Survivors of Camp Massacre Blame Sharon

In her tiny home in the Palestinian refugee camp of Sabra in Beirut, Nadima Nasser dabs her eyes as she recalls the horrific events of September 1982, when virtually every male in her family was slaughtered or went missing in one of the worst atrocities of the Middle East conflict.

History hangs heavy in Nasser's spotlessly clean one-room home in the northern edge of the sprawling camp. Photographs of dead and missing relatives on the walls, her soft weeping and the family silence as she recounts her story are testimony to the fact that in the Nasser household, life may go on, but the past prevails.

Naseer is one of 23 plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in a Belgian court against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for his alleged involvement in the September 1982 massacres in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Chatilla.

More than 800 people were killed or went missing in a three-day killing spree by Lebanese Christian militiamen allowed into the camps by Israeli soldiers. Some estimates, however, put the death toll at 1,800. Israel had invaded Lebanon in June 1982 and as occupiers responsible for the security of civilians in Lebanon, Israeli troops were stationed around the camps during the time the massacres occurred.

On Wednesday, a legal panel is expected to rule on whether Sharon can be tried in a Brussels court under a 1993 Belgian law, which allows crimes against humanity and genocide to be tried in Belgian courts, regardless of where the crimes were committed.

Sharon's lawyers have argued that the Israeli prime minister — who was defense minister during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon when the massacres occurred — enjoys diplomatic immunity. They have also questioned the competence of the court to try a crime not committed on Belgian soil.

But Chibli Mallat, one of three lawyers who filed the case on behalf of the plaintiffs, says he is ready for a long legal haul. "Obviously we are going to exhaust all legal possibilities on March 6 and so will Sharon's lawyers. If we lose, we will appeal to a cessation court in Belgium and we expect Sharon's lawyers to do the same."

An ‘Inconvenient’ Assassination

Despite Mallat's confidence, the case against Sharon took a step back on Jan. 24, when Elie Hobeika, a former leader of the pro-Israeli Christian militia widely blamed for carrying out the massacres, was assassinated in Beirut.

Months before his assassination, Hoebeika held a press conference where he swore his innocence and declared he had proof of Sharon's involvement in the incident. Breaking years of silence on the massacres, Hobeika also expressed his willingness to travel to Belgium and testify against his former political protector.

Although Sharon has pleaded innocence in the case, saying he could not have predicted and did not know what was going on in the camps those three days, an official Israeli investigation in 1983 found him indirectly but "personally" responsible for the deaths.

Following the recommendations of the Kahan Commission, Sharon resigned as defense minister, but stayed on in the government as a minister without portfolio until he was elected prime minister in February 2001.

But the details of Sharon's alleged role in the massacre have been murky. A 1991 Lebanese parliamentary amnesty for crimes committed during the country's war years has stopped many details on the Sabra and Chatilla massacres from coming out.

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