How Do You Define A Massacre?

Category: Life & Society, Middle East Views: 889

A popular search term for Internet search engines must be "Palestinian massacres". Why not? There are many of them. Some old and unforgettable, others new, and some are yet to come to an end.

20 years later, thousands of the Sabra and Shatilla massacre victims are yet to be accounted for. Should we count them as dead or missing? How long will it be for the missing to be classified as dead? Now you know why when we refer to that infamous West Beirut carnage, orchestrated by Israel and carried out by its allies, we still say: ".. where 2,000 to 4,000 were killed," for thousands are yet to be accounted for.

"How do you define a massacre?" An angry reader asked in a message where he defending Israel's killing of hundreds of Palestinian in the Jenin refugee camp as self defense. You have to be a Palestinian journalist to be asked that question.

How does one define a massacre?

I honestly never sat down with a dictionary, to search for a definition. Pretty strange for someone who wrote about massacres carried out against his people starting 20 years before he was even born.

The word massacre is chilling, yet very telling, in a gruesome way that is. Little ones buried under the rubble of their homes, some burned and others decomposed. That's a massacre.

Men and women shot in their homes, near their homes, while opening the door for a crowd of angry soldiers, while closing the window to avoid the eyes of a sniper; while sitting down for dinner, no matter how simple; when gazing at heaven asking for mercy for the sake of the little ones; when a sobbing mother kisses her fighting son: "goodbye dear, may heaven be with you," to never see him again. That's a massacre.

No, Palestinians are not quick to name Israel's killings massacres, but massacres name themselves, they come uninvited, they occupy sections of our collective memory, soon to be added to an ever expanding list of massacres, starting over 53 years ago and still flowing, as the present becomes history.

An Arab journalist criticized Al Jazeera the other day. "I am just afraid that by showing images of massacres over and over again, people will become so accustomed to such tragedies," he noted. The man, whom I made little efforts to remember his name, received a rebutting question: "so should we stop reporting on Israeli massacres?"

How silly his question appeared with such a response, yet how frightening the idea is: getting accustomed to such tragedies.

Living in a refugee camp most of my life, witnessing the horror of the occupation in Palestine; then disfigured bodies of frail Iraqi children dying from sanctions and Leukemia, and reading and reporting on horrendous crimes committed against the most innocent of this world, the children, I still can hardly feel accustomed to massacres.

"A friend shared this photo with me. I am not sure if you viewed it yet," someone wrote me earlier today. Although I am hesitant opening e-mail attachment with the numberless viruses lurking all over the Internet, I still viewed the image.

The attachment was titled "Angelic Face." It was yet another picture from Jenin. It was of a young girl, as old as mine, maybe yours. She was half buried in the sand. Dead. Her face reflected innocence. But the beauty appeared as if she was a fossil being excavated.

I couldn't help but wonder, did her mom sew that special dress for her? Was it a birthday gift she received while surrounded by refugee children in Jenin with a few candles and a cake. "Happy birthday dear ..." But what's her name? How old was the "Angelic Face"? Did her parents survive? How was she killed? Was she in so much pain? Did she suffocate under the sand?

Oh, I hope it was quick and painless. Is this all that I am capable of doing, of saying? Is this what I, we, the whole world, humanity, are able to come up with: wishing that Palestinian children's deaths were quick and painless?

Those who overcame their hesitance and opened the attachment to see the Angelic Face, must have deleted the photo a few minutes later. You know, no one likes a crowded e-mail box. But will the image ever be deleted from our memories? Will Jenin also be deleted, or will it remain? Remain as what? A massacre? But how do you define massacre?

I still don't have the proper definition, and I am little interested to search for one. I was hoping that the United Nations would investigate and let us know, so that I could reply to that angry message. But they failed to do so, because Israel didn't grant the UN fact-finding mission a permit to reach the camp.

I guess that Jenin would only remain a massacre in the eyes of Palestinian school kids who will chant on an April day of every year under a wavering Palestinian flag, in some God-forsaken refugee camp, the name of Jenin, its martyrs, the Angelic face, the massacres, all of them, starting with the old, to the new, and to the ones that are yet to come.

Ramzy Baroud is the Editor-in-Chief of

  Category: Life & Society, Middle East
Views: 889
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