Memories of Beirut massacres are only weapon of survivors
Beirut — Seven years ago, Ali Salem Fayed moved with his wife and five children from south Lebanon to Beirut.
Mr. Fayed didn't have much money, but he managed to get a job with the city as a sanitation worker. He had just enough to feed and clothe his family - and build a small house in a poor neighborhood called Shatila.
It was mostly a Palestinian neighborhood, but there were also Syrians, Egyptians, and quite a few Lebanese. It hadn't escaped the signs of war - Palestinian guerrillas maintained a presence there and several shops sold fatigues and ammunition belts.
At least the neighborhood was far away from the frequent fighting between Palestinian guerrillas and the Israeli Army in south Lebanon and close to Beirut jobs.
But Israel's summer invasion changed all that. Its army took up positions around west Beirut and shelled sections of the city, including Shatila, in an attempt to crush the forces of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
During the shelling many residents fled to quieter sections of west Beirut. Others retreated to PLO-built bomb shelters and an extensive system of cement-wall tunnels beneath both neighboring Sabra and Shatila. The tunnels were , and continue to be, packed from floor to ceiling with crates of ammunition and explosives.
On Sept. 16, when he heard a few explosions in the camp at 7 p.m., Fayed gathered his family and went to a shelter. Half an hour later, he said, a group of armed men - believed to be members of Maj. Saad Haddad's Israeli-backed militia and the Christian Phalange militia - told the people in the shelter to come out. Some men were beaten. All were asked to show identity papers. Fayed said he took the papers that proved he was a Lebanese citizen (rather than a Palestinian) out of his pocket but the armed men didn't bother to look at them.
They were all ordered to turn and face the wall. Fayed said he was standing between his wife and one of his teen-age daughters. The men opened fire and he was shot in several places. He said he dropped to the ground and lay very still for what seemed a long time. After the armed men left, a woman came and helped him to the hospital. Of the group, he was the only survivor.
Shatila is now a camp of survivors, each with stories of how members of their families were killed, and how others managed to escape. Some have been interviewed many times before, while others are only beginning to talk about it.
One plea repeated over and over in every part of the camp is that the events of the massacre be told explicitly and truthfully. That is why they talk about it, so everyone will know what happened here. In a sense, it is their only way of striking back at the killers.
''Please tell this for all the world,'' says Muhammad Hammoud, a middle-aged Lebanese, motioning to the spot behind his home where he says he found his slain wife and children. Half of Mr. Hammoud's house was ripped down when the armed men drove bulldozers into the houses on the camp's main street. All the homes to the south of his for more than 100 yards are completely bulldozed.
''Where will I go? Where will I go?'' asks Zanup Moukdad, an elderly woman in a black dress with a white scarf pulled up tight under her chin. Residents of the camp say more than 40 members of her family were killed.
Not all of those in the camp were helpless during the massacre. A young PLO guerrilla, who stayed in Beirut after the PLO evacuation because he had legal residency as a relative of a 1948 Palestinian refugee, said he and 10 others attempted to protect his section of the camp from the killers.
''There are a few of us here with weapons - I am one,'' he said. ''When they came we did not know who it was. We thought first it is Israel.
''We were here in this street, waiting, and after a half an hour we knew that it was not Israel, so we decided to fight them.''
The Palestinian said the group fanned out along the near the center of Shatila. When the shooting started he said one of his friends was hit. In the rush to help his friend he said he too was shot. He said his friends helped him and his friend quickly out of the camp.