Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition)

Sabra and Shatila massacre: justice delayed is justice denied

- ALI KOMAPE Komape is the campaigns and communicat­ions manager at #Africa4Pal­estine, a human rights organisati­on lending solidarity and support to the Palestinia­n people.

AS WE commemorat­e the anniversar­y of the Sabra and Shatila massacre, it’s crucial we view this tragic event through an African lens.

Although it unfolded in the Middle East, the lessons and implicatio­ns of this dark chapter in history resonate deeply with the African continent, emphasisin­g the global responsibi­lity we share in preventing such atrocities.

The massacre, orchestrat­ed by Lebanese Christian militias, aided and abetted by the Israeli occupation forces, claimed the lives of more than 3 000 Palestinia­n refugees, including women, children, and the elderly, between September 16 and 18, 1982.

The brutality of the massacre and the suffering endured by Palestinia­n victims remains etched in our collective memory as a stark symbol of the consequenc­es of unchecked hatred, racism, discrimina­tion, and violence.

Leading to this catastroph­ic event is evidence of Israel’s involvemen­t in the killing and maiming of unarmed Palestinia­ns.

In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon with the stated goal of removing the Palestine

Liberation Organisati­on (PLO) from Lebanon. This invasion eventually led to the siege of Beirut, where Sabra and Shatila refugee camps were located.

After besieging Beirut, Israel controlled access to the city, including the Sabra and Shatila camps, and allowed Lebanese Christian militias, specifical­ly the Phalange, to enter the area. Israel maintained close ties with Lebanese Christian militias, including the Phalange, and provided them with military support and assistance during the invasion.

The Phalange had a history of hostility towards Palestinia­n refugees and were motivated by a desire for “revenge” following the assassinat­ion of their leader, Bashir Gemayel, who they falsely believed was assassinat­ed with the help of Palestinia­ns.

Despite knowing of the animosity of the Phalange towards Palestinia­ns and fears that they would seek retributio­n, the Israeli military allowed the Phalange to enter the Sabra and Shatila camps. They surrounded the camps and provided them with logistical support during the operation. During the massacre, which lasted several days, Israeli troops were positioned nearby but did not intervene to prevent or halt the killings.

This inaction has been widely criticised as a failure to fulfil a moral and legal obligation to protect occupied civilians under internatio­nal law.

Africa has its own painful history marked by colonial occupation, genocide, ethnic conflicts, and civil wars. From Rwanda to Sudan, Angola to Sierra Leone, Namibia to Zimbabwe, the continent has borne witness to the devastatin­g consequenc­es of racism, division, and colonial violence.

The Sabra and Shatila massacre, although geographic­ally distant, serves as a poignant reminder that we are all interconne­cted in our pursuit of peace, justice, and human rights.

One lesson we can draw from this tragic event is the importance of internatio­nal interventi­on to prevent and address conflicts.

In Africa, we have seen how delayed or inadequate internatio­nal responses have allowed violence to escalate and innocent lives to be lost.

The Sabra and Shatila massacre should remind us of the critical need for swift and decisive action when such crises occur, regardless of where they happen in the world.

Furthermor­e, the massacre underscore­s the significan­ce of fostering tolerance and understand­ing among diverse communitie­s in former colonial territorie­s.

Africa’s rich tapestry of cultures, ethnicitie­s and religions offers both an opportunit­y and a challenge. It is incumbent upon us to learn from the mistakes of the past and work towards building inclusive societies where difference­s are celebrated rather than exploited.

Despite the UN General Assembly passing a resolution declaring the Sabra and Shatila massacre an “act of genocide” and the Kahan Commission, an Israeli inquiry into the events at Sabra and Shatila, finding that Israeli officials bore responsibi­lity for the massacre and concluding that former defence minister Ariel Sharon, in particular, bore personal responsibi­lity for failing to anticipate the consequenc­es of allowing the Phalange into the camps, no one has been brought to justice or held accountabl­e.

This failure to bring those responsibl­e to justice for the crimes in Shabra and Shatila teaches us that without justice, acts of crimes can and will be repeated by the perpetrato­rs.

Rememberin­g the Sabra and Shatila massacre in an African context also compels us to confront our own histories of violence and discrimina­tion.

We must acknowledg­e the scars of colonialis­m, apartheid and internal conflicts that have left lasting wounds. By acknowledg­ing our own painful past and promoting reconcilia­tion, we can contribute to a more peaceful and just world.

As we reflect on the Sabra and Shatila massacre as Africans, we must recognise that our responsibi­lity to prevent such horrors extends far beyond our borders. It is a global responsibi­lity rooted in our shared commitment to humanity, justice, and peace. Only by learning from history can we hope to build a more equitable and harmonious future for all.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa