Beirut, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip – Every year, on September 16, Rehab Kanaan lights candles in an open court in the center of Gaza City, in memory of the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre, in which her son and other members of her family were killed. kill.
Kanaan was born in 1954 in Lebanon, where her family took refuge after fleeing the city of Safad during the 1948 Battle of Nakba, when thousands of Palestinians were forced to flee their homes following the establishment of Israel.
But Lebanon, and the Shatila refugee camp that Kanaan moved to in the end will not be a refuge.
In 1976, just one year after Lebanon’s brutal civil war, and six years before the infamous civil war Massacre of Sabra and ShatilaKanaan said that 51 members of her extended family were killed in the Tel al-Zaatar massacre, including her parents, five brothers and three sisters.
“It was a real tragedy. I am completely alone,” said Kanaan tearfully from her home in the blockaded Gaza Strip.
She tried to move on, but in her own words, “more tragedy awaits.”
In 1982 Kanaan divorced from her first husband, with whom she had two children and remarried but remained in Shatila.
On September 16 of that year, after hearing about attacks by “Lebanon gangs”, Kanaan left the camp with her husband. Her children, 12-year-old Maher and 15-year-old Maymana, stay with their father.
Between September 16 and 18, 1982, between 2,000 and 3,500 people were killed in the Sabra neighborhood of Beirut and adjacent Shatila.
The victims were mainly Palestinian refugees living in the camp, as well as Lebanese civilians.
Perpetrator: a Lebanese right-wing militia operating in coordination with the Israeli military.
Pictures from the aftermath have been broadcast around the world, and the massacre is considered one of the deadliest traumatic event in Palestinian history, with commemorative events held every year.
Kanaan said: “After the massacre ended, I immediately returned to Sabra and Shatila. “It was a huge shock – body parts, blood and dead people, the scene was catastrophic. Many of my relatives and neighbors have died, but there is no news about my children.”
“No one asked, the situation was difficult, many people died, everyone was searching for the missing and the dead. This situation continued for many months.”
Along with thousands of other Palestinians, Kanaan and her husband left for Tunisia in late 1982, it is still unclear whether her children are alive or dead.
“One morning, while I was in Tunisia, the Palestinian newspaper al-Thawra published a list of the martyrs who had died in Sabra and Shatila – my son Maher was among them,” she recounted.
“It was a very difficult moment. I was frantically shouting, ‘Maher, Maher.’ That is very difficult news. “
As for Maymana, the trail was cold.
‘Smell of death’
Nawal Abu Rudeinah was six years old when the militia arrived in Shatila. Unlike Kanaan, she couldn’t run away from the massacre, and neither could her family.
“I remember the strong smell of death. I remember walking among many corpses. It’s not real,” Abu Rudeinah, 46, told Al Jazeera from her home in Shatila.
She explains that her father, Shawkat, and pregnant sister, Amal, were killed in the massacre, along with her grandfather, aunt, and 12 other relatives.
“There are people without arms, with brains on the floor, there are women with bare feet and blankets,” she continued.
“When they entered our house, they took all the men out, lined them up and started beating them with heavy bricks on their heads. I will never forget this scene.”
Abu Rudeinah’s mother died of a heart attack five years later, and she was forced to drop out of school to care for her younger brother, Mohammad.
“My childhood was horrible. We usually don’t have food. We’ll get donations from everyone, but we feed ourselves. I will stand on the chair and cook. By the age of 16 I knew how to do everything,” she said.
The Sabra and Shatila massacres continue to highlight the plight of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon today, who number 479,000, according to the United Nations.
About 45% of them live in the country’s 12 refugee camps, which suffer from overcrowding, poor housing conditions, unemployment, poverty and lack of access to basic services and assistance. legal help.
Palestinians in Lebanon are banned from working in 39 occupations and owning property, and face many other restrictions.
“Life in the camp was very hard. I think if you ask everyone, they all want to leave. We still carry the label ‘refugees’ and it’s been 74 years and we’re still refugees,” said Abu Rudeinah, who was expelled from Haifa city by his family in 1948.
“The Lebanese state doesn’t want us either, okay, so let’s go back to our homeland, imagine going back, to be surrounded by your countrymen. Our dream before death is to visit Al-Aqsa Mosque.”
Twenty-two years of searching
Lebanon’s restrictions on the Palestinians that made life difficult for Abu Rudeinah also meant that Kanaan could never return to search for his daughter Maymana.
Instead, she spent 22 years searching fruitless, asking relatives and neighbors in Lebanon to find ways to reach her daughter.
She eventually found a connection to her life in Lebanon. A number for a long-lost aunt.
“I gathered my strength and made a phone call. My cousin answered. I asked her a question: Is Maymana still alive? She said yes, she is fine.”
“I started screaming with joy and crying.”
Two years later, in 2006, Kanaan met his daughter Maymana, when the Abu Dhabi TV channel held a meeting between the two. direct on television.
“It was a memorable day. I can’t believe my daughter has grown into such a beautiful young woman after I left her as a little girl. I held her in my arms for so long that everyone in the studio burst into tears.”
Naturally, Kanaan wanted to make up for lost time.
But the reality of her life in Gaza, which has been blockaded by Israel for 15 years, and the life of her now-married daughter in Lebanon, means it’s difficult to see each other.
“My life has been a series of pain and suffering. I lost my family in one massacre, and my son and cousins in another.
“Then I tasted the bitterness of searching for my daughter for many years, and I found her, but she was far away from me. What more can Palestinian mothers endure? “
Maram Humaid reports from the Gaza Strip, Zena al-Tahhan from Jerusalem and Ayham al-Sahili from Lebanon.