Appendix V: Selected testimony and reports
Part 4: Evidence relating to the Siege of Beirut
Extracts from Prime Minister Shafik’s evidence
Can you imagine a city deprived of water and electricity in such modern times? The Israelis witnessed how the people of West Beirut resisted with the Palestinians, and this was because they refused to be treated in this inhuman way. . . Do you know, I spoke twice to King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, so that he should speak to President Reagan, in order that the latter exert pressure on Begin to open the water taps for West Beirut. 700,000 people continued to live in this part of Beirut. All the hospitals have been destroyed, even the American University Hospital had to stop functioning because it lacked the supplies it required. You should ask M. de Salis, the representative of the International Red Cross in Lebanon, how they treated the wounded. What could we expect from a country which treats people in this way and does not take into consideration the UN resolutions that demanded the removal of the blockade in West Beirut?
On Thursday, 12 August, we were bombarded for eleven consecutive hours, continuous bombardment. I had to go to the presidential palace at Baabda. Unfortunately, I couldn’t because of the bombardment and I told President Reagan’s mediator Habib that I could no longer assume my responsibilities. At this moment Reagan interfered. You cannot conceive the intensity of the bombardment from the sea, air and ground. It’s a war made by one party – and this is no more a war, but a massacre.’
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Interview with Dr Heger, an Anaesthetist in the University Hospital in Oslo, who went to Beirut on the 22 June 1982.
Commission: You went to Lebanon by yourself?
Dr Heger: With a team from the Palestinian Committee, in fact, we were the first team to get inside Beirut during the siege.
Q: How many of you were there?
Heger: We were three.
Q: Where did you go.
Heger: To West Beirut. But I think I will describe the events leading up to that. The Israelis prevented more than 150 volunteer doctors and nurses who had been sent by the internationally recognised humanitarian organisations from entering Beirut.
Q: How did you know that?
Heger: Because I was one of them and we were in Damascus one week trying very hard to get inside and it was impossible. The Red Cross tried three times to get inside with the big convoys and each time they were stopped by the Israeli checkpoints.
Q: And turned back?
Heger: And returned back, yes. In Damascus there were hundreds of tonnes of medical equipment sent from all over the world and destined for West Beirut. It was partly wasted because it was like blood. We were the only team to get into Beirut and we had to be smuggled in. It was absurd to see the gross lack of everything inside the city and to know the resources waiting outside.
Q: You were in the Gaza hospital?
Heger: Yes we were in Gaza Hospital during the shelling. It is a high building of 8 floors and it is surrounded by small houses on the outskirts of ChatiIa and Sabra refugee camps, it is painted white in contrast to its surroundings and it is well marked with the Red Crescent and the Red Cross flags. At the time when we arrived the Israeli positions were less than one and a half kilometers away on the hillside, with an excellent view of the camps and the hospital. The camp and the hospital were under more or less constant shelling and the hospital was hit but still operational. It was absolutely necessary to keep it open. 80% of the people in the surrounding camps had left their homes and moved to what they believed were safer places; but 20% were left in the camp, mostly the old and the poor, who had no place to go. Gaza was the only hospital in the area, the only hospital near the damage and. the injuries. After operations they tried to evacuate the patients to safer places, as far as possible. The operating theatre was under the ground in concrete, and they opened this shelter to the local people in the surrounding camps and neighbourhood. When there was shelling there could be more than one hundred civilians in the operating and the X-ray rooms in the cellar.
We started to work at Gaza because we were needed there. When we came to Beirut, the Head of the Anaesthesia Department from the American University Hospital said ‘if you really want to help these people you must go to Gaza Hospital’. At the American University Hospital they worked very hard day and night, but for the time being they had enough people. We worked only one and a half days at the Gaza before it was evacuated but it was a shocking experience, seriously wounded and dying patients, and when many people came at the same time you had to decide who was to live and who was to die. You couldn’t take care of them all.
As an anaesthetist I had to take care of the seriously wounded immediately and when the casualties rushed in the first thing to do was to pull off their clothes to see where the injury was. Three times I foundllo external injuries but when I intubated the patient I found the lungs full of blood, they were crushed by the pressure from the explosions. . . During one and a half days we operated [on) twelve major and ten small casualties, most of them from so called high velocity fragmentation weapons and three hit by cluster bombs: the mortality was more than 50%. If one of the fragments had hit the patient in the abdomen, chest or head, he had no chance at all, the damage was too great. Usually he died in the receiving ward, that’s why most of our operations were amputations and you had to operate very fast. You did the amputation initially and then left it open and waited for a better chance for secondary closure.
