This is the story of a young man who lived through the Sabra-Shatila Massacre in Beirut, 1982. This is his detailed testimony of the few days before, during and after the massacre. Rebel Economy’s editor is close to this person whose real name has been changed for security reasons.
The following introduction is by Raja Khalidi, senior economist with the United Nations, Geneva.
I am glad this testimony has been published because it is the first time, maybe in the 28 years since it was published that I had read it in full. And though a wrenching experience after all these years, I hope you have the chance to read it in a calm moment.
The author is a close friend and I translated this from the original, which the author penned almost as a post-trauma therapy.
Here are a few things about him that he couldnt/wouldnt/shouldnt tell in the article and what has happened to him since:
- His name is neither his real name nor his nom de guerre, but his story is true, word for word, martyr for martyr, alleyway for alleyway. The map in the article was an essential part of his putting all this together in a coherent form and I suppose if you follow his path over the 5 days we will find that he criss-crossed the camps. This provides an absolutely unique testimony because he came into contact with all the main phases and places and actors and victims and could faithfully record his experiences.
- “Zakaria” was around 26 when the massacre took place. He was ibn mukhayyam (in English, a son of the camp) through and through, and had fought as a militia member on the front lines of the Lebanese Civil War since its first eruptions in 1973. I first met him in summer of 1974, when he was putting up the celebratory “Vietnam Victory Arch” over the entrance to Sabra Square. He was a political cadre, a guerrila, a local organiser. But he was also like any other aspiring Palestinian youth of his peers – he was open to Lebanese society and culture, liked Bruce Lee and Demis Roussos, had done well in his Lebanese Baccalaureat thanks to a good UNRWA school (United Nationals Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees) and he knew the value of education, but the revolution meant he never took it further.
- The real significance of his story, alongside the hundreds of testimonies of other survivors, for me at least, was that he and others resisted, and this is above all their story, though somehow Zakaria brings back to life all those whose terrible fates he describes. By reading his account, we are not only filled with sadness and tragedy and share his feeling of helplessness at finding no arms with which to resist, not knowing if resistance was the right path, then trying their best but ultimately failing. But this story is one that must not be forgotten alongside that of the brutality of the criminals and the complacency of the “Israel Defence Forces”.
- In fact, it is a story that fills me at least with hope, and not only because it shows there will always be Palestinians who resist. But in this particular case, maybe representative of only 1/1000, or 1/100 of the survivors, so many of whom must still be scarred (as Talal Salman said, blood doesnt evaporate, it seeps into the earth), it doesnt matter, because this story has a happy ending, which I am happy to share with you.
- Before the war, Zakaria had planned to work for the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) printing presses in Beirut, moving on from his full time organisational activities. He ended up getting a scholarship from a generous Palestinian businessman to study printing and he got an acceptance from a College of Printing in Europe but then the war broke out and all bets were off.
- But his friends were eventually able to spirit him out of Beirut in the weeks after the massacre and he was able to take up his two year printing course in Europe and married a girl from the camp and brought her to live his new life in cold and wet south London.
- Through the 1980s Zakaria went on to honour his commitment to work for the PLO as a professional printer, but after the re-situation of the PLO inside Palestine in 1994, he ended up like so many from Shatila and other camps in Lebanon, a refugee again, this time as an asylum seeker in Europe.
- Long story short: Zakaria’s story is one of successful integration, his wife is chief IT officer in a major university, and he is a trainer for re-insertion of former convicts into normal life. They have two wonderful daughters who will surely use their education and strong sense of survival to come back and in their own way continue what their father left behind.
And he never forgets to tell me to pass by the ruins of his ancestral village near Haifa when I go to Palestine.
God rest the souls of all the martyrs. Please read it if you havent before:
“Sabra and Shatila 1982: Resisting the Massacre” by Zakaria al-Shaikh, Vol. 14, No. 1 (Autumn 1984): 57-90