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The Sabra and Shatila massacre

The Sabra and Shatila massacre
The Sabra and Shatila massacre of 1982 was one of the most significant milestones in Lebanon’s recent turbulent political history. (AFP)
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Updated 02 May 2020

The Sabra and Shatila massacre

The Sabra and Shatila massacre

The Beirut atrocity shed light on the complex regional dimensions of the Lebanese Civil War

Summary

On Sept. 16, 1982, Lebanese Christian militiamen entered Beirut’s Sabra neighborhood and the nearby Shatila refugee camp and — as the Israeli troops that had invaded Lebanon three months earlier looked on, blocked exits and illuminated the scene at night with flares — embarked on a 36-hour massacre of Muslim men, women and children that left hundreds dead and shocked the world.

Independent witnesses, including Western journalists, were horrified to discover that many victims, including babies, had been mutilated before they died. Estimates of the number of dead range from more than 400 to several thousand, but exactly how many died will never be known. Many corpses were spirited away from the site by the killers.

As Arab News reported a few days later, the massacre, carried out “with the connivance of the Israeli invaders, drew worldwide reactions of horror,” including in Israel, where police used tear gas to disperse hundreds of people protesting outside Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s home.

LONDON: The Sabra and Shatila massacre of 1982 was one of the most significant milestones in Lebanon’s recent turbulent political history. In that massacre, a force from a Lebanese Christian right-wing militia entered the south Beirut neighborhood of Sabra and the nearby Shatila Palestinian refugee camp and murdered hundreds of people (some sources claim more than 3,000), mostly civilian Palestinians and Muslim Lebanese.

The militiamen entered the neighborhood — where many Palestinian leaders resided — and the camp when the Israeli occupation forces were already in control of the Lebanese capital following the invasion of 1982.

Some sources have recorded that, from approximately 6 p.m. on Sept. 16 to 8 a.m. on Sept. 18, the mass murders were carried out in plain sight of the Israeli forces. Indeed, sources have also claimed that the Christian militias were even “ordered” by the Israelis to “clear out” the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) fighters from Sabra and Shatila, as part of their advance into predominantly Muslim west Beirut. Later reports suggested that, while the Israelis had received reports of the atrocities, they took no action to prevent or stop them.

Coming at the height of the Lebanese Civil War, the massacre summed up several elements and shed light on the complex regional dimensions of the war.

Sectarianism has almost always been at the core of the conflicts that guided the changing maps and power balance in Lebanon. Even before the First World War defeat of the Ottoman Empire — of which present-day Lebanon was a part — the area of Mount Lebanon went through scattered sectarian confrontations, beginning in 1840 and culminating in 1860 in massacres that led to a French military intervention. However, the reaction of the Ottomans was decisive in containing the French advance, and so were the joint efforts of major European powers.

“Pope John Paul II, his voice cracking with emotion, condemned the ‘ruthless’ massacre of Palestinian refugees.”

From a story on Arab News’ front page, Sept. 20, 1982

The political outcome was the creation of the autonomous Mount Lebanon district in 1861. It was governed by a Christian Ottoman official, whose appointment would be ratified by the European powers. But, after the defeat of the Ottomans in the First World War, the Paris Peace Conference of 1920 annexed several areas to Mount Lebanon, including Beirut, as well as putting the new enlarged Lebanon under French Mandate.

In the new Lebanon, the Christian-majority population of Mount Lebanon was hugely diluted as a result of the annexation of major Sunni and Shiite cities and areas. However, the Christians felt that the French Mandate would be enough for them to dominate the political scene. That assumption was proven wrong, however, especially following Lebanon’s independence in 1943. By then, the three Muslim sects (Sunnis, Shiites and Druze) had become, by many estimates, a clear majority. Furthermore, the tide of Arab nationalism rose as a result of the Palestinian “Nakba” in 1948, which rapidly radicalized Arab politics. The Palestinian refugee problem added to grievances in host countries like Lebanon and Jordan.

Key Dates


  • 1

    Israel invades Lebanon and lays siege to Beirut.


