ON this day in 1963, the world saw the historic formation of Malaysia when Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore came together.
While we tender our congratulations on this day, we would also like to remind Malaysians and the world of another historic event that took place on Sept 16: It was on this day in 1982 that the world saw the beginning of the Sabra and Shatila massacre in the Middle East.
For three days, from Sept 16 to 18, Lebanese Christian militiamen systematically slaughtered refugees trapped inside an area surrounded by an Israeli military cordon.
More than three decades later, there has been no accountability and no historical reckoning: no Lebanese or Israeli citizen has ever been brought to justice for the killing of between 460 and 3,500 civilians, mostly Palestinians and Lebanese Shiites.
On June 6,1982, Israel launched an invasion of Lebanon that had long been planned to destroy or severely diminish the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), which was based in Lebanon at the time.
Israeli forces advanced all the way to the capital, Beirut, besieging and bombarding the western part of city where the PLO was headquartered and where the Palestinian refugee camp of Shatila and the adjacent neighbourhood of Sabra were located.
On Sept 15, Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) surrounded Shatila and Sabra. On Sept 16, Israeli soldiers allowed about 150 militiamen from Phalange, a predominantly Christian Lebanese right-wing party, into the area. The Phalange were bitter enemies of the PLO and its leftist and Muslim Lebanese allies during the preceding years of Lebanon’s civil war.
Over the next day and a half, the Phalangists killed hundreds of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians. More than 30 years later, there is still no accurate total for the number of people killed in the massacre.
An official Israeli investigation, the Kahan Commission, concluded that between 700 and 800 people were killed, based on the assessment of Israeli military intelligence.
An investigation by Beirut-based British journalist Robert Fisk, who was one of the first people on the scene after the massacre ended, concluded that the Palestinian Red Crescent put the number of dead at more than 2,000.
In his book, Sabra & Shatila: Inquiry Into A Massacre, Israeli journalist Amnon Kapeliouk reached a figure of 3,000 to 3,500.
In 1983, a commission chaired by United Nations assistant secretary-general Seán MacBride concluded that Israel, as the area’s occupying power, bore responsibility for the violence. The commission also concluded that the massacre was a form of genocide.
Also that year, the Kahan Commission found that Israeli military personnel, aware that a massacre was in progress, had failed to take serious steps to stop it. The commission deemed Israel indirectly responsible, and that Ariel Sharon, then Defence Minister, bore personal responsibility “for ignoring the danger of bloodshed and revenge”.
The IOF is now pursuing the agenda of genocide against the Palestinians with strong support from the United States.
For Palestinians, the Sabra and Shatila massacre remains a traumatic event that is acknowledged annually. Many survivors continue to live in Sabra and Shatila, struggling to eke out a living, haunted by their memories of the slaughter. To this day, no one has faced justice for the crimes that took place.
For the world, the Sabra and Shatila massacre serves as a powerful and tragic reminder of a crime against humanity and the failure of the international community to find justice for the victims.
The tragedy also exposes the vulnerable situation of millions of stateless Palestinians, and the dangers that they continue to face across the region, and around the world, with no assurance of a future.
MOHD AZMI ABDUL HAMID
President, Malaysian Consultative Council of Islamic Organisations (Mapim)