Survivors of Camp Massacre Blame Sharon

With Hobeika's death, victims of the massacres worry that, as a key witness in the case, the ghosts and secrets of Sabra and Chatilla have gone to the grave with him.

The governments of Lebanon and Syria have blamed Israel for the assassination, a charge the Israeli government has denied. A Lebanese governmental inquiry into the killing is under way.

Memory and Forgetting

A day after Hobeika's killing, spoke to Nasser. She appeared dejected that the man she holds responsible for her husband's death had been assassinated. "We don't like it if someone dies so violently — even if we don't like him," she says evenly. "God has got rid of him. But this is not good for us."

In his family home in Shatilla, Muhammad Roudeina, another plaintiff in the case, is not mincing his words.

"I am in shock," says the burly 36-year-old. "We are devastated because we lost a major figure in the case. Hobeika was going to testify against him [Sharon] — and I was expecting him to tell the truth. But now we have lost a key witness."

Roudeina was only 16 and just a few meters away from his father and uncle when they were shot by gunmen in the camp on Sept. 16, 1982. But the memory of that day still haunts him 20 years later. "I won't forget," he says as he mops his brow in his steamy living room. "I will never forget. The image of that day is engraved in my memory. This case, I am doing this for my family. For all the things we went through."

Although the massacres were conducted by Lebanese Christian militias, Roudeina believes Sharon bears ultimate responsibility for one of the darkest chapters in Lebanon's troubled history.

"The Lebanese were just tools," he dismisses. "The orders came from the Israelis. Sharon controlled West Beirut then. He was responsible for the safety of the people."

In June 1982, Israel had launched a full-scale attack on Lebanon under "Operation Peace in Galilee" sending Syrian troops, who were invited into Lebanon in 1976, back across Lebanon's northern borders. The massacres were widely believed to be a retaliation by Lebanese Christian militias for the assassination of Bashir Gemayel, a Christian Phalangist leader and president-elect at the time of his murder.

Rejecting Belgian Law

But a recent legal development has put a shadow on Roudeina's hopes of having Sharon tried for his alleged involvement in the massacres of Sabra and Chatilla.

On Feb. 14, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague ruled that Belgium cannot bring war crimes charges against a foreign government minister who enjoys diplomatic immunity.

The ICJ was deciding on a case brought by Belgium against a former foreign minister from the Democratic Republic of Congo over the 1998 killings of hundreds of ethnic Tutsis.

The ruling, according to Ralph Steinhardt, a professor of law and international relations at George Washington University Law School, could stymie attempts to bring charges against Sharon.

"The [ICJ] decision cuts back on the ability to sue sitting heads of state," he says. "The functional purpose of the heads of state immunity is that as a head of state you do not need to worry about lawsuits to perform your duty. However, this argument will not prevail, of course, for former heads of state."

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