  • 2

    Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) fighters withdraw from Beirut under supervision of international peacekeeping force.

    Timeline Image Sept. 1, 1982


  • 3

    An international peacekeeping force withdraws from Beirut.

    Timeline Image Sept. 11, 1982


  • 4

    Phalangist president-elect Bachir Gemayel is assassinated. Muslims are blamed, but it later emerges that the killer is a fellow Maronite, motivated by factional Christian infighting.

    Timeline Image Sept. 14, 1982


  • 5

    Authorized by Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, Christian Phalangist militiamen enter Sabra and Shatila, ostensibly to root out any remaining PLO fighters. Instead, they embark on a massacre.

    Timeline Image Sept. 16, 1982


  • 6

    The UN General Assembly “condemns in the strongest terms the large-scale massacre of Palestinian civilians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps” as “an act of genocide.”

    Timeline Image Dec. 16, 1982


  • 7

    Israel’s Kahan Commission finds that the state of Israel bears “indirect responsibility” and Sharon himself “personal responsibility” for the massacre.

Radicalization was further enhanced by the Arab defeat of June 1967, which gave rise — as well as enormous credibility — to the Palestinian resistance movement (the “feda’yeen”). Later, in the fall of 1970, following battles between the feda’yeen and the Jordanian army, the Palestinian resistance movements switched their headquarters from Amman to Beirut.

Lebanese Muslims, Arab nationalists and leftist leaderships stood by the Palestinians and made common cause with them. On the other side, the Christian political elites and masses became apprehensive that the emerging alliance posed a deadly threat to their dominant position and, subsequently, the country’s regime, identity and sovereignty.

I lived through those days and remember them well. In 1973, the Christian-led Lebanese Army attempted to contain the feda’yeen’s power in the camps, but the Muslim-leftist uproar against the army paved the way for the imminent civil war. Soon enough, the Christian militias were being openly armed and trained by some army officers, while leftist and Arabist militias secured arms and training through the Palestinians and some Arab regimes.




A page from the Arab News archive showing the news on Sept. 20, 1982.

The war broke out in 1975 and continued, through different phases, until 1990.

The Israeli invasion in June 1982 was intended to finish off the Palestinian military and political infrastructure, and establish a “friendly” regime in Beirut. This was done by militarily forcing the Palestinian resistance movements out of Lebanon and handing the Lebanese presidency to Bachir Gemayel, leader of the Lebanese Forces, the most powerful Christian militia, in August 1982. Gemayel, however, was assassinated on Sept. 14, before taking the oath of office. His assassination in a major explosion in Beirut shocked the Christians and enraged their militias, which retaliated by attacking Sabra and Shatila just two days later.

Gemayel’s assassination in a major explosion in Beirut shocked the Christians and enraged their militias.

Eyad Abu Shakra

By this time, the Arab world was weak and deeply divided following Egypt’s recognition of Israel, which resulted in an Arab boycott. The Israelis were, thus, able to collude in this massacre without fearing any substantial Arab reaction. In fact, it was the global furor against the massacre that led, in 1983, to the establishment of a commission chaired by Sean MacBride, the assistant to the UN secretary-general and president of the UN General Assembly at the time. The commission concluded that Israel, as the camp’s occupying power, bore responsibility for the violence, and that the massacre was a form of genocide.

The reaction against the massacre was strong, even in Israel itself. Also in 1983, the Kahan Commission was appointed to investigate the incident. It found that Israeli military personnel, despite being aware that a massacre was in progress, had failed to take serious steps to stop it. The commission also deemed Israel indirectly responsible, and that Defense Minister Ariel Sharon bore personal responsibility “for ignoring the danger of bloodshed and revenge,” thus forcing him to resign.

