By Robert Fisk
Robert Fisk was one of the first journalists to be present at the scene of the horrific murders in Lebanon, September 17th, 1982. He has published a number of different books and currently writes columns for The Independent newspaper. The following is extracted from his book, "Pity the Nation."
What we found inside the Palestinian camp at ten o'clock on the morning of September 1982 did not quite beggar description, although it would have been easier to re-tell in the cold prose of a medical examination. There had been medical examinations before in Lebanon, but rarely on this scale and never overlooked by a regular, supposedly disciplined army. In the panic and hatred of battle, tens of thousands had been killed in this country. But these people, hundreds of them had been shot down unarmed. This was a mass killing, an incident - how easily we used the word "incident" in Lebanon - that was also an atrocity. It went beyond even what the Israelis would have in other circumstances called a terrorist activity. It was a war crime.
Jenkins and Tveit were so overwhelmed by what we found in Chatila that at first we were unable to register our own shock. Bill Foley of AP had come with us. All he could say as he walked round was "Jesus Christ" over and over again. We might have accepted evidence of a few murders; even dozens of bodies, killed in the heat of combat. Bur there were women lying in houses with their skirts torn torn up to their waists and their legs wide apart, children with their throats cut, rows of young men shot in the back after being lined up at an execution wall. There were babies - blackened babies babies because they had been slaughtered more than 24-hours earlier and their small bodies were already in a state of decomposition - tossed into rubbish heaps alongside discarded US army ration tins, Israeli army equipment and empty bottles of whiskey.
Where were the murderers? Or to use the Israelis' vocabulary, where were the "terrorists"? When we drove down to Chatila, we had seen the Israelis on the top of the apartments in the Avenue Camille Chamoun but they made no attempt to stop us. In fact, we had first been driven to the Bourj al-Barajneh camp because someone told us that there was a massacre there. All we saw was a Lebanese soldier chasing a car theif down a street. It was only when we were driving back past the entrance to Chatila that Jenkins decided to stop the car. "I don't like this", he said. "Where is everyone? What the f**k is that smell?"
Just inside the the southern entrance to the camp, there used to be a number of single-story, concrete walled houses. I had conducted many interviews in these hovels in the late 1970's. When we walked across the muddy entrance to Chatila, we found that these buildings had been dynamited to the ground. There were cartridge cases across the main road. I saw several Israeli flare canisters, still attached to their tiny parachutes. Clouds of flies moved across the rubble, raiding parties with a nose for victory.