Around 3 o’clock on the 25 June, the Israelis flew low over the hospital and dropped leaflets in Hebrew (which nobody could read) and we wondered at the meaning. Everybody became scared and one or two hours later they started heavy shelling, concentrated on the hospital. People rushed to the cellar and I believe there were more than 100 civilians there. We tried to continue the operative treatment, but each new explosion I believe would be the last one and the building would fall down. The people were scared to death, so was I, and it was not possible to go upstairs. One time I tried to go up to give analgesics to the injured upstairs, but I was literally knocked to the ground by the explosions outside, and the patients on the first and second floors we had to leave alone. One Palestinian boy, an orderly, 17-years-old was the only one of the staff who took care of the patients on the first floor during the shelling, talking to them to calm them; he is the biggest hero I have ever met. After three hours it became dark and they decided to evacuate and when the dark came the shelling became more scattered and it was possible to escape. In less than half an hour we were all outside the main security gate. The last patient was transported from the operating table while still in anaesthesia. I will never forget the transport with his head between my legs, working hard to keep his airway free, the ambulance without lights and full.
Q: How long did it take to evacuate the hospital do you know?
Heger: I am very impressed by how fast they did it, I think in half an hour.
Q: How many patients were evacuated do you know?
Heger: Sixty persons I think.
Q: What’s the total capacity with regard to the hospital?
Heger: I am not quite sure because it was 8 floors, but only two of them were operating. So I’m not sure: its a big hospital, 100 beds I think. To sum up, there is no doubt in my opinion that this was premeditated and specific shelling of a fully operational hospital without military installations.
Q: No military installations?
Heger: No, none, and it was the second Palestinian hospital they had to evacuate because of the shelling. The first one was Akka, it was evacuated three or four days before we arrived in Beirut and after the Gaza was closed the Palestinians had no hospital of their own remaining in operation in Beirut.
Q: What was the ratio of civilian patients to combatants?
Heger: Perhaps 20% were commandos, not more; they were dressed to distinguish.
Q: That’s one in five then. How many shells hit the Gaza hospital?
Heger: Oh, it is impossible to say, it was continuous shelling, whole floors were completely destroyed.
Q: And was Gaza hospital shelled after the evacuation?
Heger: Yes, I think so, but this is not evidence of my own opinion; shelling of the hospital before and after this day was more scattered; sometimes they were hit and sometimes they were not.
Q: On the 25 June were buildings around the hospital shelled?
Heger: The hospital was the centre of the shelling.
Q: And the damage?
Heger:. I think the four upper floors were completely destroyed. But there was no medical functions in the upper floors, just in the basement and the first floor.
Q: Did they work to have the other floors repaired?
Heger: Yes, they actually put blocks of concrete in all the windows leaving only a small space on the upper limit of the windows to protect the rooms from further shelling and from shrapnel coming in. After that day we held a press conference in West Beirut. And the press people at the Commodore [Hotel] said that after our press conference the Israeli authorities admitted to them they they had shelled the hospital because it was a military target.
Q: After your press conference.
Heger: Yes. In my opinion its very special that we are from Western Europe.
It is not the first time a hospital was shelled tht~way because Akka hospital
was shelled one week before, but when three peb’ple from Western Europe, not Palestinian, came and told the journalists we were there when the hospital was shelled, then the Israelis had to admit it.
Q: Can you tell us two things about the blockade of Beirut? How many medics had been stopped in all from entering?
Heger: 150 doctors and nurses in Da~scus I think.
Q: And you tried to cross the border with the ICRC or by yourself?
Heger: No, everybody told us it was impossible and they had tried many times. But we tried three times to get inside with doctors and medical equipment, with the Red Cross, and we have been stopped every time by the Israeli checkpoints.
Q: SO three times unsuccessful?
Heger: Yes, and when we left Beirut the Israeli officer at the checkpoint asked us what we were doing in Beirut. We told them that we were Norwegian doctors and nurses and working in a humanitarian way in West Beirut, “lnd they said ‘OK, do you know the rules?’ I said, ‘what rules, what are you talking about?’ – and he said ‘you can go but you can never, never come back.’
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Abdul Rahman Laban was Lebanese Minister of Labour and Special Affairs. Profession: Psychiatrist, Chief Medical Officer of the Islamic Psychiatric Hospital, situated near Sports City and boundary of Sabra Camp. Interviewed 4 September 1982
Commission: What has been the experience of the Islamic Hospital since the invasion?
