On the Anniversary of Sabra and Shatila

Massacre of Palestinian People at Sabra and Shatila Camps. By Katsikoviannis

There are several great works of literature that seek to grapple with this unthinkable massacre—which was 28 years ago today, yesterday, and tomorrow. (Publication dates are for English-language translations):

  • Gate of the Sun, by Elias Khoury (2006) centers on the Sabra and Shatila massacres; or rather, it cannot shake loose of them. Gate of the Sun, one of Khoury’s most dazzling works, returns and returns to the site of the corpse pits. Also: Khoury has mentioned, in at least two separate interviews (and on Facebook), that he is working on a new novel that “updates” Gate of the Sun.
  • The great French author Jean Genet wrote “Quatre heures à Chatila” (“Four Hours in Shatila”), and “Un Captif Amoureux” (Prisoner of Love),  to which Khoury refers in Gate of the Sun. Genet happened to be in Beirut when the massacres took place, and visited the camps directly after the news was released.
  • Touch, by Adania Shibli (2010). This coming-of-age (or un-coming-of-age) novella doesn’t directly address the massacres, as the narrator is only eight years old when they happen. But it paints a vivid picture of the narrator’s world as they occur, and how the narrator understands the words “Sabra” and “Shatila.”
  • African-American poet June Jordan wrote her famous “Moving Towards Home” in response to Sabra and Shatila. The poem ends:  “I was born a Black woman / and now / I am become a Palestinian / against the relentless laughter of evil / there is less and less living room / and where are my loved ones? / It is time to make our way home.”
  • Tahar Ben Jelloun’s The Rising of the Ashes (2010) is a poetry collection by the French-Moroccan author, half of which is addressed to the victims of Sabra and Shatila. It includes this beautiful segment, entitled “Fatima Abou Mayyala”:

They came in through the roof
They closed the doors and windows
They stuffed a fistful of sand into her mouth and
nostrils, Fatima.
Their hands ripped her stomach
blood pooled
they urinated on her face.
Fatima took the statue’s hand
and walked lightly between the trees and the
sleeping children.
She reached the sea
her body raised above death.

There are, of course, others I haven’t read, such as Mischa Hiller’s Sabra Zoo, reviewed here by Susannah Tarbush.

If you can bear them, photographs.