Sabra and Shatila massacre

Written by Amna Asif 12:10 pm Articles, International Relations, Published Content

The Horrors of the Sabra and Shatila Massacre

The world has witnessed numerous distressing massacres and bloodshed over the centuries. However, one of the most agonizing attacks that occurred in history was the Sabra and Shatila massacre that was conducted on September 16 to September 18, 1982, during the Lebanese civil war. The victims were fleeing refugees who were attempting to escape the ethnic cleansing occurring in Palestine by Zionist militias. Instead of receiving refuge and mercy, they were attacked and killed by a right-wing Lebanese militia with the help of the Israeli army.
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About the Author(s)
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Ms Amna Asif has a bachelor's degree from NUST. She is currently pursuing her graduate studies at George Washington University.


Shatila was a Palestinian refugee camp and Sabra was an abutting neighborhood. They are located southwest of the Lebanon capital of Beirut. In June 1982, Israel decided to invade Lebanon on the pretext that they were in the country to eradicate all elements associated with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) as purportedly the latter was launching attacks on Israel from southern Lebanon.

However, on September 1st, 1982, the PLO ceased their operations in Lebanon. Moreover, the United States and multinational organizations provided surety that the refugees remaining in Lebanon would be protected at all costs. Despite these promises, two weeks later, the Israeli army ambushed Sabra and Shatila and coordinated with the right-wing Lebanese militia alias Phalange.

The Phalange was responsible for executing the massacre that lasted for 43 hours from September 16 to September 18, 1982. During this time duration, an estimated 2,000-3,500 civilians were brutally murdered. The witnesses who survived to recount the event describe numerous atrocities including castration, murders, rapes, and even slaughter. The images and videos of the incident were aired internationally and prompted chaos and rage worldwide.

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Events Leading up to the Massacre

The 1948 Palestine war caused over 750,000 civilians, who were either expelled or decided to flee, to seek refuge in surrounding countries. A significant number of these civilians escaped the Israel-Palestine conflict and relocated to refugee camps in Lebanon. Subsequently, in 1964, the Palestinian Liberation Organization was established with the objective to liberate Palestine through an armistice struggle.

Then in 1969, a treaty between the PLO and the Lebanese army was brokered by Egypt. The treaty allowed the PLO to take command of 16 Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. Thus, equipping them with geo-strategic leverage that enabled them to conduct attacks from Southern Lebanon seamlessly.

Then when Lebanon civil war broke out in 1975 between the Lebanese front and the Lebanese national movement, Israeli forces entered Lebanon, led by the erstwhile defense minister, Ariel Sharon. The forces heavily bombarded the capital city and the area where PLO’s headquarters were established. Consequently, PLO opted to leave the country to prevent further chaos from ensuing.

The multinational force that arrived in Lebanon to oversee the conditions and stay in the country for 30 days after PLO left, decided to abruptly leave 20 days before. As the country was ablaze with violence and chaos, on September 14, 1982, Bachir Gemayel, the Lebanese president, was assassinated in Beirut.

The following day, Israel prevented any individuals from leaving the refugee camps. As a result, the Israeli forces allowed the Phalange, who held the PLO responsible for the assassination of Bachir Gemayel, to conduct the attacks on Sabra and Shatila.


The United Nations passed a resolution that declared the massacre an act of genocide. Additionally, the PLO shifted its headquarters to Tunisia. Despite the uproar engendered by the incident, no party was held accountable for the massacre. Instead, an investigation conducted by an Israeli agency, known as the Kahan commission, revealed in a report that the perpetrators to be held liable for the massacre were the Lebanese Forces militia and Ariel Sharon.

The agency’s report also exculpated the Israeli forces. However, in February 1983, the United Nations Commission found that Israeli authorities and forces were directly/indirectly involved in the massacre. Finally, in 2002, the survivors of the Sabra and Shatila massacre took the initiative and filed a case against Ariel Sharon in a Belgian court.

In spite of the surfeit evidence pointing towards Ariel Sharon, the case was dismissed by the court on the pretext that Ariel was not physically present in court. Ultimately, justice was denied to the victims.

Moving Forward

Ariel Sharon died on January 11, 2014, the individual who had orchestrated the massacre. Although dismissing the case against Ariel was a complete travesty of justice, reparations ought to be provided to the survivors of the Sabra and Shatila massacre. Although the trauma they experienced cannot be healed with monetary resources, it will allow them to improve their economic and social conditions, particularly those whose parents’ or grandparents’ deaths in the massacre directly impacted their financial standing and translated into contemporary financial issues.

Those individuals possess a prerogative to receive reparations and other forms of social benefits to contend with the trauma they or their ancestors experienced. According to a report by Human Rights Watch, progeny is eligible to receive reparations regardless of the mortal status of the ancestors affected by “any serious human rights abuse”. Therefore, it can be rightly concluded that the survivors and progeny of the victims deserve justice.


In conclusion, the Sabra and Shatila massacre was one of the most atrocious events that occurred in history. Thousands of innocent civilians were killed without a justifiable reason. The event continues to haunt those bereaved individuals who are the direct children or grandchildren of the victims. They were deprived of their loved ones, yet, never received support or resources to contend with the trauma.

Even after these survivors and progeny attempted to seek redress with the help of court cases, they were denied justice and the cases were dismissed. This ludicrous behavior by the international community is inexcusable. People who are coerced and subjected to violent treatment deserve to receive the justice they demand. Otherwise, the occurrence of such events will increase and turbulence will continue to envelop the world.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article/paper are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Paradigm Shift.

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