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Review: Stark Portrait of Sabra & Shatila & Sharon

Stark Portrait of Sabra & Shatila & Sharon depicted in World Premier Film "2000 TERRORISTS"

By Genevieve Cora Fraser

Shortly after Peter Speetjens' birth in a small town in the south of The Netherlands, the world changed. Israel occupied Palestine following the 6 Day War. Though far from the scene of the crime and it's far reaching and cruel aftermath, Speetjens grew up determined not to live the simple life in Holland. Following graduation as a jurist from the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, he taught briefly but decided academia was too organized, so he embarked on a life of adventure and travel and became a journalist and scriptwriter along the way.

After working on legal problems of asylum seekers for Amnesty International for a year, Speetjens pursued a love interest which landed him in Beirut in 1996. "I thought Lebanon would be a good start to get into journalism. I had always liked writing, and writing, I thought, would allow me to see some more of the world," he confided. "Love was gone within no time, but I managed to become a journalist and fell in love with Beirut." Since 1996, he has worked in English for several publications, but mainly for The Daily Star in Beirut. In Dutch, he's a correspondent for Belgian daily De Standaard and free lances for a variety of other publications. "I mainly write reportages from a political, environmental or cultural point of view. So, the last three pieces I published were two reportages, on private military companies in Iraq and the (shrinking) Dead Sea, and a commentary on Vanunu." Mordechai Vanunu is Israel's internationally acclaimed anti-nuclear whistleblower, recently released from serving 18 years in an Israeli prison.

While journalism makes him a living, working on film documentary feeds his soul. In film Speetjens partners with long-time friend, film director Hanro Smitsman, a graduate from the Dutch Film Academy in Amsterdam. Smitsman's short fiction film 'Dajo' recently won first prize at the international film festival of Brussels. Smitsman spent his childhood in Israel but later began to critically reassess his roots. Both men felt betrayed by Israel and for years had wanted to partner on a film together. So in 2002 as the world obsessed about hunting terrorists and international justice post 9/11, they created SenS (Speetjens en Smitsman) Productions and in association with Corrino Films began production on "2000 Terrorists" about the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre in Beirut and the complaint filed in Brussels against those held responsible, most notably Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

September 16, 2002 was the 20th anniversary of the Sabra & Shatila massacre which was authorized by the Israeli IDF, under the command of Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, where the Lebanese Christian Phalangist militia entered the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut. At that time Israel held the territory around Beirut as a result of the June 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. According to Speetjens, "As in 2001 Sharon was accused of being responsible for the 1982 massacre and charged with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity (in Belgium), we figured that was excellent material and timing for a documentary on S&S. The trial, and to a lesser extent the international climate, allowed us to re-visit the camps and the massacre, and meet the people behind the trial." The intent of the project was to portray the people as people, not as just victims, which they hoped would distinguish their documentary from earlier films on the subject.

As a journalist writing on the situation of Palestinians in Lebanon, Speetjens had visited the Sabra & Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon on several occasions. He had also written articles on the Belgian trial and Genocide Law. But putting together a film is a major undertaking requiring money. So Speetjens and Smitsman contacted family and friends who came up with $5,000. "We had a camera, equipment, a house, some money, and a dear friend and film student who was with us to translate and help out with everything for free," Speetjens said. The project required five weeks of 16-hours of shooting during the day and translating at night. Editing was carried out in Holland, for free by a professional editor with Corrino Films equipment. Printing posters to the professional British voice over were also donated by individuals committed to the project.

The following year, on the September 16, 2003 anniversary date, Speetjens wrote an article, "21 years to the day after the Shatila massacre," published by The Daily Star. "First, Israel announced it had entered the city to protect Palestinian civilians from Christian revenge attacks. Then Ariel Sharon announced there were still '2,000 terrorists' in the camps. On Sept. 16, three groups of Lebanese Forces, one from East Beirut, two from South Lebanon, were allowed to enter Sabra and Shatila, which by then were 'surrounded and sealed off' by Israeli soldiers. What followed was a 40-hour orgy of death and violence, in which an estimated 2,000 people were killed," he wrote.

"2000 Terrorists" opened on May 14, 2004 in De Balie, the Cultural Center of Amsterdam to critical acclaim. The film follows four of the 23 plaintiffs still living in Shatila camp. Umm Ali lost her daughter and entire family in law. Umm Hussein's husband was captured by Israelis and never returned. Sana lost her husband and Mahmoud lost 3 brothers, father, and several cousins, uncles and aunts. The docudrama reconstructs "the 1982 massacre against the backdrop of ups and downs in the Belgian lawsuit, the fate of which is closely connected to that of the highly controversial Belgian Genocide Law," according to Speetjens. The main characters "first tell about their life in Shatila camp, how/ where they live, how they met their loved one. Then the trial is introduced, with lawyers Chibli Mallat in Beirut and Senator Vincent van Quickenborne, lawyer Michel Verhaeghe in Brussels. Then follows the 1982 massacre told by the four main characters with the aid of at times rather shocking archive material."

"The film has been sent to festivals around the world. We want the film to be shown as much as possible, to reach as many people as possible," Speetjens said. He hopes the film will be shown in Israel and the USA and to local American cable channels. If an "NGO or university wants to show the film, they can. Depending on the organization, its audience and means, we can agree upon a small amount just to cover expenses. The Genocide Law was abolished in summer 2003." he further noted, "and ever since nothing has happened. Most experts believe the case is dead."

SenS Productions is currently in negotiations with a Dutch and Arab TV channel to broadcast the film. Meanwhile Speetjens is traveling to Africa to conduct research on the rise in use of private military companies around the world and plans to write a script which will be produced by SenS as a film, this time he hopes with a full budget.

"2000 Terrorists" is a 52-min video production. For further information contact the Corrino Media Corporation at website located at Korte Prinsengracht 50 HS, 1013 GT Amsterdam, The Netherlands Telephone: +31 (0)20 423 3002; Facsimile: +31 (0)20 423 2805 General E-mail:

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