Massacre survivors want Sharon to suffer
Cilina Nasser in Beirut, for Aljazeera
Monday, 9 January 2006
Nawal Abu Rodaina does not want Ariel Sharon to die. At least not yet.
Not before the Israeli prime minister is punished for his role in the massacre of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon more than 23 years ago.
Rodaina was only eight when Israeli-allied Lebanese Christian Phalange militiamen rampaged through the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut, killing hundreds, possibly thousands of people at the height of Lebanon’s civil war that pitted various factions – including a sizeable Palestinian refugee population – against each other.
It was also soon after Israel’s invasion of the Lebanese capital in 1982.
No Palestinian fighters were found or handed over to Israeli forces and no weapons alleged to be in the camps were found.
Rodaina and her brother, Mohammed, survived. But 800-3500 others, depending on whose figures one takes, were killed, including women and children.
“Memories are etched so deeply in my mind that I can’t forget them for as long as I live,” says Nawal.
She blames Sharon for all her suffering and wants him held accountable.
“Sharon’s death won’t relieve me because he was not tried and punished for the crimes he committed against my family and the families of hundreds of other Palestinians like me,” she says.
The massacres began three months after Israel invaded Lebanon and two days after Bashir Gemayel, the then Lebanese president, was assassinated.
On 15 September 1982, Israeli tanks and soldiers surrounded Sabra and Shatila, setting up checkpoints at strategic locations and crossroads around the camps to monitor the entry and exit of every person.
During the late afternoon and evening the camps were shelled. Israeli forces used flares at night to illuminate the area.
Mohammed, who was only five at the time, recalls: “I sat on my father’s lap and he held me very tightly to his chest throughout the shelling.”
The next day, 150 heavily armed Israeli-allied Christian Phalange fighters, who supported Gemayel, entered the camps of the Palestinian refugees.
Mohammed’s family had already moved to their uncle’s house, which they thought was safer since their home was located on the main street.
“My father was telling us not to be scared and that we would be fine. But there were gun shots and noises and we couldn’t help but cry, especially when the militiamen broke the windows of the house with their rifle butts,” Mohammed says.
He remembers how his father was optimistic that nothing bad would happen, until the armed men appeared at the door step.
“He knew that he was going to die,” Mohammed says.
“The Phalangists ordered the men to line up next to a wall just outside the house while the women and children were allowed to leave.”
The last time Mohammed saw his father, Shawkat, was when the head of the family was lined up with nine other men against a wall in Shatila. He remembers how his father had to raise his hands, placing them on the wall shoulder-width apart.
As the little child walked hurriedly away through the narrow alleyways of the camp with his mother and sister, Nawal, they heard a loud burst of gunfire.
“I kept saying to myself, ‘Daddy must have escaped and he will come back for us’.”
After several days, however, Mohammed knew his father had not escaped.
Also killed were Mohammed’s pregnant sister, Amal Abu Rodaina, and her husband who lived 300m away from her parents’ home.
Her body was found split open with her unborn baby lying on her chest.
“Her Lebanese neighbour who survived told us that the militiamen were betting over the sex of the baby before killing her and removing the foetus,” Mohammed says.
Sharon, who is gravely ill after suffering a brain haemorrhage last week, was defence minister and the general of the Israeli army, which was in full control of Beirut at the time.
Sharon was found “indirectly responsible” by an Israeli commission investigating the massacre since his forces controlled the area and approved the entry of the Phalangists into the camps, ignoring the danger of bloodshed and revenge.
He was forced to step down.
Nawal, Mohammed and other families of the victims filed a lawsuit against him in Belgium a few years ago hoping that a Belgian anti-atrocity law would bring the perpetrators to justice.
But in June 2002, Brussels decided to amend the law from universal jurisdiction, limiting it to Belgian citizens.
“The Belgians should have stood by us because we are weak … but weak people have no rights,” Mohammed said at the time. “Justice is absent.”
Memories live on
Nevertheless, the memories live on and have been reawakened by news of Sharon’s failing health.
Mohammed still flips through a photo album of his once happy family and says he will always cherish the past.
“This is my father when he was on pilgrimage… This is my mother before she had a stroke… This is my sister who was pregnant when she was killed.”
Nawal and Mohammed’s mother had a stroke in the early nineties, just a day after she watched a documentary about the massacre aired on television to mark the event’s anniversary.
Although she was only a teenager at the time, Nawal had to take care of her ill mother, who died a year later.
She could hardly understand the words her mother uttered and had to change diapers for her after she was confined to bed and semi-paralysed.
“I hope Sharon will stay alive and suffer just like he made my mother suffer,” she says.
“No one should feel sad for him.”