  • Eyad Abu Shakra is managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat. Twitter: @eyad1949


Renowned US authors Tayari Jones, Brent Weeks join Abu Dhabi Book Fair lineup

US author Tayari Jones is set to take part in the event. (File/ AFP)
US author Tayari Jones is set to take part in the event. (File/ AFP)
Updated 9 min 38 sec ago

Renowned US authors Tayari Jones, Brent Weeks join Abu Dhabi Book Fair lineup

US author Tayari Jones is set to take part in the event. (File/ AFP)

DUBAI: Renowned US fantasy author Brent Weeks, US author Tayari Jones, Emirati writer Eman Alyousuf and Kuwaiti writer Taleb Alrefai are all set to participate at the upcoming Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

Organised by the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre at the Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi, the 30th edition of ADIBF will see the participation of more than 800 exhibitors from 46 countries around the world, and will comprise more than 104 virtual and physical sessions.

Dr. Ali bin Tamim, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre, said: “Despite the challenges we have faced in the wake of the pandemic, the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair is committed to ramping up its efforts to support the publishing industry and to promote cross-cultural dialogue. We are proud to host this event which reinforces our position as one of the most prominent intellectual and literary forums in region, and gives us the opportunity to highlight Arab literary output while simultaneously celebrating the pioneers of arts and culture from across the world.”

As part of its cultural programme, the fair will feature the artistic and literary works of authors and artists from multiple fields. Among those will be American author Tayari Jones, considered one of the most important writers of her generation, who will hold a session to discuss her latest work. In another session, the fantasy great Weeks will talk about the importance of science fiction novels in transporting readers away from the monotony of their daily lives. Providing a regional perspective, Kuwait’s Alrefai will participate in a dialogue with Emirati writer Alyousuf, to discuss how the pandemic has encouraged reading.

British television presenter and historian Bettany Hughes will join a conversation about the impact of plagues and pandemics on civilisations, while Emirati writer Sultan Al-Amimi will speak about with the importance of short stories and their role in enhancing literary diversity. .


Egypt jobless rate rises amid pandemic second wave

Egypt jobless rate rises amid pandemic second wave
Updated 48 min 59 sec ago

Egypt jobless rate rises amid pandemic second wave

Egypt jobless rate rises amid pandemic second wave
  • The size of the workforce was estimated at 29,284 million, compared to 29,965 million during the previous quarter

RIYADH: Egypt’s unemployment rate reached 7.4 percent of the total labor force in the first quarter of 2021 — up from 7.2 percent in the previous quarter.
The new data from the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), reflects the impact of the second wave of the pandemic.
The size of the workforce was estimated at 29,284 million, compared to 29,965 million during the previous quarter, representing a decrease of 2.3 percent, Al Arabiya reported.
The labor force in urban areas reached 13,034 million, with 16,250 million living in rural areas.
Gehan Saleh, economic affairs adviser to Egypt’s prime minister said in April that the second stage of the country’s economic reform program would be launched soon.
She said the plan aims to improve the quality of life of citizens and tackle unemployment through job-creating investments.


Smugglers post gold from Dubai to India hidden in Tang

Smugglers post gold from Dubai to India hidden in Tang
Updated 11 May 2021

Smugglers post gold from Dubai to India hidden in Tang

Smugglers post gold from Dubai to India hidden in Tang
  • It is the latest ruse by smugglers trying to avoid hefty import duties for the precious metal by employing increasingly intriguing methods

DUBAI: Indian customs have foiled an attempt to post gold from Dubai disguised in containers of the popular Tang drink.

After sieving the contents of the drink mix, Chennai customs officials discovered it had been mixed with gold granules, according to a statement from the Commissioner of Customs at Chennai International Airport.
Officials probing the racket found that the address of the receiver had been misused.
It is the latest ruse by smugglers trying to avoid hefty import duties for the precious metal by employing increasingly intriguing methods.
Earlier this year officials at Chennai airport also nabbed two men trying to smuggle gold through the airport underneath their wigs.
The hapless pair were nabbed after their unusual hairstyles caught the attention of officials.

They were found to be carrying two gold paste packets weighing almost 700 g


Review: Kate Winslet exudes quiet brilliance in sleuthing series ‘Mare of Easttown’

Kate Winslet shines in this small town murder mystery. (Supplied)
Kate Winslet shines in this small town murder mystery. (Supplied)
Updated 27 min 22 sec ago

Review: Kate Winslet exudes quiet brilliance in sleuthing series ‘Mare of Easttown’

Kate Winslet shines in this small town murder mystery. (Supplied)

CHENNAI: British actress Kate Winslet has dabbled in period pieces, rom-coms, dramas and everything in between, but in her latest outing in “Mare of Easttown,” a series streaming on OSN in the Middle East, she absolutely dazzles as a detective in a small, conservative town in Pennsylvania.

