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Until Return - Issue 1

September 13, 2007

A Visit with Abu Jamal in Shatila
by Dr. Ahlam Muhtaseb, Media Coordinator
Al Awda San Diego, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition

Near the end of June 2006,  just 11 days before the Israeli aggression on Lebanon, I arrived in Beirut to conduct a critical ethnography about the Palestinian refugees’ narratives of Nakba and the role of these narratives in maintaining the collective national identity of the Palestinian refugees in exile. I worked during that period with the help of my husband, Mahmoud, and a local cameraman, Musa, in the refugee camps of Burj El-Barajneh, Sabra, and Shatila. Although our focus was the narratives of diaspora, we could not help but shift our interest when we met Abu Jamal who owns a bakery on the other side of the street from his house in the Shatila camp. Through a chance meeting with his sons, we discovered that, in his youth, Abu Jamal was a main witness to the involvement of Ariel Sharon in the massacre that took place in and around the area in September of 1982, that resulted in the vicious killing, torturing, raping, and maiming of about 2700 Palestinian and Lebanese civilians, mainly women and children.

Abu Jamal told us how the night before the massacre started, he was standing on the roof of his old house and had a good view of the surrounding area. He began to notice that the Lebanese phalangist militias and Israeli tanks were taking military offensive positions (a technical term he was able to explain to us because of his previous military rank with Fatah movement). With the aid of his binoculars he began scanning the area. It was then that he saw Sharon on the roof of one of the other buildings. He pointed out the spot to us from where we were standing in the street. When we asked how he could be so sure it was Sharon, he replied that it is hard to miss someone with the physique of Sharon and that he saw him on TV the next day. We listened to his survival narrative, which was amazing and depressing at the same time. Then his sons accompanied us to the roof of the building where their father lived to get some footage of the site of the massacre. They told us we were the first to film from that strategic location.

We were also advised to talk to another witness, a Lebanese man who had been buried under the corpses of his family members for one day, then hiding in a nearby room used by the criminals for another two days. We agreed to return the next day for a full recorded  interview. It happened that I fell ill the next day so Mahmoud and Musa conducted the historical interview, filled with all the seemingly endless, painful, details of those three days. We were also able to interview a well-known local historian and author, Mahmoud Kallam, who has written several books about the massacre. The results of our investigations will be detailed in two forthcoming documentaries.

We  completed our work and departed just before the Israeli aggression against Lebanon began. If there is anything Mahmoud and I were left with, it is the conclusion that the only just and sustainable solution for the problem of the Palestinian refugees is their return to their homeland.


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