Sabra and Shatila massacre
- This page is related to the 1982 events only. For the 1985–1987 events, see war of the camps.
|Sabra and Shatila massacre|
|Part of the Lebanese Civil War|
Bodies of victims of the massacre in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps
|Location||West Beirut, Lebanon|
|Date||16–18 September 1982|
|Target||Sabra and Shatila refugee camps|
|Deaths||762 to 3,500 (number disputed)|
|Perpetrators||Kataeb Party militia under Elie Hobeika|
The Sabra and Shatila massacre was the slaughter of between 762 and 3,500 civilians, mostly Palestinian and Lebanese Shia, by a Lebanese Christian Phalangist militia in the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut, Lebanon from approximately 6:00 pm 16 September to 8:00 am 18 September 1982.
The massacre was presented as retaliation for the assassination of newly elected Lebanese president Bachir Gemayel, the leader of the Lebanese Kataeb Party. It was wrongly assumed that Palestinian militants had carried out the assassination, which is now generally attributed to native, pro-Syrian militants.
Israel invaded Lebanon with the intention of rooting out the PLO. Under the supervision of the Multinational Force the PLO withdrew from Lebanon following weeks of battles in West Beirut and shortly before the massacre took place. Various forces — Israeli, Phalangist and possibly also the South Lebanon Army (SLA) — were in the vicinity of the camps at the time of the slaughter, taking advantage of the fact that the multinational forces had removed barracks and mines that encircled Beirut's Muslim neighborhoods and kept the Israelis at bay. The Israeli advance over West Beirut in the wake of the PLO withdrawal, which enabled the Phalangist raid, was considered a violation of the ceasefire agreement between the various forces. The actual killers were the "Young Men", a gang recruited by Elie Hobeika, the Lebanese Forces intelligence chief, from men who had been expelled from the Lebanese Forces for insubordination or criminal activities.  The killings are widely believed to have taken place under Hobeika's direct orders. Hobeika's family and fiancée had been murdered by Palestinian militiamen, and their Lebanese allies, at the Damour massacre of 1976, itself a response to a previous massacre of Palestinians and Lebanese Muslims at the hands of Christian militants. Hobeika later became a long-serving Member of the Parliament of Lebanon and served in several ministerial roles.
The Israel Defense Forces surrounded the camps and at the Phalangists' request, fired illuminating flares at night. In 1982, a UN commission chaired by Sean MacBride concluded that Israel bore responsibility for the violence. In 1983, the Israeli Kahan Commission, appointed to investigate the incident, found that Israeli military personnel, aware that a massacre was in progress, had failed to take serious steps to stop it. Thus Israel was indirectly responsible, while Ariel Sharon, then Defense Minister, bore personal responsibility, forcing him to resign.
From 1975 to 1990, groups in competing alliances with neighboring countries fought against each other in the Lebanese Civil War. Infighting and massacres between these groups claimed several thousand victims. Examples: the Syrian-backed Karantina (January 1976) by the Lebanese Christian militia against Kurds, Syrians and Palestinians in the predominantly Muslim slum district, Damour (January 1976) by the PLO against Christians in Beirut, including the family and fiancée of the Lebanese Forces intelligence chief Elie Hobeika; and Tel al-Zaatar (August 1976) by Phalangists against refugees living in a camp administered by UNRWA. The total death toll in Lebanon for the whole civil war period was around 150,000 victims.
The PLO had been attacking Israel from southern Lebanon and Israel had been bombing PLO positions in southern Lebanon since the early 70s.
On 3 June, 1982 an assassination attempt was made upon Israeli Ambassador to Britain Shlomo Argov. The attempt was the work of Abu Nidal, who headed a group rival to Arafat's PLO. Even though the PLO was not involved in the assault, and condemned it, Israel used it as a justification to break a ceasefire then in force with the group, and as a casus belli for a full-scale invasion of Lebanon.
On 6 June 1982 Israel invaded Lebanon moving northwards to surround the capital, Beirut. Following an extended siege of the city the fighting was brought to an end with a US brokered agreement between the parties on 21 August 1982, which allowed for safe evacuation of the Palestinian fighters from the city under the supervision of Western nations and guaranteed the protection of refugees and the civilian residents of the refugee camps.
On 23 August 1982, Bachir Gemayel, who was very popular among Maronites, was elected President of Lebanon by the National Assembly. Israel had relied on Gemayel and his forces as a counterbalance to the PLO, and as a result, ties between Israel and Maronite groups had grown stronger.
By 1 September, the PLO fighters had been evacuated from Beirut under the supervision of Multinational Forces (MNF). The evacuation was conditional on the continuation of the presence of the MNF to provide security for the community of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Two days later the Israeli Premier Menachem Begin met Gemayel in Nahariya and strongly urged him to sign a peace treaty with Israel. According to some sources, Begin also wanted the continuing presence of the SLA in southern Lebanon (Haddad supported peaceful relations with Israel) in order to control attacks and violence, and action from Gemayel to move on the PLO fighters which Israel believed remained a hidden threat in Lebanon. However, the Phalangists, who were previously united as reliable Israeli allies, were now split because of developing alliances with Syria, which remained militarily hostile to Israel. As such, Gemayel rejected signing a peace treaty with Israel and did not authorize operations to root out the remaining PLO militants.
