Sabra and Shatila Still Live
41 years after the Israel-aided massacre, the Palestinian residents of Sabra and Shatila continue to live on, closely watching the war in Gaza.
The curse of tragedy is to make the terms of the banal and the homely into words that radiate darkness. Dates of a calendar and names of hometowns suddenly become radioactive to the ear, said only in hushed tones in polite company and when spoken loudly, demand respect and reverence where none needed to exist before. Sabra and Shatila are neighborhoods stricken with this misfortune, their names now sealed together as a single noun synonymous with senseless death.
The origin of Sabra’s name, a neighborhood of Beirut’s suburb of Ghobeiry, fits neatly into the typical, named for a family known as the Sabras. The origin of Shatila’s name is much less so. In the months immediately following the Nakba, a large family of Palestinians who had fled from the northern Palestinian town of Majd al-Krum were unable to continue paying the rent for a single-room apartment in Beirut proper. They set up tents outside of the Lebanese capital, and then asked a man by the name of Sa’ad ad-Din Basha Shatila if they could be granted permission to use a plot of land he oversaw in the suburban south. The name stuck.
Sabra was not itself a camp but nevertheless would find itself filled with Palestinian refugees just the same. The vast majority of them had flowed out from Shatila, now directly adjacent to the neighborhood. More of those who fled from Majd al-Krum would find their home in that aforementioned camp, then followed by thousands more from other parts of now-occupied Palestine. It was becoming clear that the nascent State of Israel would neither soon crumble from within nor be broken from without.
Thousands of Palestinian refugees were now living in a space that barely measured a square kilometer, attempting to build semi-permanent places to live in a camp that they hoped to leave for a free Palestine and a free Palestine alone, but still couldn’t, and restricted in what they could build and where they could work by a Lebanese state that wanted them to remember they were guests un-honored, nothing more.
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