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September 17, 2012

30th Anniversary of the Sabra and Shatilla Masscres: A Day of Infamy for Israel and its Supporters

On this day, 30 years ago, the soil of Lebanon was quenched with the blood of thousands of Palestinians and Lebanese. It is said that chrysanthemums burst out of the earth at the place where martyrs’ blood flows. In the year 2012, however, no chrysanthemums are blooming in Sabra and Shatila. This bloody crime on the hands of the Israeli state, its US funder, its Lebanese proxy forces and the complicit Arab regimes that created the conditions for the massacre of 1982, is carefully skirted, quietly spun and wrapped in a cloak of silence. We are asked to forget our people or confuse the events surrounding their sudden disappearance; we are invited to debate these matters as a subject for narratives, disputes and counter narratives.

Palestinians were in Sabra and Shatila 30 years ago – and are in Shatila, in refugee camps throughout the Arab world, and around the world in exile and diaspora today – after being made refugees and forced from their homeland, Palestine, in 1948 in the Nakba which established the Zionist state through the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people. Today, there are over 6 million Palestinian refugees. All of them have been denied their right to return to their homes and lands for over 64 years now, and yet have continued to struggle. The refugee camps have been incubators of Palestinian resistance, the core of our liberation movements, and a compass for our struggle – pointing towards liberation and towards return. Time and again, they have been subject to massacre, and time and again, they have remained the center of steadfastness and resistance.

Perhaps the chrysanthemums did not grow because they did not agree on the number of deaths amid the “conflicting” narratives and the exhumed mass graves that were quickly bulldozed over. Snipers were shooting at every possible witness who attempted to walk the streets or tried to search for a bottle of milk for a crying baby. Initial reports of the Lebanese Red Cross and Beirut hospitals tallied the death toll at 8,000. The US and European media report that the toll was no greater than 2,000 to 2,400. Israel seeks to evade its responsibility, saying that Lebanese forces committed the crimes. All in all about 4,500 Palestinian men, women, children and elderly were never accounted for after the records went missing. And all the while, US and Israeli officials obfuscated their role in the horror.

The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 was meant to annihilate the Palestinian resistance movement once and for all. Led by Ariel Sharon as the minister of defense, Israel pounded Lebanon by land, sea and air murdering 40,000 people, the vast majority civilians, in a matter of few months. Like the previous Israeli massacres of Palestinians and Lebanese, the invasion was meant to psychologically defeat the will of a population to resist.

After the Palestine Liberation Organization agreed to a ceasefire and withdrawal of all armed fighters from Beirut, Israeli forces laid siege to Shatilla camp and the adjacent Sabra neighbourhood of Beirut and took over neighboring tall buildings as watchtowers, establishing checkpoints at all entrances and exits. On the morning of September 15th, 1982, a strict curfew was imposed and Israeli forces opened fire on all those who attempted to leave the camp. After coordination between military commanders and political leaders such as Sharon, Eitan, Habiqa, Dawri, Gemayel and Afram, Israeli forces shelled Shatila camp before their Lebanese proxies stormed the camps on the eve of September 16th, 1982 – as Israeli forces lit the sky with flares in order to aid their vision – and commenced brutal killing, rape and torture that lasted for 36 hours.

Men were lined up in front of walls and executed, then partially buried by bulldozers in an attempt to cover up the aftermath. Women shielding their children from the rain of bullets were found curled around the corpses of their offspring, sometimes with limbs protruding from the rubble.

Lebanese who heard the shooting and tried to enter the camp were militarily intercepted by the Israeli forces and in some cases murdered on site. Those who fled the blood bath were also intercepted by Israeli soldiers pleading ignorance. An amateur videographer documented an Israeli soldier telling a Palestinian family that he heard of no shooting but if the family would not return, they would start hearing it. He then proceeded to shoot close to their feet. This family returned to certain death.

Like Deir Yassin, Houla, Qibya, Bint Jbail, Nahr Al Bared, Jenin and Qana, Sabra and Shatilla was meant to hurt, demoralize and defeat. These events did not simply occur between a victimizer and a victim, nor were they an internal Arab matter. Sabra and Shatila is another of the long line of massacres committed by a pillaging occupier, an invader, a colonialist imposition against an indigenous population determined to resist, and who fought back against that invading force.

