I took: Imam Ali street (where I lived) à Uthman street à Minshiyyeh area à Ba’joor street à Haret Hureik à ghbayri neighborhood à the Airport Boulevard (dweiret al-mattar) à nazlet al-Sifara al-Kuwaitiyyah.
I used the southern entrance of Sabrah. The area was filled with Lebanese soldiers, the Red Cross, the Red Crescent, and a large number of journalists, with their noses covered. As I proceeded, I saw a bullet-ridden, gray donkey, his body covered with flies. Few meters down the road laid the body of an old man. He was dressed as if it was January: a wool jacket over a sweater. He, too, was covered with flies, except one par of his body: a wooden leg. I felt sick to my stomach, but I decided to proceed.
In retrospect, I wish I did not, for what I saw will continue to haunt me for the rest of my life. I saw a middle-aged woman hysterically dancing over a pile of children bodies, pulling her own hair and scratching her face, and singing unintelligibly. I tried to make some sense of her words. The only phrase I could hear was "ya mshaharah ya Subhiyeh." The rest were just unintelligible sounds. A sobbing man, either her husband or brother, I assumed, was trying to make her stop, but without any success. I can still remember her dark, wrinkled and bleeding face, her gray hair and the Hennah on her chin. Next to the pile kneeled a younger woman, with her face buried in the sand. Suddenly she stood up and started to tear the top of her dress, only to be stopped by other women in the crowd.
"Allah Yhidek ya Israel (May God destroy you O Israel)", she screamed. "Allah yihri’ dinku ya ’Arab (May God burn your religion O Arabs)." Another voice in the crowd screamed: "inbisit ya Abu Ammar, sadiqit el-yahud w-el-amerkan" (Be happy Abu Ammar— Yasser Arafat— you believed the Jews and the Americans."
It was at that point that I decided to leave. I could not, nor did I need to see anymore. That was enough. So I left, wiping away my tears. I went back home, sneaked into my mother’s bedroom and helped myself into the bottle of tranquilizers. Few days later my youngest brother, Ali, was born. In retrospect, it was his birth and the frequent times I had spent holding and playing with him that gave me the strength to go on functioning. Ali is almost seventeen-year-old now. He is still my favorite brother even though he is a big fan of German soccer. In many ways I owe my life to him.