Remembering Sabra and Shatila on Erev Rosh Hashana

Today is Erev Rosh Hashanah—Jewish New Year’s Eve. Traditionally it’s a time to atone for the sins of the previous year. In a secular sense, it’s a time to think about things you’ve done wrong, people you’ve hurt, and to try to fix those wrongs.

Today is also the 30th anniversary of the massacre of Palestinian refugees at Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. At the time Israelis were shocked by the bloodbath. 300,000 people protested against it in Tel Aviv. I’m not old enough to remember it, but when my mother talks about it I can see the impact it had on her. I’m sure the massacre was a wake up call for so many Israeli Jews about the brutal nature of the Israeli military.

The thing about being in a position of privilege is: even after you receive a wake up call, it’s still pretty easy to get back to sleep. Thirty years later, it doesn’t seem like the majority of Israeli Jews have taken on the lessons of Sabra and Shatila. Every day I read another story of horrific violence committed by the IDF. I wonder how much worse things have to get before Israeli-Jews wake up and stay awake.

I don’t have anything else to say about it. There’s not a lot to be said about a massacre of several thousand people. But I wanted to share this poem by Israeli poet Dahlia Ravikovitch, translated by Chana and Ariel Bloch.

You Can’t Kill a Baby Twice

By the sewage puddles of Sabra and Shatila,
there you transported human beings
in impressive quantities
From the world of the living to the world
of eternal light.

Night after night.
First they shot,
they hanged,
then they slaughtered with their knives.
Terrified women climbed up
on a ramp of earth, frantic:
‘They’re slaughtering us there,
in Shatila.’

A thin crust of moon
over the camps.
Our soldiers lit up the place with searchlights
till it was bright as day.
‘Back to the camp,
beat it!’ a soldier yelled at
the screaming women from Sabra and Shatila.
He was following orders.
And the children already lying in puddles of filth,
their mouths gaping,
at peace.
No one will harm them.
You can’t kill a baby twice.

And the moon grew fuller and fuller
till it became a round loaf of gold.

Our sweet soldiers
wanted nothing for themselves.
All they ever asked
was to come home


1 Comment

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One response to “Remembering Sabra and Shatila on Erev Rosh Hashana

  1. Thank you for writing this message. I find it amazing as well that after such outrage by so many Israelis (upwards of 400,000) and an independent (Jewish) commission condemning Sharon that rather than Sharon being convicted and sent to prison, he was subsequently elected as prime minister of Israel. What does this say about Israelis? And what does this say in particular to Palestinians.

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