In bleak, deprived small-town America, everybody knows everybody and working as a cop is not easy for Winslet’s character Mare Sheehan.

Mare, who rarely smiles but is not grumpy or snappy, carries her own demons. She is tired and weighed down by grief over a family tragedy. Add to the mix a wayward ex-husband (played by David Denman) and a cagey daughter (Angourie Rice), and it seems her personal life is enough to fill a drama series on its own.

But this is a murder mystery, and soon our protagonist is faced with the unsolved case of a 19-year-old missing girl and more. The girl had been gone for a year, and her mother is a friend of Mare’s, which makes it difficult and personal for the detective. And it seems like a hard bolt from the blue when Erin (Cailee Spaeny), a single teenage mother, is found dead in the woods one night after townsfolk had gathered for a party.

The people of Easttown, used to leading uneventful lives, are not pleased with the ramped up police presence — including the intrusion of a county detective, Colin Zabel (Evan Peters) who is brought in to assist Mare — and it is into this tense atmosphere that Brad Ingelsby, who created and wrote the series, tweaks the formula to add a romantic angle.

Mare meets writer and guest lecturer Richard Ryan (an intelligent, witty and charming Guy Pearce), who is visiting the town.

The writer turns “Mare of Easttown” from what could have been a dull and boring story into something that leaves us thirsting for more at the end of each twisting episode, where every detail matters.

It is a fantastic study in both police work and, more interestingly, the effect a brutal crime has on a community. The series is ably led by director Craig Zobel, who builds a convincing narrative style.

Of course, his eyes are on the star of the series, and it is remarkable to see Winslet so engaging.


Arab League, Muslim World League condemn Israeli attacks against Palestinians, US expresses concern

Arab League, Muslim World League condemn Israeli attacks against Palestinians, US expresses concern
Updated 30 min 39 sec ago

Arab League, Muslim World League condemn Israeli attacks against Palestinians, US expresses concern

Arab League, Muslim World League condemn Israeli attacks against Palestinians, US expresses concern
  • Aboul Gheit called on the international community to act immediately to stop the violence
  • The Muslim World League has strongly condemned the attacks at Al-Aqsa Mosque

CAIRO: The head of the Arab League condemned on Tuesday deadly Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip as “indiscriminate and irresponsible” and said Israel had provoked an earlier escalation in violence by its actions in Jerusalem.
“Israeli violations in Jerusalem, and the government’s tolerance of Jewish extremists hostile to Palestinians and Arabs, is what led to the ignition of the situation in this dangerous way,” Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit said in a statement.
The attacks in Gaza were a “miserable show of force at the expense of children’s blood,” he said.
Aboul Gheit called on the international community to act immediately to stop the violence, saying continuing “Israeli provocations” were an affront to Muslims on the eve of the Eid holiday at the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Arab League foreign ministers are holding a virtual meeting on Tuesday to discuss the situation in Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, the Muslim World League has strongly condemned the attacks at Al-Aqsa Mosque, it said in a statement.
The organization, issued Tuesday went on to say that it rejected the escalations against worshippers.
Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, secretary-general of the Muslim World League further denounced all acts of violence that undermined the dignity and rights of the Palestinian people, as well as provoking the feelings of Muslims around the world.
Al-Issa called on the International community to put an end to the violence, preserve the right of the Palestinian people, provide the necessary protection of civilians, guarantee their right to practice their religion, and stop all violations and attacks.
He also reiterated the affirmation of standing by the Palestinian people. He said he supports all peace efforts to reach a just and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian issue.
He also said the solution should allow Palestinians to establish their independent state on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as their capital, in accordance with international legitimacy decisions and the Arab Peace Initiative.
Health officials in Gaza said at least 20 people, including nine children, were killed.