In 2001, I conducted interviews with several Jewish peace activists regarding the current Palestinian Intifada for freedom. Among them was registered nurse Ellen Siegel. Ellen, who worked at Gaza Hospital [Lebanon] during the massacre at Sabra and Shatila, reflected on what she saw during those dark days. And as we approach the 20th anniversary of the massacre, I would like to share her thoughts.
Please note that at the time of the interview, there was a strong effort to bring Ariel Sharon, often viewed as the mastermind of the massacre, to justice in Belgium. Still, Ellen’s comments remain noteworthy and deserve to be repeated.
SM: I do have one additional question that I really couldn’t ask anyone else…you were at the camps during the massacre at Sabra/Shatila. What are your thoughts right now with a potential trial in Belgium?
ES: I was working as a nurse at the Gaza Hospital in Sabra Camp during the massacre in 1982. A terrible crime occurred at Sabra and Shatila. Approximately one thousand people were massacred in cold blood. Those killed were unarmed civilians. When one reads personal testimonies there is no doubt that this was an atrocity.
Ariel Sharon, the current Prime Minister of Israel was the commander of the Israeli Defense Forces at the time of the massacre. Almost every politically knowledgeable Israeli was aware of the deep and long rooted history of hatred between the Palestinians and the Lebanese Christian Phalangists. Israel sent the Phalange into the camps to supposedly “rid the camp of remaining PLO fighters.”
They blocked off all the entrances and exits of the camps thereby not allowing the camps inhabitants to escape. They supplied the flares that lit up neighborhoods of the camp which allowed the Phalange to see their way through the alleyways of the camp. On the final day of the massacre, the international health workers were led out of the camp. We saw many soldiers with walkie-talkies, dead bodies, a bulldozer with a Hebrew letter moving soil around in a large area.
We were lined up against a bullet ridden wall; an Israeli came running and stopped the Phalange from shooting. We were led to the Israeli Forward Command Post where we saw Israeli soldiers on the roof looking down on the camps. Those in command knew WHAT WOULD happen, knew WHAT WAS happening, and did not stop it from happening for at least 48 hours.
The Israeli Commission of Inquiry found Sharon to be “indirectly responsible.” His responsibility was more than indirect. As head of an army occupying a capital, Beirut, he was responsible for the welfare of the inhabitants.
As Jews we continue to search for Nazi war criminals, and rightly so. As moral and righteous people we must also seek justice for the crime against humanity that was committed in those camps. I do hope that this case gets to be heard in Brussels. There are a number of nurses and doctors that were present during those days that have requested to testify.
No matter what happens, this story is being heard by a new generation. Sharon’s legacy is tainted; history will take note of this massacre. One hopes that one day ALL those responsible will be judged. And that justice will be done.
Sherri Muzher, who holds a Jurist Doctor in International and Comparative Law, is a Palestinian-American activist and free lance journalist.