September marked the 31st anniversary of the Sabra and Shatilla massacres when, following the enforced exodus of Palestinian men from Beirut, the two inner city refugee camps were besieged by Lebanese Phalangist troops who massacred unprotected women and children, the old and the infirm, over three days and nights. The perpetrators remain unpunished to this day. The Israelis gave their unqualified support but, essentially, it was Arab killing Arab.
I made my first ever visit to Lebanon three months later, leaving my one-year-old daughter for the first time.
By the time of my visit all the blood and the bodies had been cleared from the narrow alleys of Sabra and Shatilla. A mass grave topped by a single black flag marked the resting place of some of the 1,700 Palestinians relentlessly slaughtered.
The world’s outrage had dissipated by then. The media had other horrors on which to focus. However, I heard stories that made my blood run cold.
I had read the reports and seen the photographs but nothing could have prepared me for the enormity of hearing, first hand accounts from mothers, left for dead, having first had their children wrenched from their arms and murdered before their eyes. I will hear those stories, in my mind, for as long as I live.
As I walked through Arrivals at Heathrow airport eight days later, my baby daughter tottered towards me – walking unaided. I had missed her first steps. My tears however, had little to do with maternal pride and much to do with the memory of the ravaged families I had seen in Sabra and Shatilla.
Yesterday, I spent the afternoon with my six-month-old grandson, first born child of the tiny daughter that greeted my arrival at Heathrow 31 years ago. Playing with him in the sunshine I couldn’t help reflecting on those Palestinian babies who never even reached school age. Forget Sabra and Shatilla? As if I ever could.
This morning the press agency pictures on my desk depicting slaughter in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria are much the same as those of Sabra and Shatilla over three decades ago, showing broken bodies and shattered lives.
The Arab world has the resources and the will to take its place at the forefront of global affairs but without drastic change, it will never do so. Unless and until the Arab world stops fighting with itself, it will never be truly at peace with anyone else.
Pat Lancaster, Editor