Laban: The area around the hospital and the Sports City was bombarded before the 6 June invasion but the hospital was only lightly damaged. However after the invasion and during the siege of Beirut the hospital was hit by 20-25 shells (some were phosphorus bombs). Nine patients were killed and 22 injured, two of which died later on. I informed the President of Lebanon and he being highly distressed communicated his concern to Habib. On the first occasion the bombing of the hospital stopped within half an hour as a result of Habib’s communication of restraint to the Israelis. This however did not stop the Israelis hitting the hospital in the shelling of Beirut which followed. The top floor of the hospital which was the children’s quarter was completely destroyed, such that the 60 children were transferred elsewhere and some were looked after by Mother Theresa’s helpers. The staircase and dormitories were also hit. Due to the bombing and the general insecurity only 15 of the 270 staff turned up to work; whilst 400 of the 800 patients were taken away by their families.
During the bombardments of Beirut movement around the city was very difficult and this alone meant that people suffered from a shortage of provisions. There was also no water, electricity or petrol and most general public services were destroyed. The ability to come and go to and from the hospital was seriously impaired except during the cease-fires which usually occured at 5 to 5.15 in the afternoon. These conditions were not unique to my hospital and were experienced by many other hospitals. Makassad and Barbir hospitals were also badly damaged, especially the latter.
I am also the president of the High Relief Committee which was set up in 1977 and caters for homeless and displaced families. Our main task is to provide food, blankets, beds, medical supplies and general provisions to the needy. During the siege it was really very difficult to cope. We were all lucky in one respect in that due to some foresight we managed to physically put ourselves up in West Beirut and also managed to transfer large amounts of rice, sugar and general provisions into the city. In the final analysis these provisions to a certain degree saved the population from virtual starvation since bare necessities were distributed to hospitals, schools, orphanages, old people’s homes and families.
During the siege itself water, electricity, fuel and most food supplies were cut off. At the beginning of the siege I sent a letter to the International Red Cross demanding the entrance of basic provisions into the city. [Letter dated 12 July]. Two essential needs were flour (for bread) and milk. I also asked for some trucks to be allowed in to clear the rubbish. However the Red Cross were unable to get through the bulk of these provisions. I asked UNICEF to declare this fact publicly. The Israelis argued that these provisions could be used by the Palestinian guerrillas but the Palestinians were well provided for as they had foreseen the situation and it was the civilian population who were in need. The danger of famine and health hazards were rife during the siege. Luckily we managed to cope with the situation although this does not in any way excuse Israel’s criminal act. We were not only besieged physically but also psychologically through leafletting. Many people were deeply disturbed by the mock Israeli air raids (especially at night) which unlike real bombings damaged everyone psychologically.
Q: How often did these raids take place?
Laban: A few times, but they were severe enough. There was continuous bombardment from land, sea and air, which had a total psychological effect. People felt totally insecure. Every minute day and night was tense. All the population was materially and psychologically coerced as well as feeling isolation since all the communication lines were destroyed. These three factors of constant bombardment, awareness of material deprivation and socio-political isolation are very psychologically damaging. 600,000 people lived in these inhuman conditions. Most of the hospitals were closed due to damage and scarcity of medical supplies and thereby most patients were concentrated in the American Hospital. We had to fetch fuel from devastated buildings, pumping out what fuel they had and concentrating it all in this one hospital in order to meet the needs. Even the trucks which were let in by UNICEF were emptied of their fuel so that nobody could pump it out for other use. The Red Cross had to vow to the Israeli/Phalangist soldiers that it would not allow anybody to take fuel from the tanks.
Q: What did people do who had no monetary resources in this period?
Laban: The High Relief Committee provided free food and provisions to the people who needed it. Generally people co-operated and helped each other such that people did not go without basic foodstuffs.
Q: Was there a significant influx of people into Beirut?
Laban: No, not really, since many people from the central and southern suburbs left town and went to East Beirut. The people who went were the richer class since life in East Beirut is expensive. People left for East Beirut at the continuous suggestion of Israeli Radio Broadcasts. The ones who were left were mostly from the poorer classes. . . Most of the ones who did leave however returned after the evacuation of the Palestinian fighters.
Q: We were informed that there was an increase in the population of Beirut due to people fleeing from Southern Lebanon.
