Sabra and Shatila

Genre-specific readers be alerted: this is first draft fiction, not reportage – though its material is entirely factual. Twenty seven years ago today.

sabra shatila 1The militia were Arabs, brother Arabs.

The Phalangists were already baying from east Beirut, howling revenge. Now Israel flew Haddad’s militia, la crème de la crème, up from the south. Both groups assembled at the airport, for General Sharon to ensure all were properly kitted out: with weapons, military rations, medical supplies; Israeli cocaine and Lebanese hashish; Mediterranean testosterone, bad breath.

Then he uncaged them.

At six on Thursday evening. In the first penetration, three hundred and twenty men were brought on thirty trucks. Four gangs invading from four approaches. These were the most blood-addicted, rape-happy, battle-addled of militiamen, men long ago surfeited on outrage, men who required ever more extreme atrocities to stir their glutted senses. Ever wilder, ever sharper.

Israel lit the sky for them. White phosphorus flares trailing and dancing. Fire above like a terrible sun in the ceiling, a sun switched on in anger, while the children are sleeping.

They came to root out the terrorists General Sharon told them were hiding in the camp’s safe havens. The fear of our fighters gripped him. Perhaps they really were with us, ghosts slipped from the Tunis-bound ships and swum home. Perhaps God had answered our prayers.

Sharon gave them aerial photographs of our maze. They drooled on the glossy paper. And when they rushed in on the ground they found without searching too hard boys old enough to fight, old men who could still hold a gun. Also middle aged men pretending to pacifism, holding apart their empty palms. These they shot, sometimes lining them up first. Carelessly, they shot small children too, and their annoying mothers. Plus things that shrieked and things that ran. House to house, to the inner room, to the furthest wall. Hot work. Soon they shot with greater care, enjoying the sport, slashing and chopping and stabbing too. They swigged whisky and araq, snorted cocaine from flesh and knife blades.

Throughout Thursday night bulldozers levelled the buildings closest to the camp entrance. A machine was sent in to dig trenches. Wailing and shooting whirled around the streets. People shut themselves in, waiting. They whispered amongst themselves, guessing the direction of the slaughter, or making excuses for the noise. Some still didn’t know the extent of it, or didn’t believe. Tomorrow would make believers of them.

They huddled in the darkest dark. Outside the night sun shone; inside not even a candle. Dark as dark as ignorance. The dawn brought smoke and a smell of blood.

On Friday the massacre intensified. Reached its fiercest height in the area surrounding the Gaza Hospital. Finally waned to a dribbling halt around 8am on Saturday morning. A long debauch. More than 36 hours of it. I’ll give no more details. You imagine it how you will.

What you imagine will depend on the kind of tv you watch, which channel.

So, alright. I’ll help you.

Imagine the volume, surging and falling according to the killing rhythm, imagine the gunfire and vehicle noise, the cursing and screaming. Human sound pure in blood lust and death terror: Let me go! Or, Get away from my child, you dog, you hear? Or, kill me instead, my son, I beg you! Or, I am not Palestinian, brother, not one of them! And No! For God’s sake, no. For God’s sake no. And always, No.

You see children hugging corpses.

And men whimpering to themselves. Women beating their own faces. Because, who else to talk to? What else to beat?

Climb over this human hill, infants toddlers cut-breast mothers together under black blood and flies. Flies booted in blood settle on your skin, dampening it. Worse than the corpses is that they saw each other dead. For a father to be blown to mud before his son, for a mother to touch the white jelly of her daughter’s brain. How far beyond obscene. Put aside the rape of old and young, anal and vaginal, scratch that from the evidence; and there is still a sexual core to the abandon of massacre.

So come into the heart of it, through alleyways littered with hands and feet, through corpse-slumped corridors in the rubble. You see corpses castrated and scorched. Eye-gouged heads. Quartered babies roasted and blistered like chicken turning in a shop window. A corpse whose guts have been drawn on the shaft of an axe. Babies in a rubbish pile. Women violated before death and after death, black blood between their legs. A skinny old man in a soiled shirt knife-slit from ear to ear. The shame of it. For them to see it done to them. For us to imagine it. I’m glad I did not see.

And you hear the screaming in the aftermath, as the first journalists on the scene heard: “Look what they’ve done to us. Look what they’ve done.”

Indeed look. Humans used as dolls, as toys. As fuck toys. As kill toys. As dummies. Objects.

It’s what happens to you when you have no country. It’s what happens when there are no stories told about you save the stories told by your enemies. When there is nobody to name you.

Nobody remembers the dismembered.

In conversation with an Israeli tank crew, this is what a Phalangist said: “Pregnant women will give birth to terrorists; the children when they grow up will be terrorists.”

So it was. So it is.

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