Up to 3,500 people were killed by Israeli-allied militiamen in the Palestinian refugee camp of Sabra and Shatila in the 1982 massacre. (AP photo)
Every year, Palestinians on September 16 mark the anniversary of the horrific Sabra and Shatila massacre which took place in Beirut 39 years ago.
On 16th September 1982, Israeli-allied militiamen from the right-wing Lebanese Christian Kataeb Party and the South Lebanon Army stormed the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in west Beirut and killed up to 3,500 people.
The memory of the massacre, which lasted for three days, remains a source of great pain for the Palestinian and Lebanese civilians who survived it.
It took place during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon which aimed to destroy the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as a military force. This invasion was one chapter in Lebanon’s complex 1975-1990 Civil War, which tore the country apart on sectarian and ideological lines.
Eyewitnesses living in the two Palestinian refugee camps said that the massacre began just before sunset on the 16th September, when the Israeli army, which had recently occupied Beirut, imposed a tight siege on the camps to ease the entry of its Lebanese militia allies.
Estimates of the number of victims vary between 750 and 3,500. Most of the victims were Palestinian refugees, while others impoverished Lebanese living in the camps. The Lebanese Civil War started with fighting between the PLO and militiamen from the Kataeb Party, which is also known as the Phalange.
“They walked us single file against a bullet-riddled brick wall. It seemed like about 40 soldiers facing us. Their rifles were pointed. They looked like a firing squad. Some of my fellow hospital staff started crying. I wondered, was anyone going to know that I died in this refugee camp? But I thought, it’s OK I’m here, it’s because I did the right thing. I was humming ‘Here Comes the Sun”, American survivor Ellen Siegel, a nurse who nearly died in the Sabra and Shatila massacre, told Mondoweiss.
Today approximately 12,000 people live in the Sabra and Shatila camps. There are ten other Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and the total number of Palestinians in the country is estimated at between 174,000 and 450,000.
They are the descendants of Palestinians who fled their homeland in 1948, when Zionist militias expelled the vast majority of the Palestinian population prior to the creation of Israel.
Palestinians in Lebanon are still deprived of many political and civil rights. They are not permitted to own property and there are heavy restrictions on their employment.