An event took place, almost twenty years before 9/11, an event that took more lives, an event that was just as barbaric, but was instantly forgotten, never to take a place in our collective consciousness. A truth which is rarely mentioned in the Septembers of our lives.
For three days in September 1982, Israeli forces in collusion with the Lebanese Christain Phalangist Militias, slaughtered, raped and maimed a large number of unarmed civilians inside the encircled and sealed Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in Beirut, Lebanon. More than three thousand five hundred innocent men, women and children were massacred.
The figures of those that died are disputed, (The estimate of victims varies between 700 (the official Israeli figure) to 3,500) but it is difficult to tell how many were butchered, their bodies lying tangled, crushed under the concrete rubble of the houses they sought shelter in.
To this day, amidst all the attempts to seek justice, no one has been held accountable for this genocidal act. Yet the warlord Ariel Sharon, who was responsible for this heinous act, was proudly rewarded for his actions with the Premiership of his country, even though the Israeli Kahan Commission found him to “bear personal liability” for the events at Sabra and Shatila.
These September events remain stuck in the memory of our collective horror and guilt. They are remembered by every human being. Unlike any other violent act, the wantonness and scale of large-scale killings of innocents puts the event on a different level altogether, a level shared by other notorious tragedies in modern history: Halabja in Kurdish Iraq in 1988, the killing fields of Cambodia, Srebrenica in Bosnia, Sabra and Shatila, and of course New York.
Such atrocities are different from ordinary crimes because of their context and magnitude. By its sheer size, its wantonness, its ferocity, its callousness, its planning, the means used and the thousands of innocent civilians destroyed in a brief lapse of time, the crime then qualifies as a crime against humanity, a category which is well defined in international law and carries the common responsibility of all humankind.
The day will be remembered for generations to come, for the notorious act of coordinated mass murder. But that was not the first Sept. 11 to be associated with terror:
Sept. 11, 1973, Chile: Democratically elected President Salvadore Allende died in a CIA-backed military coup that ushered in a reign of terror under dictator Augusto Pinochet, in which thousands of Chileans were killed.
Sept. 11, 1977, South Africa: Anti-apartheid leader Stephen Biko was being beaten in a police van. He died the next day.
Sept. 11, 1990, Guatemala: Guatemalan anthropologist Myrna Mack was murdered by the U.S.-backed military.
Sept. 9-13, 1971, New York: The Attica prison uprising occurred, during which New York state troopers killed 39 prisoners and guards and wounded hundreds of others.
Sept. 11, 1988, Haiti: During a mass led by Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide at the St. Jean Bosco Church in Port-au-Prince, right-wing militiamen attacked, killing at least 13 worshippers and injuring at least 77. Aristide would later be twice elected president, only to be ousted in U.S.-supported coup d’etats.
As those responsible for the crimes against humanity perpetrated against the citizens of New York and Washington are being pursued across the world into the tenth year of the ever expanding “war against terror”, one has to ask oneself why is it that “American Imperialism” has been allowed to seek its revenge against the rest of the world, yet no one can be bought to justice over Septembers’ other atrocities?
Have we accepted the fact that the appalling deaths of those on September 11 2001, are more morally abhorrent than the 30,000 lives destroyed by Putin when he razed Grozny or the daily atrocities committed in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and Kashmir?
Acceptance of this is totally obscene.
The question we must address is one of law.
Are all human beings subject to the same law, and more importantly, to the same application of the law?
Will all the victims of these devastating September days see those responsible for their suffering appear before a court of law?
The question is as old as history, yet this question has acquired additional meaning in a world after September 11 2001.