the impossible mourning of the disappeared from the massacre of Sabra and Shatila

the impossible mourning of the disappeared from the massacre of Sabra and Shatila

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The death toll of the Sabra and Shatila massacre, perpetrated by Christian militias under the eye of the Israelis, between September 16 and 18, 1982, varies between 800 and 3,500 dead, depending on the sources. There are also hundreds of missing persons whose bodies have not been found and whose families refuse to consider them dead.

From our correspondent in Beirut,

One day, I will hear a knock at the door, I will open it and my son Jamal will be there, standing in front of me. I will recognize him despite all these past years, I will embrace him for a long time. Then I can die in peace. Forty years after the disappearance of his son during the massacres of Sabra and Shatila, Abou Jamal Maarouf hopes that he will see him again one day. This neat-looking octogenarian always pins a pin with the image of his missing son on his jacket.

Every year, on September 17, he makes the last journey with his son 40 years ago. The images come back as if it were yesterday. The corpses of women and children litter the main street of the Shatila camp, a body crushed by a section of wall, face down, the tangled limbs of a dead man and a horse… Some wounds, gaping , are still bleeding. In the middle of the street, he stops counting the corpses. Men in olive-green fatigues, speaking Arabic with a Lebanese accent, yell obscenities, grab them and push them and other inmates toward the far end of the camp.

► To read also: Sabra and Chatila: 40 years later, return to an unpunished massacre

He will never see his son again and his body will never be found. No death announcements will be published, funerals will not be organized. Abou Jamal refuses to consider his son as dead. ” He disappeared (“mafqud”) “, he hammers.

For years, he devoted his time, energy and resources to trying to ” find it “. He knocks on every door, submits a file to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and seeks help from NGOs in Lebanon and elsewhere.

Seventeen young people kidnapped in an alley

In our alley, seventeen young people have disappeared, remembers Oum Salim. Militiamen with a badge sewn on the shoulder bearing the letters MP (“Military police”) herded us like animals before ordering us to march on the main street of Sabra in the direction of Shatila. The men advanced in the middle of the road, the women and children on the side. We were stepping over corpses covered in flies. That day, Oum Salim hugged her newborn baby to her chest and looked for her brother Walid in the long line of men struggling to make their way between dismembered bodies.

“For me, Walid is not dead,” hopes Oum Salim. © Paul Khalifeh / RFI

Arrived at the foot of an earthen embankment, the crowd is summoned to stop. “ The men are taken one by one behind the mound to be summarily executed by “the Kataeb militiamen”. Israeli soldiers arrived, they brought the surviving men to the Sports City [située à trois cents mètres à l’ouest de Chatila, NDLR] and told the women to go back to the camp which was burning “says Oum Salim.

The young woman climbs the embankment and tries in vain to find the body of her brother, who returned from Germany in early June to spend a few weeks with his family. She then goes to the Sports City, which has become a field of ruins under the bombs of the air force and transformed into a temporary detention center by the Israeli army. A soldier, taken with pity for her, authorizes her to look for her brother in the crowd of prisoners. “ I looked everywhere, for hours, without success, she remembers. I saw them in the distance embarking young people in military vehicles which were heading south. Maybe he was with them… “.

For me, Walid is not deadshe hopes. I participate in the activities of associations of missing persons so that my cause and its fate are not forgotten. »

Men of all ages

The disappeared are mainly men, not necessarily young, like this group of notables from the camp who have never been seen again. ” On September 15, the day after the assassination of President-elect Bashir Gemayel, shells began falling on the campsays Jamilé Chéhadé, activist in the social and humanitarian fields. About fifteen notables gathered to discuss the advisability of going to see the Israelis, posted at the entrances to the camp, in order to tell them that there are only unarmed women and children here. A delegation of seven people was formed, my father was part of it. »

At the time of departure, a neighbour, not convinced of the approach, pulls Jamilé’s father by the sleeve and leads him to have a coffee. The delegation leaves without him. After hours of waiting, the inhabitants of Shatila decide to go in search of the men who have gone to mediation. Their empty, charred car is still smoking at the entrance to the camp. No body will ever be found. ” The youngest was 75 years old. Despite this, for us they did not die that day adds Jamilé Chéhadé.

The exact number of missing from the Sabra and Chatila camps is not known. They would be hundreds, men of all ages, separated from their families, or kidnapped during raids carried out during the massacre, and whose bodies have never been found.

Neither dead nor alive, the only status they can claim is that of “disappeared”. But none of them are ghosts.


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