BEIRUT: News of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s death was greeted with delight in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila Saturday, where the memory of massacre still prevails in the minds of many.
“He is a butcher, he is a killer, he is a murderer,” said Walid, a Palestinian residing in Shatila. “All the Palestinian people are happy he is dead.”
Walid said his first reaction to Sharon’s death was joy, a sentiment shared by most Palestinians and Lebanese interviewed in the camps, where the Israeli figure is widely considered to be responsible for the carnage wrought by Christian militias during the Lebanese Civil War in September of 1982.
“My heart beats with happiness because he is dead,” Walid said.
Sabra and Shatila were under Israeli control when Kataeb fighters launched the attack against Palestinians to avenge the death of their assassinated leader Bashir Gemayel. It would later emerge that Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party member Habib Chartouni had killed Gemayel.
Sharon derived the appellation “Butcher of Beirut” after the 1983 U.N.-appointed Kahan Commission implicated him in the massacre, saying he bore personal responsibility “for ignoring the danger of bloodshed and revenge.” As Israel’s defense minister, he had led the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, which launched a lengthy Israeli occupation.
The mere mention of Sharon’s name in the camps inexorably summons frightful memories of the three-day massacre 30 years ago. Most recounted in vivid detail where they were on Sept. 16, 1982, when asked how Sharon’s political career had affected them personally.
As Walid remembered it, the massacre began with crowds of screaming women running down the market. Then came the shells. He had been away from home and permitted to enter the camp after the carnage only to discover that his four brothers had been executed. Three were shot and one was beheaded.
“The massacre will always be a wound in our hearts,” he said.
The mass grave of those killed lies in the basement of the Shatila Mosque. A mural above its entrance includes the portraits of hundreds of slain men. Inside are a dozen stone blocks, “with piles of bodies buried underneath,” described Khaled, a Fatah member, who refused to provide his last name.
“We buried them here because there was no room for them elsewhere,” he said.
It is estimated that between 800-3,500 people died in the massacres.
“There were many murders like Sharon, but he stood out, his name was notorious,” said Abu Ala, Fatah’s top representative in the camp. “His greatest crimes were committed in the camps here. He was a good killer. That is how we will remember him.”
But, the elderly Milana al-Burji, 70, a Lebanese living in Sabra, is unsure if the death of Sharon should be greeted with delight. Her husband and three sons had been lined up and shot, she said, showing The Daily Star their photographs that had been hanging on the walls of her tiny flat.
“Should I be happy? Will his death bring back my children?” she asked.
Milana recalled how she had waited anxiously outside the camp, which had been sealed off during the massacre. “The militiamen assumed everyone in the camp was Palestinian.”
“I was the first one to enter when it was over,” she said. “I passed the bodies of dead people to reach those of my children and husband.”
A photographer had joined her and snapped the moment she made the gruesome discovery. It appeared as part of a photo spread in Al-Hawadith magazine, a copy of which Burji keeps in her dresser. The headline reads: “90 percent were Lebanese!”
In it, she is framed to the side overlooking a pile of bodies next to a wall, her expression frantic with arms raised to the skies.
“Sharon’s death doesn’t bring me peace,” she said. “I will never forgive him.”