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The 76 Year Catastrophe


Toughness found fertile soil in the hearts of Palestinians, and the grains of resistance embedded themselves in their skin. Endurance evolved as a hallmark of refugee society. But the price they paid was the subduing of tender vulnerability. They learned to celebrate martyrdom. Only martyrdom offered freedom. Only in death were they at last invulnerable to Israel. Martyrdom became the ultimate defiance of Israeli occupation. “Never let them hurt you” was their creed.

Israel had been striking Lebanon to provoke the PLO into retaliation. In July 1981 jet killed two hundred civilians in a single raid on Beirut, and Ariel Sharon, Israel’s defense minister at the time, issued a public vow to wipe out the resistance once and for all…Protecting the refugee camps was the priority. Toward that end, the PLO leadership struck a devil’s deal to keep woman and children safe. But by April 1982, the United Nations had recorded 2,125 Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace and 652 violations of Lebanese territorial waters. Israel amassed twenty-five thousand soldiers on the border and continued to illegally deploy provocative maneuvers to the south of Lebanon. The PLO resisted retaliation and so did the Lebanese government

“Israel is striking back against the PLO, a terrorist organization whose aim is to slaughter Jews like they did the Munich athletes.” Israel’s stated aim was self-defense. To dislodge the PLO, a six-thousand-member resistance. By August, the results were 17,500 civilians killed, 40,000 wounded, 400,000 homeless and 100,000 without shelter. Prostrate, Lebanon lay devastated and raped, with no infrastructure for food or water. Israel claimed it had been forced to invade for peace. “We are here for peace. This is a peacekeeping mission.”


British correspondent Robert Fisk described Israeli phosphorous shells: Dr. Shamma’s story was a dreadful one and her voice broke as she told it. “I had to take babies and put them in buckets of water to put out the flames,” she said. “When I took out half an hour later, they were still burning. Even in the mortuary, they smouldered for hours.” Next morning, she took the tiny corpses out of the mortuary for burial. To her horror, they again burst into flames.


On September 16, 1982, in defiance of the cease-fire, Ariel Sharon’s army circled the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila…Israeli soldiers set up checkpoints, barring the exit of refugees, and allowed their Lebanese Phalange allies into the camp. Israeli soldiers, perched on rooftops, watched through their binoculars during the day and at night lit with flares to guide the path of the Phalange, who went from shelter to shelter in the refugee camps. Two days later, the first western journalists entered the camp and bore witness. Robert Fisk wrote of it in PITY THE NATION:


They were everywhere, in the road, the laneways, in the back yards and broken rooms, beneath crumpled masonry and across the top of garbage tips. When we had seen a hundred bodies, we stopped counting. Down every alleyway, there were corpses-women, young men, babies and grandparents-lying together in lazy and terrible profusion where they had been knifed or machine-gunned to death…The patients at the Palestinian hospital had disappeared after gunmen ordered the doctors to leave. Everywhere we found hastily dug mass graves. Even while we were there amid the evidence of such savagery, we could see the Israelis watching us…Jenkins and I were so overwhelmed by what we found in Shatila that at first we were unable to register our own shock. We might have accepted evidence of a few murders, even dozens of bodies, killed in the heat of combat. But there were women lying in houses with their skirts torn up to the waists and their legs wide apart, children with their throats cut, rows of young men shot in the back after being lined up at an execution wall. There were babies-blackened babies because they had been slaughtered more than 24 hours earlier and their small bodies were already in a state of decomposition-tossed into rubbish heaps alongside U.S. Army ration tins, Israeli army medical equipment, and empty bottles of whiskey.


How does an Israeli soldier, a Jewish man, watch a refugee camp being transformed into an abattoir?

Fisk’s report continues:

…There were more than a dozen of them, young men whose arms and legs had been wrapped around each other in the agony of death. All had been shot through the cheek, the bullet tearing away a line of flesh up to the ear and entering the brain…One had been castrated, his trousers torn open and a settlement of flies throbbing over his torn intestines. The eyes of these young men were all open. The youngest was only 12 or 13 years old…On the other side of the road, up the track through the debris, we found the bodies of five women and several children…The girl had short, dark curly hair, her eyes were staring at us and there was a frown on her face. She was dead. Someone had slit open the woman’s stomach, cutting sideways and then upwards, perhaps trying to kill her unborn child. Her eyes were wide open, her dark face frozen in horror.


Soon, an uprising climbed from the ground to Palestinian hands, and the rocks they threw cracked the morbid glory of imperial victory. It was an intifada, a spontaneous combustion after twenty years of Israeli occupation. It was a shaking off of oppression and it spread through the hearts of Palestinians everywhere. They took to the streets hurling sticks and stones. Israel responded b y breaking their bones with “might, force, and beatings,” following the command of Yitzak Rabin, the prime minister of Israel.


Israeli press and human rights reports put flesh and blood on the data. The 1 April 1988 issue of Hotam reported the case of a ten-year-old beaten black and blue during an army interrogation that he was left “looking like a steak.” These soldiers “weren’t bothered” even when they later learned that the boy was deaf, mute and mentally retarded. A 13 July 1988 issue of Koteret Rashit reported the “disappearance of 25 children” and jail threats to their parents for “annoying” the army about the children’s whereabouts. The 19 August 1988 issue of Hadashot featured three photos of a blindfolded six-year-old in an army jeep. Another 1989 report from the Israeli League For Human and Civil Rights described the Israeli army (apparently sharpshooters from “special units”) targeting an increasing number of Palestinian children in leadership roles. “Carefully chosen”, the victims were usually shot in the head or heart. Another report describes how an eight-year-old was tortured after refusing to reveal which of his friends had thrown stones. Stripped naked, hung by his legs and brutally beaten, the boy was the pushed to the edge of a rooftop before being released.


There are more dreadful reports including an imprisoned young boy who had his fingers broken without any medical treatment or food because his father was unable to pay the ransom of $750.

An insider from the Hebron detention centre said: “What happened here…was plain horror: They would break their clubs on the prisoners’ bodies, hit them in the genitals, tie a prisoner up on a cold floor and play soccer with him-literally kicking him and rolling him around. They’d give him electric shocks then push them out into the cold and rain for many hours.



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