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A Failed American Diplomacy: Remembering Sabra and Shatila

While embassies burn across the Middle East over an indescribably offensive non-distributed film mocking the Prophet, the Western world remains in awe of the reaction. As the West and particularly Americans tend to forget, many Muslims hold deep historically founded resentment towards the United States and its ally Israel for decades of foreign policy decisions and actions. It is not quite as simple as, “they hate us for our freedom.”

Last week marked 30 years since the US-backed Israeli army failed to stop the slaughtering of thousands of Palestinians in Lebanon. Middle Eastern correspondent Robert Fisk was one of the first journalists to arrive at the scene of the Sabra and Shatila massacres in 1982. He recounts his experience of the events in his novel, “Pity the Nation.”- “It went beyond even what the Israelis would have in other circumstances called a terrorist activity. It was a war crime.”

The United Nations General Assembly condemned the killings, even classifying the acts as genocide. While the death toll from those days is still unknown, most sources claim the approximation lies between 800 and 3,500.

Now, thirty years later, it is important to not only commemorate those who brutally lost their lives, but also to understand events like these – which the Muslim world remembers and the West largely forgets. Selective memory creates a highly defective understanding of international relations.

The Sabra and Shatila massacre was a response to the assassination of Bashir Gemayel, the leader of the Lebanese Christian militia, who wrongly believed that the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon had carried out the murder. With the connivance of the Israeli Defense Force and the United States (though this was only exposed recently), the coordinated militias began brutally killed the residents in the camps for three days.

Last week, the Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star reported the story of a survivor, “The militiamen stormed our house with machineguns, and finished off some of my relatives with knives. They slaughtered my cousin Amal, and then sliced opened her womb. They pulled her unborn baby out. I never thought I would survive.”

The horrific acts carried out by the Phalangists with the permission and heavy assistance of the IDF have never been institutionally reprimanded. No one has ever been arrested, tried, or convicted.

It is not shocking that Ariel Sharon’s term fell into this timeline, but while the IDF did play a major role in the incident, it has recently been revealed that the United States failed to prevent the rape, dismemberment, and torture of thousands of innocent Palestinians.

Earlier this week, Seth Aniziska, a doctoral candidate at Colombia University wrote an article for the New York Times after he discovered recently declassified documents at the Israel State Archives that recorded conversations between American and Israeli officials before and during the massacre.

American envoy to the Middle East, Morris Draper, met with Ariel Sharon as the Phalangists were on their killing spree. Their conversation exposes Mr. Draper’s complicit role in the massacre, as Sharon refers to the events as merely “mopping up” thousands of alleged terrorists, most of whom were children and mothers.

When Draper pathetically attempted to question the decisions of the IDF, Sharon responded: “Are you afraid that somebody will think that you were in collusion with us? Deny it. We denied it.” At least Draper had the honesty to admit, “We are not interested in saving any of these people.” While the Sabra and Shatila massacre holds just another trademark for Ariel Sharon, we should not forget the United States’ role in the tragedy.

Thirty years later, the US is still allied with Israel, and simultaneously wondering how or why the Arab world views them in contempt? So, what lesson can we learn from Sabra and Shatila? While the US can continue to claim impartiality as a balanced interlocutor for Middle East peace, their actions and often inactions undermine their headline, especially for those that have longer memories than the West does.

–  Danielle Morland

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