Friday, May 1, 2009

1-Sabra & Shatila massacre

Image: Still from Waltz with Bashir

On September 14 1982 Bashir Gemayel, leader of the Phalange party and Lebanese president-elect, who is very popular among the Christian Maronites, was assassinated (by Habib Tanious Shartouni, a Maronite). Two days later, Phalangists entered the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps and killed hundreds of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians (estimated 800-3500), including children. The Israel military stood guard at the exits and provided flares at night, though they denied knowing about the massacre.

Image: Wedding in Shatila Refugee Camp, Beirut, Lebanon, June 2006
Photo by Golbarg Bashi

Deborah Thornton-Jackson, who was living in Beirut at that time with her Lebanese spouse and two young children, recalled, ‘What will always stick in my memory is of a little boy that had come from the camps, and his little body had no limbs... He was crying for his mother. ... Bulldozers had gone in to bury bodies. They had also bulldozed buildings with people still inside, families still watching television, or having dinner. ... and believe me[,] they hadn't been shot. ... The Phalangists that I spoke to afterwards - they enjoyed doing what they had done. ... Elie [her Lebanese Christian spouse] was terribly angry with me for [going to the hospital to help]. His opinion was to rid Beirut of the "rubbish", as he would put it, of the Palestinian people.’ <>

The leader of the Phalangist forces, Elie Hobeika, was said to have been deeply influenced by the massacre of much of his family and of his fiancée at the Damour massacre (January 1976) by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (estimated 600 people killed), and that massacre was a retaliation for the Karantina Massacre by the Phalangists (estimated 1500 people killed). In 2002 Elie Hobeika was killed by a car bomb attack at his house.

Image: Child killed at Sabra-Shatila massacre

Why revenge? Is violent protest effective[1]? In the long term, short term? Is it important to forgive? Does identity always have to be constituted in relation to what it is not: self/other, my-nationality/not-my-nationality, my family/not-my-family, not-heterosexual/heterosexual, my-race/not-my-race, non-human-animal/human-animal, and so on. On identity, Derrida writes[2]:

What is identity, this concept of which the transparent identity to itself is always dogmatically presupposed by so many debates on monoculturalism or multiculturalism, nationality, citizenship, and belonging, in general? And before the identity of the subject, what is
ipseity? The latter is not reducible to an abstract capacity to say "I," which it will always have preceded. Perhaps it signifies, in the first place, the power of an "I can," which is more originary than the "I" in a chain where the "pse" of ipse no longer allows itself to be dissociated from power ... master and sovereignty.

On this Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak says that 'the ethnos is already self-divided, and ... ipseity or self-sameness has something in common with the despot. For her, '[i]dentity politics is neither smart nor good'. Her work 'goes rather toward the other'.

[1] Hannah Arendt analyses the effects of violent action in "Reflections on Violence" <>. More of her writings on this subject can be found in: On Violence. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1998.
[2] Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. Death of a Discipline. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2005.

1 comment: