In an interview with "Fasl Al Maqal", prominent journalist and political activist, Nidal Hamad, who currently resides in Norway, recalls scenes from the massacre during which he was seriously wounded; a wound that forced doctors to amputate his leg. He also shares with us information available to him about the massacre and narrates accounts he heard from others. He brings us back to Sabra and Shatila some of the most heinous crimes of modern times were perpetrated.
Hamad demands that Arabs and Palestinians reopen this file internationally – that they work diligently to bring the perpetrators of the crime to trial and retribution, and keep the memory of witnesses to the massacre as well as the flame of the Palestinian dream of liberation and return burning.
Fasl: What sticks in your mind of those bitter days?
Hamad: Actually, there are many bitter memories of Sabra and Shatila. They're all stuck in the memory and still form a lump in the throat and a wound in the heart that does not heal; the long years that have passed were unable to heal them.
I remember an old man lying on the street, covered in blood and his wooden leg lying near him. I remember images of some girls who were killed brutally and others who were raped brutally before they were finished off in the most sadistic ways. I remember stories about doctors and nurses who were raped and tortured to death. And about pregnant women whose bellies were opened and their unborn babies were pulled out and killed by the fascist followers of Bashir Gemayel, Elie Hobeika, Samir Jaja, Saad Haddad and Abu Arz. I remember the shelters, such as the Farahat neighbourhood of Shatila, which were burnt down with napalm. I also remember the Israeli flares which allowed their artillery tanks, warships and aircraft to bomb the two refugee camps for two whole nights – the 16th and 17th of September – making it easier for the criminals and butchers to pillage the camps.
I remember the roaring of Israeli tanks and bulldozers as they dug mass graves to bury the dead alive. I remember my injury and the explosion of the rocket or bomb launched by an Israeli tank at the entrance of Shatila from Fakahani and sports city near the intersection that leads to the Cola Bridge and UNRWA headquarters there. I was injured and my Lebanese friend, Mohammad Ali, from the Lebanese city of Baalbek was killed as we tried to stop the bombing and the progress of the tanks toward Shatila.
Fasl: Where were you when the attack on the two camps began?
Hamad: I was at the entrance to Shatila in an area the Israeli army could not breach to enter Shatila due to the ferocity and bravery of our resistance there from the 15th to the 17th of September 1982. It was there that we learned that on the night of the 16th, the massacre began on the outskirts of the two camps from the Acre hospital and Farhat neighbourhood. We also received information from inside Sabra and Shatila that a massacre was underway in the camps and that the sports city, where the Israeli tanks were stationed, was also the scene of mass murder. We learned on Thursday night [16th September] that the attackers were killed and some Lebanese and Palestinian families in Sabra and Shatila were also killed. We saw the continuous, non-stop lighting provided by the Israelis and understood that there was something serious going on in the camps. It turned out to be the massacre planned by Sharon with the fascist Lebanese followers of Bashir Gemayel. Bashir Gemayel is also responsible for the massacres in the camps of Tel Zaatar, Jisr el-Basha and Dbayeh Saif during the Lebanese civil war in 1977. At the time, he was also receiving assistance from the Zionist entity.
Fasl: No doubt you've also heard endless stories about the massacre. Which ones have affected you the most?
Hamad: I've read many testimonies and heard so many stories, including the story of Suad Surroor who was raped, tortured and left with a permanent physical disability. She now lives in Belgium, where, through a human rights organization, has filed a law suit against Israel and Ariel Sharon. However, European complicity with the Israelis caused her law suit to fail. Thereafter, Belgium and other European countries made amendments and changes to their laws to prevent the trial of Israelis for the heinous war crimes they have committed against Palestinians, Lebanese and other Arabs over decades. Many Arab countries, such as Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and the Palestinians have the right to file suits against the Israelis for the crimes they committed in those countries. There are also accounts given by the killers themselves in which they described how they committed the massacre and how children were killed in cold blood. There are many stories from Sabra and Shatila which are heart-rending.
Fasl: Can you summarize the circumstances of your injury, treatment and its different stages?
My Lebanese friend, Mohammad Ali, and I sustained a direct hit by a shell in the area between Sabra and Shatila and Al Fakahani. After being hit, I tried to speak to Mohammed, who was injured in his chest while my injury was to my legs, but Muhammad was unable to speak. I tried to crawl towards him but I could not, and at that moment I saw that Muhammad was dying, so I started to remember my serious injuries. I looked and saw that my left leg was torn and cut from the foot up to the knee and the other leg was also badly wounded. I was drenched in a sea of blood. My comrades saved me and took me to Gaza hospital in the Shatila camp. On the way, they found another martyr and they put him in the trunk of the car, and thus we arrived at the Gaza hospital, where there was a martyr at the bottom of the trunk, me in the centre and another martyr at the top of the trunk. I remember that I was very enthusiastic and was chanting revolutionary slogans such as: "we will not allow them to enter Beirut or our camps", "I lost my leg for the sake of Beirut, and for the sake of Palestine" and "say to my mother not to cry". One friend I saw in Gaza Hospital that day said that even while I was half unconscious in a bed drenched in blood, I was asking about her two brothers, Munir and Zaher al-Saadi, who later became martyrs. They are two of the heroes of an unequal battle fought between about fifty Palestinians who wanted to protect women, the elderly and children in the camps in Sabra and Shatila, and thousands of Israelis, the Phalangists and forces of the collaborating South Lebanon Army along with their entire war machine.
