KEEPING MEMORY ALIVE:
Why I Wont Forget What Happened to the Refugees of Sabra and Shatila
Dear Beloved in Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon:
I was only ten years old when the Imam of our mosque conveyed the news of a massacre in a shaking voice through the mosques loudspeakers. I was only ten, but I still feel that anguish that I felt that day. My father wept like a child. My mother held tight on me and my brothers and sat silently. Our neighbors gathered around the news, some crying, even those who used to argue that real men dont cry.
I grew up carrying that memory close to my heart. I knew that Sabra and Shatila was not the first of such crimes to be carried out against my people. The passing of time also taught me that it was not the last. But Sabra and Shatila was the symbol of the inhumanity of our tormenters and a symbol of our defiance, resistance and insistence that we will never vanish.
You crawled out from the wreckage of your homes to be a witness to that moment of horror, a critical one that defined who you are until this day, and defined the apathy of this unjust world.
You sat and wept. You narrating to journalists what happened that day. You begged the world to do something. You didnt need to convey anything. The world knew too well what happened. Americans knew too well what happened. Even Israelis knew too well what happened.
But they still did nothing.
Israel murdered your loved ones. Israels celebrated warrior Ariel Sharon, spoke openly of how he dispatched the Christian Phalangists to mop up the camp, to eradicate the terrorists. Sharon wanted to set an example to the PLO fighters whose departure from Lebanon was arranged by the US, the US who promised to protect you and failed, the same US that now calls the culprit, a man of peace.
You were vulnerable when Israeli troops sealed off your camps, blocked you from running to safety and shelled you from the air and ground. You must have known that a new crime was about to be committed when the Israelis illuminated the camps from all directions on that dreadful night, allowing the Phalangists in with clear orders; slaughter.
It kills me just thinking about the feelings you must have had when you sensed or heard the soldiers breaking in from one home to another. Approaching yours. Can anyone, but those who lived through these days, recall the bleeding voices of the mothers, begging the soldiers to spare the lives of the children, and the voices of children crying before they were knifed or gunned down?
For twenty years youve sought justice, awaited in your refugee camps, in despair and poverty, too close to the mass graves in which your loved ones were buried, too close to Palestine where you still hope to return.
Twenty years have passed my brethren, and freedom, justice and closure are nowhere to be found.
We just finished commemorated the anniversary of your massacre, and our people in the West Bank are still living a deadly curfew, and our people in Gaza are caged in, sealed with barbered wire and angry soldiers.
But why do I still remember you as if the massacre was committed just yesterday? Is it because your murderers are still free, leading new wars, new massacres? Or is it because our memory is our asset, it fuels our resistance, compels the survival of our rightful fight for freedom?
Since I was a child, until today, I commemorated the anniversary of your massacre. I used to write short stories to my Arabic class at my camps elementary school , narrating your pain. I wrote poetry about you in my youth, and now I commemorate your anniversary with an article, hoping that I can convey your story to those who know nothing about your anguish.
I signed each petition I was asked to sign, to indict Sharon. I wrote to the United Nations, to the White House, to my representatives, to the Belgian government, to human rights groups, to everyone that I thought for a second would help your cause. I am yet to receive an answer.
So, this time I decided to write to you, just to tell you, dear beloved: I will not forget you, because if I do, I will have then forgotten who I am, I will have then abandoned my humanity, I will have then abandoned my right of return, and yours.
Baroud is the editor of Palestine Chronicle , from which this article is republished with permission.
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This story was published on October 2, 2002.