Around 3,500 Palestinians were killed in a massacre perpetrated by a Lebanese Maronite Christian militia allied to Israel.
For three days between September 16th and 18th 1982, Lebanese militiamen from the Christian Phalangist movement embarked in an orgy of rape, murder, and mutilation in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in Beirut.
They did so in territory controlled by the Israeli army and with the knowledge of Israeli soldiers stationed little more than a few hundred feet away.
The massacre, which the UN General Assembly declared an ‘act of genocide’, happened in the midst of the Lebanese Civil War, a conflict that consumed the small Mediterranean state from 1975 to 1990.
Despite frequently shifting alliances and internal conflicts, the war pitted largely Muslim and leftist factions, allied to Palestinians, against predominantly Maronite Christian militias, that included the Phalangists, who were allied to Israel.
In June 1982, the Israeli army launched its second invasion of Lebanon in four years with the aim of stamping out fighters loyal to the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO).
That was also then-Israeli Defence Minister Ariel Sharon’s pretext for allowing Phalangist fighters into the camps.
But it was not fighters the militiamen hunted, instead, it was every Palestinian in sight; the old and young, men and women.
Pictures of the aftermath of the massacre show the bloated bodies of men and women piled on top of one another against walls, and the bloodied corpses of children lying face down in rubble.
One survivor, named Maher described the killing of his family in a 2003 Al Jazeera article. He recalled Phalangists banging on the door to his family home and lobbing a bomb inside when they opened it.
Maher, who was hiding in the bathroom, said a small child survived the explosion.
“Shadya was trying to crawl towards me.
She was looking at me and screaming and saying, ‘dada’. When they saw her still moving, they shot her in the head.”
“She slumped over between her dead father and mother, who had been injured, but not killed.”
Despite knowledge of the ongoing massacre, Israeli forces did nothing to intervene, as they were obliged to do under international law for a population under their control.
Up to 3,500 people are believed to have lost their lives in the massacre.
The killings caused global outrage, including in Israel where hundreds of thousands took to the streets demanding to know the extent to which the Israeli’s military had colluded with those who carried out the atrocity.
Established in response to the protests, the Kahan Commission found Sharon and several Israeli military officers personally responsible for the massacre.
Sharon paid for his role with his job, resigning under pressure after the commission recommended he step down despite initial refusal.
The episode did not harm his long term political prospects, however. He became leader of the right-wing Likud party in 2000 and Israeli prime minister from 2001 until 2006.