In commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila massacre, the Virginia Coalition of Human Rights submits an open letter to President Joseph Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and the U.S. Congress

From September 16–18, 1982, Israeli-backed Lebanese Phalangist militias rampaged through the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in West Beirut, Lebanon. An estimated 3,500 Palestinian and Lebanese civilians—mostly women, children, and the elderly—were massacred, raped, and mutilated in one of the worst atrocities in modern Middle East history. Most of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon had survived the ethnic cleansing of Palestine by Israeli militias, which drove over 800,000 Palestinians from their homes and lands during the 1947–48 Nakba.1

The U.S. Marines precipitous departure from Beirut on September 10, 1982 enabled the Sabra and Shatila massacre—even though the Reagan administration had pledged to protect the civilians in the refugee camps if the Palestinian Liberation Organization leaders and 14,000 fighters would leave Beirut. The United States is therefore culpable for the Sabra and Shatila massacre, although the Lebanese Christian militias committed the slaughter in collaboration with the Israeli government led by Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who was himself responsible for the Deir Yassin massacre of more than 100 Palestinian villagers in April 1948. During the Sabra and Shatila massacre, U.S. envoy Morris Draper sent a furious message to Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon stating:

You must stop the massacres. They are obscene. I have an officer in the camp counting the bodies. You ought to be ashamed. The situation is rotten and terrible. They are killing children. You are in absolute control of the area, and therefore responsible for the area.2

The survivors and their families continue to suffer chronic mental and physical trauma from the massacre. The 40,000 inhabitants of the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps are living on a graveyard and continue to suffer from high unemployment, minimal job opportunities, unsanitary living conditions, a lack of clean water, or physical and mental health care, all further aggravated by the Covid pandemic. The precarious living conditions are also suffered by Palestinians living in Gaza and occupied Palestine, where the Israeli government commits daily war crimes.

Upholding International Law and Human Rights

The United States government is complicit in Israeli war crimes and its apartheid system by giving Israel $3.8 billion per year or $10.5 million per day of taxpayers’ money—despite the fact that Israel is in gross violation of international and human rights laws.

President Biden pledged to uphold international law and human rights. As U.S. citizens concerned about the U.S. government’s lack of adherence to international and human rights laws, the Virginia Coalition for Human Rights (VCHR) calls on the Biden administration and the U.S. Congress to:

  • Enforce the Leahy Law to prevent the offensive use of U.S. weapons, including banned weapons, against Palestinian and Lebanese civilians in the commission of war crimes.

  • Demand that Israel immediately lift its illegal and inhumane decade-long blockade of Gaza.

  • Demand an immediate end to Israel’s illegal occupation since 1967 of East Jerusalem and the West Bank of Palestine, and the Syrian Golan Heights.

  • End the inhumane U.S. sanctions against Lebanon and support Lebanese civil society in rebuilding the country.

  • Demand that Israel end its oppressive and illegal apartheid policies in occupied Palestine.

  • Pass and enact HR 2590—Defending the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act, including stopping Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes, schools, villages, medical clinics, sacred sites, and land and water theft, and the imprisonment and torture of children, and the incarceration of political prisoners.

1. The Sabra & Shatila Massacre,
2. BBC transcript,

The Virginia Coalition of Human Rights (VCHR) is a broad coalition representing 19 organizations and over 10,000 Virginians. We believe the Israel–Palestine conflict is a human rights issue that requires open and free debate. We object to efforts to forestall this debate by placing limits on free speech and academic freedom (