Leban: No, not Southern Lebanon but the southern suburbs of Beirut. The southern suburbs have been under continuous bombardment. This sector which is known as the slums of Beirut is the most populated area as most of the working classes live there. The reason for this is that most industries are in the proximity of the southern suburbs and they were all destroyed during the shelling. Many of the workers in this area wefe Lebanese – about 1.2 million – who worked at the industries and they all fled to the city. I cannot tell you how many came into Beirut or went to the south or how many stayed. These are all impressions and not based on statistics. There are no statistics in Lebanon today. We could tell however that areas were specifically mapped out to be devastated by Israeli bombardment and this had the migratory effect. If you walk around the city you will see stark evidence of this pattern of destruction and its magnitude. This destruction was aimed at the base of the community and could have no military purpose. The idea must have been to shell carelessly within sectors so as to hit everything. It was obviously callously planned like this since they are able to hit what they want with their sophisticated weaponry. It cost billions of dollars to destroy Beirut and if we had as much money to rebuild it we would not be near to repairing the damage done. This is mainly due to the massive disruption and destruction of the intricate interpersonal relations which existed in the Beirut community. Just one example is the chaos which now exists in property relations, ie former rented/owned accomodation.
Q: In looking at the problems of reconstruction what immediate problems do you foresee in the winter?
Laban: Our winter is very wet. We have lots of rain although its not very cold. This will cause more hardship than is usually the case. We will also face a lack of manual labour since most of our labour was Palestinian and Syrian with almost half a million working in building and agriculture. There is also a lack of skilled labour as well as materials and this will raise prices of both as demand is now high. The third problem is that most of our industry has been destroyed. Consequently industrialists are not able to pay workers and many industrialists are attempting to dismiss workers. Due to the emergency situation the Government will allow these industrialists to get rid of as many workers as they see fit in order to survive. There will therefore be an increase in unemployment which will cause further social problems. Means therefore must be found to repair this damage as soon as possible. It was of course Israel’s aim to land us exactly in this situation; to destroy the Lebanese community and infrastructure – industry, tourism, social services, etc. Israel has done this to destroy competition from the most efficient national economy in the Arab world. Generally speaking I can see no justification for laying siege to a modern city which is dependent for all its basic needs on outside supplies ie, water, electricity, food, medical provisions, etc. It is the most inhuman act and transcends all military excuses because in laying siege to a city you know that it will tragically affect everybody – women, children, the sick, old people, the handicapped and innocent civilians in general. It is unwarranted, uncivilized and inhuman.
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Extracts from an article published in The Times, London, on 12 July 1982, by Robert Fisk.
A 2 ft wide trail of blood runs from the children’s ward on the third floor of Barbir hospital. Between the shards of glass and broken fittings, it snakes 20 feet across the tiled floor to the stairs.
The Israeli shell had exploded scarcely 20 feet from the windows and in some places the blood is darker than usual, as if an abstract artist had run amuck with a tin of light brown paint. . .
Thirty per cent of the wounded crammed onto makeshift beds and floors of the Barbir’s lower rooms are guerrillas, sometimes still in their torn khaki battledress or stripped beneath blood stained sheets, their faces bandaged beneath a vortex of drip-feeds and glucose bottles. . .
But many of the Barbir’s patients have had to be transferred to other hospitals after the shellfire that damaged the building and more than half the 40 who still remain are civilians. Of the 21 brought in during Sunday’s bombardment, most were suffering from shrapnel wounds.
“We had six casualties inside the hospital when the shells hit round us,” Dr Shamaa says. ‘The bombardment was continuous for nearly four hours in this vicinity and we were nearly paralysed. We were unable to use the operating theatre upstairs and when people arrived here needing immediate surgery we had to transfer them.
‘We were short of blood and in the end we had to ask volunteers from the hospital to go out into the shelling to two centres where we were told there were blood donors. It was a very tough decision to make. But they came back.’
They were lucky. Three of the wounded brought to the Barbir during Sunday’s bombardment were dead on arrival. The hospital has received more than 200 dead since June 4. .
All yesterday workmen were sweeping the floors of the broken wards, washing the floors and plastic screens and beds of blood, smashing out the remains of the windows. If the Israelis did not mean to shell the Barbir, the gunners did indeed pay precious little attention to its presence.
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The following item was broadcast by LBC (London Broadcasting Corporation) on 20 July 1982.
Our reporter Andrew Simmonds has visited the Muslim Orphanage Institute, where the children live in unventilated storerooms because of the danger of bombs and shells.
