Gaza-based poet remembers Sabra and Shatila massacre
September 16, 2012
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Rihab Kanaan bursts into tears while talking to Ma'an's reporter in Gaza about the trauma she suffered after losing her son and dozens of family members in the notorious Tel al-Zaatar and Sabra and Shatila massacres during Lebanon's civil war.
The Gaza-based poet says the Palestinian leadership has forgotten about the Sabra and Shatila massacre in which an estimated 800-3,000 Palestinian civilians were killed by Lebanese Christian militias over a three day period on September 16, 1982.
"I will hold two candles and a poster on which I will write: We are the martyrs of Sabra and Shatila, don’t forget us. I will stand in the Unknown Soldier Square in commemoration of my son Mahir and all martyrs," she said.
Kanaan witnessed the Tel al-Zaatar refugee camp massacre during Lebanon's civil war in 1976 and later wrote a book about the events.
She lost 51 relatives when the Beirut camp was besieged by Lebanese armed forces.
Years later, the Palestinian poet lost her son Mahir and two cousins in events in Sabra and Shatila.
"He was going to buy bread when they killed him inside the camp’s mosque before the very eyes of his sister. Up until now, when I see a mosque, I remember how Mahir died."
Kanaan was living with her second husband near the Arab University of Beirut at the time of the attack and remembers the tensions in Lebanese society.
"We knew there were signs of unrest especially after the speeches of Bachir Gemayel. Then after Gemayel was assassinated, we were sure there would be a massacre, but we never imagined it would be as horrible and as big as that," she says.
"When I was there, I heard about the massacre. I tried to go to Shatila, but I couldn't. After some effort, I managed to reach the outskirts of the camp where I saw the dead bodies and the atrocious scenes. The stories I heard from witnesses were too horrible that I couldn’t continue to listen," she recounts.
Kanaan was certain her daughter had also been killed in the massacre and amid the confusion afterwards was unable to find out what happened to her. It was only some years later that she found out that her daughter Maymana had survived the attack and was taken care of by neighbors.
Palestinian resistance fighters had already left the camp before the massacre, leaving only unarmed men, women and children, Kanaan said.
Several years after the attack, Kanaan moved to the Gaza Strip. As another anniversary of the massacre passes, she is calling upon international human rights groups, together with Arab states, to hold the perpetrators accountable.
"Two years ago, I visited Lebanon to pray to God on behalf of the martyrs from my family, and it was painful to see that nothing has changed in Sabra and Shatila," she says.
"Life is still intolerable in all refugee camps, but people are still dreaming they can return to their homeland."
The massacre took place after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, when Christian Phalangist militias entered the Beirut camp under Israeli military watch to wreak retribution for the alleged assassination of their leader Bachir Gemayel.
Over three days, Palestinian refugees were killed in droves. At the time, the number of dead was estimated at 700, but eyewitness British reporter Robert Fisk says the number is closer to 1,700.
The Palestinian Red Crescent estimates that around 3,000 civilians were killed.