Saturday, November 12, 2005


Now, I know this blog has become something of a Riot Central what with all of the translations from organizations in France about the insurrection in that country, but that was never my intention, nor is it all that will be discussed here.

So today, I would like to write about a documentary I saw at the Eighth Montreal International Documentary Film Festival.

Massaker (“Massacre”) is a film by Monika Borgmann, Lokman Slim, Hermann Theissen. It is about the carnage at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in 1982. From September 15th to 18th, after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Christian militiamen associated with the far-right Phalange entered these camps and went on a killing spree under the watchful eyes of the Israeli army. A body count by the International Committee of the Red Cross revealed 2750 dead, the real figure is thought to be much higher and may never be known.

The film tackles this subject matter in a very particular way: by interviewing six of the militiamen who took part in the massacre. This is truly fascinating, and i found it gave real insight into a number of very different questions. I have seen many interviews with State killers like these before, and there is an element of sameness whether one is hearing a member of the Nazi SS, the Chilean Pinochet regime or the South African BOSS; but nevertheless, i each case there are definite particularities and things to be learned.

As for the obvious, yes the Phalangists all describe how the massacre was committed at the behest of the Israelis, how their militia unit had in fact been trained by the Israelis in Israel. And at the same time, these guys are anti-Semites: as one of them says, though he may have allied himself with “the Jews” at times (i.e. against the PLO), he could never love them for they had killed his beloved Christ.

I had also been ignorant about the stature of Bachir Gemayel amongst these men. Gemayel was the Phalangist leader, but listening to these men speak he was far more than that. These guys worshipped Gemayel, he was their saviour. As one of them said, he was more sad when Gemayel was assassinated than when his own mother died. It was the saddest day in his life.

Another thing I had not appreciated was the relationship between traumatized childhoods spent fighting in Lebanon’s civil war and the kind of right-wing violence, the massacre, of Sabra and Shatila. These were not initially soldiers, they were kids who grew up warring – literally – on the streets of Beirut. That was their life. One of them described it as the happiest of times, and talked about how they would sleep on the sidewalks to the sound of gunfire – not just once, but most nights – how they hadn’t a care in the world. Another talked about how during most battles he was stoned – he listed a loooong list of various street drugs. He would drop acid and then storm the enemy barricades – that was his joyful wild youth.

One is reminded of those U.S. servicemen who came back from World War II and had found the war such fun, and civilian life so boring, that they went on to found the Hells Angels to keep that macho spirit alive. War meshes with patriarchal fantasies in a very weird way…

And then at a certain point these teenage militiaboys were – or so i understood – rounded up by Gemayel and sent to Israel to get training. They went from being wild kids to crack killers. As one of them said, when they came back they had no peers other than perhaps the Green Berets, the French Secret Army Organization, or the Israeli shocktroops.

So these were the seriously damaged people who were interviewed here. They all said basically the same thing – they were freaked out, sadder than you can imagine, choking on anger, when Gemayel was assassinated. They wanted revenge, and they were pointed towards the Palestinians and told that no one should live – not a man, not a woman, not a child. And this is what they endeavored to bring about…

This is how the Wikipedia site described the lead-up to the massacre:

“The PLO had been using southern Lebanon as a base for attacks on Israel, and Israel had in turn been bombing positions in southern Lebanon. The attempted assassination of Israeli Ambassador Shlomo Argov in London on June 4 provided a casus belli (although it ultimately turned out to be by a group hostile to the PLO, Abu Nidal) and turned the mutual hostilities into full-scale war; on June 6, 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon with 60,000 troops in an act condemned by the UN Security Council. Two months later, under a U.S.-sponsored cease-fire agreement signed in late August, the PLO agreed to leave Lebanon under international supervision, and Israel agreed not to advance further into Beirut and to guarantee the security of Palestinian civilians left behind in the refugee camps.”

So almost all the fighters had left the camp, and this is when the Phalangists – at the suggestion of the Israelis, who had promised to guarantee the refugees’ safety – attacked.

The men described how they killed everything that moved. Women were raped, people were tortured, even animals were killed. They had been told to show no mercy, and they followed orders – in some cases happily, in some cases not. The only thing that one guy described as being a drag was how – after several days of murder – they were instructed that they had to clean up the mess. They had to pick up the bodies and pile them into trucks. The top layers had to be placed in plastic bags to stop the whole thing from smelling to much. He explained tha the Israelis had the bags on hand: “They had thought of everything.”

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