In Shatila Camp, an operation to save my life was performed by Dr Ang Swee Chai, a British doctor of Asian origins, and her assistant, the American Jewish nurse, Ellen Siegel. They both provided testimonies against Israel during the Kahan inquiry commissioned by the Zionist entity to investigate the massacre. Today, they are both at the Sabra and Shatila camps participating in commemorations of the 30th anniversary of the massacre.
My injury was very serious. It caused several fractures in my right leg and led to the amputation of my left. Due to the lack of medicine, water and electricity in Gaza hospital as well as the massacre taking place there, I became gangrenous and was transferred from there to a field hospital called Lahoot (Theology) in Beirut. My condition got worse there so they moved me to the International Red Cross' American University Clinic. By that time, I had lost the rest of my amputated leg because of the gangrene, and the amputation became total where nothing of my left leg remained.
I learned later that after I was transferred from Gaza Hospital, the Fascists stormed it and the Acre hospital. They killed all the doctors, raped the Palestinian nurses then executed them, and kidnapped and killed Palestinian patients from both hospitals, including a group of children. They let the foreign doctors and nurses go free including the British doctor and nurses from Norway, Sweden, Finland, France, Switzerland and America.
After that, I travelled to Italy and sought treatment there at the expense of the Italian Communist Party, which was one of the biggest supporters of the Palestinian people in all Europe – both Western and Eastern – at that time. I received treatment in Italy for several months. I remember the Italian President's visit to the place of the massacre in Lebanon and I remember what he said: "But the killers in Israel are still there and they were not held accountable." I stayed in Italy for months receiving treatment. I began moving with a wheel chair and then with crutches. I returned to Syria and then Lebanon with an artificial leg and using one crutch and I still cannot walk without it to this day.
Fasl: The Sabra and Shatila massacre did not receive the media attention it deserves globally, what are the reasons?
Hamad: On the contrary, initially the massacre received huge publicity – in Lebanon and the Arab world as well as in the West, particularly Europe; in Italy, France, and Norway and across Scandinavia. The reason for this was that citizens of some of those countries were there at the time and witnessed the massacre. Journalists also arrived at the camps and broadcast the horrors and ugliness of the events alongside pictures of victims. For example, one of the first Western media journalists to arrive in Sabra and Shatila was a senior correspondent from the official Norwegian television station Anrko in Beirut Aud Kachtn Tfaat. He was the first Western reporter to broadcast images of Sabra and Shatila during the massacre, and would comment on them while in tears – he later wrote a book about it. Robert Fisk, Alan Greish and others arrived later. The testimonies of the foreigners were decisive in denouncing Israel and holding it responsible for the massacre.
Fasl: The criminals are still at large, and the butchers of Sabra and Shatila have not been tried. How do you explain this, and what is required on the Palestinian and Arab levels to re-open this file?
What is required is for the Palestinians, Lebanese and Arabs to follow-up on the opening of this file. The massacre was perpetrated against Palestinian camps in Lebanon and the victims were Palestinian, Lebanese and even some other Arabs like Egyptians and Syrians. To this day, Lebanon has never launched an official investigation. Leaders of some of the groups that participated in the massacre, such as Samir Jaja, Abu Arz and others, are wandering about in Lebanon freely. So much so that Jaja has become a member of parliament and is currently considered one of the most important political leaders in the Lebanese opposition camp with Sa'ad Hariri, Walid Jumblatt and Amin Gemayel.
The Israeli entity formed a committee and took a decision that exonerates Israel of responsibility for the massacre, but it punished Sharon by removing him from his post as Defence Minister. However, the Zionists later honoured Sharon and elected him prime minister of Israel. On the Palestinian level, there has been a huge failure by its officials, whether in the past or present, and there is no reason for optimism regarding this situation as the Palestinian struggle is going through one of its worst periods. There should be pressure put on the Israeli occupation in order to open the archive of Sabra and Shatila and there should be pressure on the Lebanese government as well to reveal the documents it has regarding the massacre. There were hundreds of abductees whose fate remains unknown to this day. Surely, Samir Jaja knows where they are and what happened to them – and if they were executed, then where were they buried.
Fasl: What is the message you wish to send in this regard on the Palestinian, Arab and global levels?
Hamad: I say to Palestinians, Arabs and the honest and the free people of the world: it is not permissible to forget, forgive or tolerate and it is unacceptable to jump over the great wound of Sabra and Shatila.
I say to all Palestinians, Arabs and the free and honest people of the world; look up the testimony of the criminals who took part in the Sabra and Shatila massacre, and I'm sure it will shake you up and make you work day and night to demand that they are held to account for their actions. They must be pursued and brought to justice.
Source: Fasl Al Maqal Newspaper, 21 September 2012
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