24 September 2002
In an astonishing letter to the Palestinian survivors of the 1982 Sabra and Shatila camps massacres, nine Israeli wo-men's peace groups have told Palestinians in Beirut that they support their efforts to indict the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, for "war crimes" committed against them almost exactly 20 years ago.
The women's letter, which was sent via the United States, has amazed the Lebanese lawyer representing the survivors of the massacre, for which Mr Sharon was held "personally responsible" by an Israeli inquiry. "It is a wonderful gesture," Chibli Mallat said yesterday. "It is a wonderful message to receive in these very dangerous and violent times."
The letter, from the Coalition of Women for A Just Peace in Israel, speaks movingly of the suffering of the Palestinians in 1982. "Our hearts ache to recall the terrible massacre that took place in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps 20 years ago, which Israeli leaders allowed to take place," it says. "We condemn the brutal murderers of your loved ones and we condemn the leaders who must be held accountable for these war crimes, Ariel Sharon above all."
A Belgian court ruled earlier this year that it could not indict Mr Sharon for the killings, but more than 20 survivors of the massacre, whose lawyers include Mr Mallat, are now appealing against this decision.
Up to 1,700 Palestinians were butchered in the massacre by Lebanese militiamen allied to the Israelis. Israeli troops surrounded the camps as the killings went on but were told by their commanders not to interfere. Mr Sharon was Israeli Minister of Defence at the time and was forced to resign after the Israeli Kahan commission condemned him and several senior Israeli officers for not preventing the slaughter.
The women's letter recalls how the Palestinians were forced to flee their homes in 1948. " We join you in mourning for those who were killed and maimed [in 1982] and we condemn those who are responsible," it says. "We hope you will accept the sincerity of our words and allow us to stand in solidarity with you as we strive to build peace with justice between Israel and Palestine."
Mohamed abu Rudeina, who as a seven-year-old boy saw his father and other relatives murdered 20 years ago, described the Israeli women's letter as a "moving act" that would greatly encourage other Palestinian survivors who are seeking justice for the deaths of their loved ones.
The specific mention of Mr Sharon's name is likely to cause considerable discomfort to the Israeli Prime Minister, who hired lawyers to defend him in Brussels and who has not previously experienced any attempt by Israelis to indict him.
Mr Mallat said it was the first gesture of solidarity to the camp survivors from Israelis, 20 years after a lone Israeli, Emile Grunzweig, was killed by a hand grenade thrown into a crowd of protesters in Tel Aviv. "We regard Mr Grunzweig as an Israeli who died for Sabra and Shatila," Mr Mallat said. "Now at last, we seem to have got support from Israelis about the terrible crimes against humanity which occurred in Beirut two decades ago."