Shatila: A summary of the continuing Palestinian tragedy
Zuhair Hawari, Lebanese journalist and researcher
Shatila Camp is essentially an encapsulation of the entire Palestinian tragedy. While other camps have features of estrangement and its accompanying bitterness and misery, Shatila manifests its epic bloody fate.
Such fate does not end with death, not at all. It has a thousand souls to spare, so it always holds factors of both its demise and reincarnation, bearing witness to the fate and capability of this struggling nation.
When the camp was established on an empty plot of land outside the city, the place was nothing more than barren sand near the old Beirut airport. People came, having been forced out of their towns and villages in northern Palestine, mostly from its coastline.
They brought their habits and traditions of family hierarchy, with positions for men, women, and children. They brought their recipes without the utensils, their food without the actual grains, and their stories packed in their grandparents’ clothes, along with the rusty keys of their homes.
The place was not far from the busy port, now bustling with movement after sea trade moved here from Palestinian ports. They found work loading and unloading and any other jobs they could find.
With their low wages, they fed their children and sent them to school every morning. As the camp is on the city’s outskirts, it belongs to it but is not part of it.
Shatila benefited from the political and security chaos in the country and moved from the initial brown fabric tents to brick walls and shiny metal rooftops. Later, it moved to cement ceilings, so sleeping children no longer woke up to cracking thunder and the sound of raindrops on bare metal.
They grew up with their dreams of return. But the older they got, the more delayed the return journey had become. Based on what their grandparents had told them, they used to think that their homes, shops, and wells were eagerly waiting for them. And because they took their dreams seriously, they shook off the shackles of subjective and objective oppression. Those who would merely think about revolting were punished, forced to check-in at police stations in the morning and at night so as not to disturb the peace and security.
Then came the civil war, with its many ramifications, and with it came more floors to the houses than before. They lost their supporters, protectors, and youth. Among all who bled, they bled the most.
They paid their debt with interest.
They were brought down by countless knife and bullet wounds amidst a night’s darkness, a darkness that conceals the atrocities of the massacre.
Murdered women, children, and the elderly were stacked in alleyways, with scores of flies hovering above their bodies. Terrifying scenes, like parts of Picasso’s Guernica, with the smell of blood filling up the air.
Images shocked the world that feasted on the horrific and continuous news broadcast. The people of Shatila came to know that the dead can still die and that those who remain – even if forgotten – must stand up high, like ancient Cypress trees.
Those who remained made sure to tell the tale and keep it from obscurity. But massacres only beget massacres. So the people had to fight for survival again. For a drop of water, they paid ounces of blood. For a loaf of bread, they paid with open wounds; for the treatment of an injured person, they settled with the life of a doctor or a medic.
But life goes on. As with all the camps, Shatila today is a land of hunger, thirst, steadfastness, drugs, delirium, and civil chaos. Some are from within, and some are brought in from outside, such as by those with marginal professions seeking the cheapest stay.
Nationalities change, but identity does not. It is still the same camp established on a piece of land owned by the grandsons of Shatila, who are traders working with Palestine and Egypt. But what many do not know is that the adjacent Sabra is not a camp. Instead, it’s just a gathering, as described in the census overseen by the Lebanese Palestinian Dialogue Committee.
It was attached to the official camp, joining it in both the name and its pains. Both camps have one name: Sabra and Shatila. Both camps are still poor. The poor increase in numbers and get poorer. They struggle to secure bread, medicine, electricity, and other basics of a decent life, trying to survive with help from UNRWA and international organizations, but above all, by their own hands, by their sweat.
Shatila encapsulates the Palestinian tale, with its victims, wounded, and broken dreams.
A tale that strikes down the fake Israeli story that came into being with the Balfour Declaration and has fueled wars after that.
They continue with evictions and more settlements while Palestinians continue to live under occupation or scattered in camps. The Zionist story will not always continue to be heard, and the oppressed will write their own tale on the walls of their houses, on their chests, and within their stories passed on from one generation to another.
With that, Shatila will become history, shedding tears of joy that exceed the tears of sorrow and blood spent during its many conflicts.