While Israel was attempting to expel resistance from the countries surrounding Palestine with military might, treaties and US-supported dictatorships, the fight was taken to the heart of Palestine. The invasion was followed by two uprisings in the West Bank and Gaza and today we witness a rising youth movement in the land occupied in 1948 confronting Zionist racism and genocidal practices. And all along, Palestinian refugees – in the camps in Palestine and the Arab world, in exile and diaspora everywhere – have kept their eyes and compass focused on return to Palestine and the full achievement of their liberation.

The Palestinian people continue to stand steadfast and see the accumulation of their continued resistance is isolating Israel internationally. A new global consensus is emerging calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions on the criminal state. Gaza may be under siege today, but the Palestinian people know that resilience will ultimately mean victory. This assertion is not a dream but it is built by the inspiration proven by the twice-liberated Southern Lebanon, the defeat of apartheid in South Africa, the wave of indigenous rule sweeping Latin America, the decolonization of the twentieth century and the brewing Arab revolutions of the twenty-first. We shall never forget nor forgive. The chrysanthemums shall return, as shall Palestine’s refugees, and a life of justice with return to Palestine is neither far nor near, but as Naji Al Ali stated, it is measured by the distance of the resistance.

The US Palestinian Community Network urges all chapters, members, supporters and our Palestinian and Arab communities and solidarity allies to act throughout September, to take this 30th anniversary and hold protests, educational events, meetings, and demonstrations about Palestinian refugees’ right to return.

These actions will remember the massacres at Sabra and Shatila – and the long history of massacres against the Palestinian people from 1948 to 2012 – and continue to inspire action to achieve justice for Palestine. Please contact us at to inform USPCN about your right of return actions, meetings and demonstrations.

Serial murders


Brussels, September : solidarity with Syria

There were three days of excellent Syrian films and on Sunday, which coincided with a day without cars, we had this solidarity chain that spread from Bozar to the European Parliament. In the morning we had a Round Table of utmost interest and quality. Father Paolo played an important role in mobilising  our energies. He is the monk who renovated Mar Moussa and  who has been expelled from Syria.


Assad’s Useful Idiots

A protestor at a Sydney march in support of the Syrian regime, August 2012 |GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty

A protestor at a Sydney march in support of the Syrian regime, August 2012

How prominent commentators from the ‘anti-imperialist’ left have twisted the public discourse on Syria and, in the process, provided intellectual cover for the Assad regime.
Forget the ambitions of Syrians themselves — they’re just pawns in an international conspiracy.
“ He doesn’t kill his people. We’ve got militants in Syria. They’re terrorists.”
Demonstrators march in Sydney against foreign intervention in Syria, August 2012 |GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty

Demonstrators march in Sydney against foreign intervention in Syria, August 2012

“ That is why they are asking the Crusaders to bomb them — because the Crusaders are asking their servants to ask them to bomb them.”
“ For Syrians who want dignity and democracy in a free country, the rapidly mushrooming dependence of their uprising on foreign support is a disaster — even more than was the case in Libya.”
President Assad in a rare public appearance in Damascus, January 2012 |STR/AFP/Getty

President Assad in a rare public appearance in Damascus, January 2012

The moral of the Libyan story is that just because you fund a revolution, doesn’t mean you own it.
Journalist John Pilger in Kabul, Afghanistan |AAP Image/SBS

Journalist John Pilger in Kabul, Afghanistan

On no other topic have the ideologues been more ‘truthy’ than on the Houla massacre.

It was the first weekend of August, and on the highway leading out of Damascus, Syrian tanks rumbled northwards towards Aleppo. As 20,000 government troops mobilised outside the city, Syrian bomber jets shattered the shopping district of Salahedin, a rebel stronghold. Just metres away from the fighting, a Reuters reporter found a local couple, shaking with fear. “Just to hold power he is willing to destroy our streets, our homes, kill our sons,” cried Fawzia Um Ahmed as she waited for a car to take them to safety.

