Visa delay will prevent massacre survivors from testifying before Belgian court

Sabra and Shatila survivors won’t be able to testify Belgium failed to grant visas in time

Witnesses express disappointment as case against Sharon reopens after new interpretation of law in Brussels

Hala Kilani Daily Star staff 8 February 2003

Survivors of the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre won’t be able to testify against Israeli Prime Minister Sharon at the Belgium Court of Cassation Wednesday, as the Belgian Embassy didn’t grant them “emergency” visas. The embassy told the victims’ lawyer, Chibli Mallat, that there wasn’t enough time to get the visas ready before their date of departure.

“They won’t even get their day in court,” Mallat said.

The refugees, who wanted to leave for Belgium on Monday with the hope that they would be help indict Sharon, said they were disappointed.

They said they felt as if not enough effort was taken to help them present their case or raise awareness of what they had endured.

In earlier interviews with The Daily Star, some of the refugees had expressed satisfaction with their chance to go to the Belgian court to talk about the massacre and stand as witnesses to the massacre they had survived.

“Even if we won’t win the case, the mere fact we’ll be talking about the events of the time will spread the word about the man who took the smile off our children’s faces,” said Sana Sirsawi, the mother of three, whose husband and several other members of her family disappeared during the massacre.

“I want the whole world to know what a criminal Sharon is and if the suit and my testimony were to cause him just a little anxiety, I’d feel like I did something,” Sirsawi added.

Last week the Belgian Senate approved a new interpretation of its Universal Competence Law, making it possible to prosecute foreign leaders even if they weren’t present on Belgian soil. This enticed lawyers here to reopen the case against the man accused of being responsible for the deaths of at least 800 Palestinians and Lebanese in 1982 at the Palestinian refugee camps.

The case against Sharon had been shelved last year as the Belgian law lacked the recently obtained interpretation that permits the prosecution of foreign leaders.

Although the International Court of Justice issued a decision stipulating that not even Belgian courts could prosecute a prime minister while in office, lawyers here were hoping that Sharon would be tried after he leaves his post.

Each one of those who was going to testify in Brussels has a different story to tell, but all of them say that Sharon, who was at the time of the massacres Israel’s defense minister, was directly implicated in the massacre.

Sirsawi, Mohammed Bou-Roudayneh and Wadha Sabeq, three of the witnesses who were interviewed by The Daily Star, said they were abducted by a Lebanese militia but were handed to Israeli soldiers under Sharon’s command.

“The Israelis were besieging the refugee camp that day with their tanks; they had planted land mines and those of us who were not killed inside the camp were driven to the nearby Cite Sportive and handed over to Israeli soldiers,” Sirsawi said.

“Some spotted Sharon in the Cite Sportive, but, personally, my vision was blurred because I had walked through dead and disfigured bodies. I was three months pregnant and had two daughters on my hands — an 18-month old and a 7-month old — and we hadn’t had anything to eat for two days,” she recalled. She explained that they remained captives in the Cite Sportive from 10 am to 7pm, after which all the men aged between of 20 and 45, including her husband, were taken away separately. They were never seen again.

“It was horrible; no one endured what we did that day. We just stood there with our children crying; we wished they would kill us and rid us of our suffering,” Sirsawi said.

“Upon our return to Shatila and when our husbands didn’t return, my sister and I started searching the dead bodies lying everywhere, thinking that the Israelis had probably killed them and dumped them with the others, but we never found them.”

Unlike Sirsawi and Sabeq, Bou-Roudayneh said he didn’t have hope that the case was going to be won, adding that nothing could compensate for his loss or the social and psychological difficulties that he had endured in the years following the massacre.

“This massacre will follow me all my life even if we win the case,” said Bou- Roudayneh, who was three years old on the day of the massacre that saw all of his family killed, including a pregnant sister. Only he and his 10-year-old sister were spared.

“Nothing could compensate the years when I had to grow up without parents, a thing that exposed me to other people’s inhumanity and aggression. I feel that there’s something broken inside of me. I always live in the past,” Bou- Roudayneh said, adding that he wished he had died with his parents.

He said that he and his sister were able to take care of themselves, but added that the massacre created a lost generation of criminals and drug addicts.

Bou-Roudayneh holds Sharon responsible for the death of those who were massacred and for the misery the survivors, most of whom are orphans, had to go through.

“He holds what is called command responsibility,” he said.