Fares Badr was driving in downtown Toronto when a voice on the radio told him Ariel Sharon was dead.
Suddenly, he was 30 years old again, in the summer of 1982, watching his house burn while he took refuge with his family from Israeli fighter jets attacking Lebanon. Suddenly he was remembering another radio broadcast a short time later that year, one that reported the massacre of helpless civilians in a place where, as a young man, he first witnessed the terrible cost of war – the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp in Beirut, surrounded at the time of the attack by Israeli troops under Mr. Sharon’s control.
Even today, the name of the former Israeli general and prime minister man, takes Mr. Badr, a retired Toronto school teacher, back to the two most traumatic memories of his life, the invasion and the camp massacre, “a nightmare that is still chasing me now.”
Mr. Badr says he grew up in a comfortable Christian family in a small village in Mount Lebanon, a quiet area in the mountains northwest of Beirut. As a teenager, he stayed with family in Beirut to attend high school and later to earn a degree at a teacher’s college. To get to those classes, in the early 1970s, he would walk through the Sabra and Shatila camp, where he saw for himself the wretched circumstances of the Palestinians refugees living there.
“The misery in that place,” he recalls. “When you walk through the camp, you can’t imagine this is meant for human beings to live there. For me, this is what opened my eyes to everything – to politics, to social justice, to the cycle of vicious war in all our lives.”
Eventually, he went back to his village to teach. On June 7, 1982, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon arrived in the village with the blasts of machine-gun fire. Mr. Badr, his wife and infant daughter hid with some of their neighbours in the bottom floor of the local movie theatre, one of the tallest buildings in the village. From a small window, he says, he saw his two-storey house crumble in flames. “You see your house on fire, and you think you can do something, save something,” he says. But his neighbours refused to let him leave. In the end, all his family’s possessions were lost except for the identification and little money they had managed to grab.
“There was nothing left,” he says. “You wake from that shocking experience, you hear stories about what is happening [elsewhere in Lebanon], and you say 10 times, ‘Thank God.’ I was okay. My family was okay. I lost my house, but many people lost their lives. I can rebuild.”
Three months later in September, while following the news on a transistor radio, he learned of the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila camp . An Israeli commission of inquiry would later find Mr. Sharon bore personal responsibility for not preventing the killings.
“We couldn’t believe it when we heard it,” Mr. Badr says. The images of the children he had once seen living there in the camp haunted him.
A few years later, he and his family followed relatives to Canada, where Mr. Badr became a French teacher in Toronto. He now teaches part-time, and works as a diversity co-ordinator for the Ontario Ministry of Health.
But for a long time, after settling in Mississauga, he would start at the sounds of airplanes flying overhead to and from Pearson International Airport. And the name of Ariel Sharon was always brought a flashback to a still-sharp grief.
Mr. Badr, now 61, says he is not surprised that Mr. Sharon would be lauded by political figures from Canada, Israel and around the world after his death, as happened at Mr. Sharon’s funeral on Monday. But he says that Canada still needs to acknowledge Mr. Sharon’s full mark on history. In Lebanon, says Mr. Badr, “his name is associated with suffering, with the most notorious crime ever committed [there] in a place where people are not able to defend themselves.”