Friday, September 17, 2010

Inconvenient Truths: Remembering Sabra and Shatila

I realise that what I have to say is unpopular.  Since I don't particularly care about being popular, I say it: on a day like this I have more respect for Israel than for Lebanon. They may have treated the Palestinians more brutally, but they have been more honest about it.

1.  The terrible reality:  I still remember exactly what happened when the news broke that hundreds of unarmed Palestinian civilians were massacred in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps between 16 and 18 September 1982. I was in London, where I took refuge from Israel's invasion of Lebanon. I was eating ice cream and watching TV. I was proudly wearing my Bachir Gemayel T-Shirt. I was also wearing a Phalangist button-pin, complete with the Cedar and "God-The Nation-The Family" slogan.  I flinched and turned off the TV.  I had spent 4 days mourning the assassination of my hero, Bachir, and did not want to hear more bad news. I was ready for something different. Grace Kelly died the same day as Bachir, and there was a celebration of the life of Princess Grace taking place near Greek Street. For a sexually-charged 18 year old, Soho is always a priority.  I walked to Soho and had a few drinks. I had sex in a public bathroom with an Afrikaner whose name I did not know, and walked back home feeling very happy.  

I did not think about the Palestinians at all, even though it was "my party" that massacred them.  Somewhere in my head, I blamed it on the Israelis. This is the easy and convenient Lebano-Pavlovian reaction to anything gone wrong. I was, of course, too young to understand that I was part of a fascist movement, let alone understand what fascism was about.  These were days of blind nationalism. I did not understand that slogans like "God-The Nation-The Family" were full of terrible ideas, regardless of whether you believe in a god or not.  Freedom or Liberty are not part of the party slogan.

2. The ease of forgetting:  We have forgotten how many Palestinians were massacred on that day. The Israelis claimed precisely 460. The Palestinians claimed equally precisely 3500.  But the truth that will always haunt us is that we didn't care to find out for ourselves.  We were not like the Nazis. We did not keep records.  Shortly after the war ended, we appointed the perpetrator of the massacre, Elie Hobeika, as Minister for Social Affairs.

3. Truth and Reconciliation:  We can learn some good tricks from the Afrikaners. We could follow some of the steps of South Africa's post-Apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  Our high school history books make a giant leap of vacuous prose from our 1943 Independence to the 1991 Taif Accord. We still can't agree on what exactly happened in between.  "History is written by the victors" wrote Winston Churchill. We emerged from civil war with a slogan of  exhaustion: "No victor, no vanquished."  How do we write our history? We don't know.


  1. Honestly, allah y3ina.

    Allah yerham all those who died due to injustice falling upon them on all sides.

  2. May all the innocent civilians who were murdered in the name of intolerance, hate, retaliation, and in peace.