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1982: Sabra and Shatila - after the atrocity

Deborah Thornton-Jackson was married to a Lebanese businessman. They lived in Beirut with their young family during the 1970s and 1980s.

In September 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon, and a Christian Lebanese militia massacred hundreds of Palestinians living in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.

After the atrocity, Deborah drove to a hospital in Gaza to help tend to the wounded and dying.

I spent 20 years in the Lebanon - first going out there in 1969 as an air stewardess. I later married a Christian Lebanese named Elie.

We lived in Beirut. On and off I would leave when the situation got bad, when it got too hot to handle. I would have to get the girls out, our children, back to safety.

Some of the things I experienced were traumatic. I find it very hard sometimes to recount the shocking events that took place and one in particular - the Israeli invasion in 1982. I've buried an awful lot.

The night that the Israelis actually came in and surrounded the camps, we were at our villa in East Beirut, on the Christian side.

Aircraft came over periodically during the day flying low and showing their presence with a few bombs which created a lot of smoke.

Then we heard that the Phalangists had actually gone into the camps and that the Israelis had more or less surrounded them.

There were flares in the sky which we could see that lit up the surrounding area. We knew what they were doing.

I just felt I had to go and help these people. I had a tremendous sympathy for the Palestinian people at that time, which my husband could never understand.


" Children, women, animals, anything that moved - they had massacred "

I had a friend who was a Palestinian doctor. He worked at Gaza Hospital which is in between the camps of Sabra and Shatila.

On the Saturday (18 September) I got in my little Renault 5 and I went down to downtown Beirut as I had known it.

I went to Gaza Hospital to see Khalid the doctor friend of mine, and see if they needed any help.

The scenes at Gaza Hospital were just horrendous. It was panic, absolute panic, there were people running everywhere.

I said: "Look I have a training of first aid, that's all. If I can help I would love to."

They said anybody was welcome that could tie a bandage or put a plaster on.

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.

I can remember just holding him, holding his little body close. He was covered with blood and the life was running out of him. He was crying for his mother.

The next day, I went back. I think Elie was terribly angry with me for doing this. His opinion was to rid Beirut of the "rubbish", as he would put it, of the Palestinian people. We would have endless arguments about this.

I went into the camps with the Red Cross but too late. Nobody had been allowed in.

Bulldozers had gone in to bury bodies. They had also bulldozed buildings with people still inside, families still watching television, or having dinner.

They bulldozed these people. They massacred these people. I saw bodies, piles of bodies, heaped up, mutilated, and believe me they hadn't been shot.

It was like a scene from what I would have imagined happened in World War Two to the Jews. They had been executed.

Children, women, animals, anything that moved - they had massacred.

The Phalangists that I spoke to afterwards - they enjoyed doing what they had done.

What could I say? Were they going to listen to me? I said to them: "How can you justify what you've done?"

It was horror in there, it was horror. The stench, the massacre. They are war crimes.

But I shall certainly never forget. Of all the horrors and atrocities, and of the many things that have happened to me when I was in Beirut, nothing can come close to what I witnessed in these camps. Nothing.

In Context
Deborah and her Lebanese husband later divorced. She remarried and now lives in York.

She is writing a book about her experiences in Lebanon.


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