In Sydney that weekend the sun was out, and so were hundreds of Syrian Australians. In a rally organised by a group called ‘Hands off Syria’, they marched through the city, brandishing posters of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and signs that read, “Thank you Russia and China 4 Vetoes” and “Let the whole world hear: Syria is our Nation, Bashar is our Leader”.

“He’s a doctor, he studied in England,” ‘Naja’ told TruthNews in a broad Syrian-Australian accent, adding that President Assad had been ‘democratically elected’ by 75 per cent of Syrians. “He doesn’t kill his people. We’ve got militants in Syria. They’re terrorists.”

Flanked by cheering Assad supporters, Dr Tim Anderson, a senior lecturer in political economy at Sydney University and a member of Hands Off Syria, made an impassioned speech in support of the Syrian president. “People in this country are very ignorant about what’s going on in Syria,” he began.

“That’s not a crime in itself. But what is unacceptable is the unethical use of this ignorance… Those people saying Assad must go, they have no ethical basis to make that sort of claim,” he continued, cheered by the crowd. To this, he added: “They haven’t

understood that it’s the foundation of the post-colonial era… that a people have a right to self-determination.”

Hang on a minute. Isn’t the Syrian opposition fighting the Assad regime for its right to self-determination?

Don’t try to make sense of this logically; think ideologically.

Anderson is among the ideologues who believe there is no greater enemy than American imperialism. That means the Syrian uprising poses a grave threat to the ‘Axis of Resistance’ — Iran, Syria and Hezbollah — which, according to them, is the only force blocking America’s imperialist ambitions in the Middle East. If Assad falls, they believe it is America, Israel and Saudi Arabia that have the most to gain.

This ideological war is being fought at varying levels of sophistication by leftists with far greater influence than Dr Anderson, such as The Guardian’s associate editor and columnist Seumas Milne, award-winning journalist John Pilger, military historian and intellectual Tariq Ali and British MP George Galloway.

At first glance, it might seem indulgent to slip from reporting on the facts, to reporting on the reportage. Many of us would like to ignore these commentators. Increasingly, however, journalists reporting from Syria are

being driven to despair as their reporting is dismissed as propaganda by anti-imperialist ideologues who claim to know ‘the truth’. Many Syrians I’ve spoken to are also aware that their fate is connected to how the conflict is reported.

Using tactics that vary from the overt to the insidious, these ideologues are willfully twisting the narrative on Syria to score points against the ‘imperialist West’. In the process, they are excusing and providing intellectual cover for the Assad regime. What’s worse, their ‘truth’ is filtering into the mainstream, with many in the public convinced that the conflict in Syria is now little more than a proxy war between the world’s great powers.

This is not to say that hawks who are cheering for intervention in Syria aren’t guilty of peddling their own kind of propaganda — they are. But right-wing hawks don’t typically claim to be champions of the oppressed. Those mentioned above do, and in the same breath, happily undermine a civilian-led uprising against a remorseless dictator, all because said dictator is (on paper, at least) opposed to

Israel and the United States.

“It’s a dreadful moral and political capitulation,” says Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine. “It surrenders all other leftist values to a reductive, hyper-simplistic, anti-Western stance which makes all regimes opposed by the West worthy of support by default… That means supporting fascist right-wingers, as long as they have the right enemies.”

Syria has been one of the hardest conflicts in living memory to report on, largely because of the extreme restrictions imposed by the Assad regime. Earlier this year, I wrote about how these restrictions were making it immensely difficult for reporters to sort fact from propaganda, and how important it was that we maintain a critical eye on both sides (‘Syria’s Propaganda War’, April 12).

Now the fog of the Syrian war is providing cover for conspiracy theories which are published as fact with increasing frequency.

Here in Beirut, the worst offenders in this category write for the leftist Hezbollah-friendly newspaper, Al Akhbar. In his scathing letter of farewell to the paper, former columnist Max Blumenthal decried its opinion pages as “a playpen for dictator enablers”.


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