‘It’s a pitiful sight. Twenty toddlers, none with any parents, living in the ridiculously crowded space of a storeroom, waving their only possessions, squeaky toys, in the air. They stare with eyes that cannot comprehend what is going on around them, within walking distance of the front line. Their institute has been hit by shells on two occasions. Now the Welfare workers insist that the children, around 100 in all, live on the ground floor. Their nurseries upstairs have cracked walls and floors that are crumbling away. These toddlers are of course too young to understand, but next door a group of little boys aged between 2 and 4, wearing just dark grey shorts and shabby vests, ask questions that have answers that lead to tears. The Institute’s Director General, Mohammed Barakat tried to comfort a little boy crying in the corner of the room.
Mr Barakat says that up to 6,000 children have been orphaned during this war. Not all through the death of their parents though; many have been abandoned by mothers who are unable to cope after losing their homes. But even more disturbing than the number is that fact that the children of this Institute are in the war zone.
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The following item was broadcast in the BBC radio programme The World Tonight on 2 August 1982 from Chris Drake.
I think probably the best way to describe it [the situation in Beirut] is to imagine in one’s own home in Britain getting up in the morning. There is no electricity; there is no running water; there is no fresh food; any food that might have been refrigerated is now rotten, is now useless, because there’s been no electricity for the past week; there is very little fuel. The offices and the vast majority of shops have been closed for almost two months. It is the middle of the summer here and that means temperatures of eighty to ninety degrees every day; there is very little in the way of a fresh breeze and that may not sound significant in Britain, but here it is the one thing one looks forward to just to cool things down. And then when you put all that together and realise that the chances of being able to wash one’s hair, to be able to get a drink of water, are just so slim everyday; or if one can find water, or one can find fresh food, it has been a major battle to get it.
Far more now is the daily plight of these children, whose first task as soon as it becomes light is to go out and try and find water. The Israelis say they’ve turned it back on but of course there is no electricity to actually pump it to any obvious destination, so it’s a major search. Those that aren’t looking for water are looking for bread, that’s the staple diet here, a few bakeries have managed to get a little fuel and are able to bake a little every day, but there are always long queues.
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The following dispatch from James Buchan in Beirut was published in the Financial
Times on 9 July 1982.
Doctor Khaled, a neurosurgeon born in Jaffa, [now in] Israel, but trained in East Germany, performed a craniotomy on Tuesday on the first floor of Beirut’s Gaza Hospital, slept in his green threatre overalls that night and was still wearing them the next day.
Dr Khaled, who is 34, washes his overalls by hand himself, but the water comes from a well under the hospital and may well be contaminated. He does have sterile disposable gloves, but they are too valuable to be thrown away and cannot be properly sterilised unless there is a secure source of unvarying power for a specific length of time. It often seems that the Israelis, who have been tinkering with power and water since last Saturday,.will not permit this.
The intensive care room, where nurses are beginning to draw fluid from the unknown patient’s brain, is full of sandbags for fear of Israeli shelling from the hills to the east. The door has no glass, but Dr Khaled blocks my way. ‘This is the green, or rather the sterile, line,’ he says.
The patient has acute bleeding within the brain and has about a one-in-10 chance of surviving with total paralysis of his right side.
The Gaza Hospital which is run by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, began operating in the southern suburb of Sabra with 11 floors and 100 beds in 1975.
Dr Khaled now has seven surgeons and 12 beds. He also has a kitchen, with which he feeds the surrounding streets where a handful of the poorest people in Beirut have remained.
The kitchen is also shared with Ramallah, now doing about one delivery a day although on 4 June, the day the attack on Beirut began, three women gave premature birth in the basement, the lift and the lavatory.
Dr Khaled divides his problems into two sorts. First are those of warfare, comprising the danger to the building and the injuries caused by new Israeli weapons which have altered the ‘traditional’ balance between death and injury from about 2:8 to 5:5. He particularly refers to the immense and extensive damage to several different organs, caused by cluster bombs.
The second problem concerns the lack of secure electricity and water although the Israelis have apparently turned on mains power. The Gaza generator cannot berelied on for, say, the maintenance of a blood bank at the required temperature of four degrees centigrade. His approach has therefore been to take the addresses of blood donors, and send out ambulances with loudhailers during bombardments to transfuse patients in the streets or in basements.
The lift also cannot be relied on. Often severely injured people are carried bodily down or up stairs.
Hospital staff make no distinction between soldiers and civilians, and Dr Khaled said that Gaza treated an Israeli pilot now being held by the Palestinians as a prisoner of war.
When the mental hospital was hit, 800 patients varying in condition from senile dementia to violent schizophrenia were released onto the streets of Beirut, Dr Khaled says. West Beirut has long been a barbaric place, but the Israeli siege is sending it back into the middle ages.
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