On 11 September 1982, the international forces that were guaranteeing the safety of Palestinian refugees left Beirut. Then on 14 September, Gemayel was assassinated in a massive explosion which demolished his headquarters. Eventually, the culprit, Habib Tanious Shartouni, a Lebanese Christian, confessed to the crime. He turned out to be a member of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and an agent of Syrian intelligence. Palestinian and Muslim leaders denied any connection to him.
Within hours of the assassination, Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, supported by Begin, decided to occupy West Beirut, informing only then Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir and not consulting the Israeli cabinet. The same night Sharon began preparations for entering the Sabra-Shatila refugee camps. Thus on 15 September, the Israeli army reoccupied West Beirut. This Israeli action breached its agreement with the United States not to occupy West Beirut.
Following the assassination of Lebanese Christian President Bashir Gemayel, the Phalangists sought revenge. By noon on 15 September, the Sabra-Shatila camps had been surrounded by the IDF, which set up checkpoints at the exits and entrances, and used a number of multi-story buildings as observation posts. Amongst them was the seven-story Kuwaiti embassy which, according to TIME magazine, had "an unobstructed and panoramic view" of the camps. Hours later, IDF tanks began shelling the camps.
According to Linda Malone of the Jerusalem Fund, Ariel Sharon and Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan met with Phalangist militia units and invited them to enter the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, claiming that the PLO was responsible for Gemayel's assassination. The meeting concluded at 3:00 pm 16 September.
An hour later, 1,500 militiamen assembled at Beirut International Airport, then occupied by Israel. Under the command of Elie Hobeika, they began moving towards the camps in IDF supplied Jeeps, following Israeli guidance on how to enter the camps. The forces were mostly Phalangist, though there were some men from Saad Haddad's "Free Lebanon forces". According to Ariel Sharon and Elie Hobeika's bodyguard, the Phalangists were given "harsh and clear" warnings about harming civilians. However, it was by then known that the Phalangists presented a special security risk for Palestinians. Bamahane, the IDF newspaper, wrote on 1 September, two weeks before the massacre, that, in a conversation with an Israeli official, a Phalangist said: "the question we are putting to ourselves is — how to begin, by raping or killing?"
The first unit of 150 Phalangists entered the camps at 6:00 pm A battle ensued that at times Palestinians claim involved lining up Palestinians for execution. During the night the Israeli forces fired illuminating flares over the camps. According to a Dutch nurse, the camp was as bright as "a sports stadium during a football game".
At 11:00 pm a report was sent to the IDF headquarters in East Beirut, reporting the killings of 300 people, including civilians. The report was forwarded to headquarters in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, where it was seen by more than 20 senior Israeli officers.
At one point, a militiaman's radioed question to his commander Hobeika about what to do with the women and children in the refugee camp was overheard by an Israeli officer, who heard Hobeika's reply: "This is the last time you're going to ask me a question like that; you know exactly what to do." Phalangist troops could be heard laughing in the background.
Later in the afternoon, a meeting was held between the Israeli Chief of Staff and the Phalangist staff. On Friday morning, the Israelis surrounding the camps ordered the Phalange to halt their operation, concerned about reports of a massacre.
On 17 September, while the camps still were sealed off, a few independent observers managed to enter. Among them were a Norwegian journalist and diplomat Gunnar Flakstad, who observed Phalangists during their cleanup operations, removing dead bodies from destroyed houses in the Shatila camp.
Janet Lee Stevens, an American journalist, later wrote to her husband, Dr. Franklin Lamb, "I saw dead women in their houses with their skirts up to their waists and their legs spread apart; dozens of young men shot after being lined up against an alley wall; children with their throats slit, a pregnant woman with her stomach chopped open, her eyes still wide open, her blackened face silently screaming in horror; countless babies and toddlers who had been stabbed or ripped apart and who had been thrown into garbage piles."
Before the massacre, it was reported that the leader of the PLO, Yasir Arafat, had requested the return of international forces, from Italy, France and the United States, to Beirut to protect civilians. Those forces had just supervised the departure of Arafat and his PLO fighters from Beirut. Italy expressed 'deep concerns' about 'the new Israeli advance', but no action was taken to return the forces to Beirut. Henry Kamm, Special to The New York Times, in a report dated 16 September 1982, from Rome:
Yasir Arafat, leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, demanded today that the United States, France and Italy send their troops back to Beirut to protect its inhabitants against Israel...The dignity of three armies and the honor of their countries is involved, Mr. Arafat said at his news conference. I ask Italy, France and the United States: What of your promise to protect the inhabitants of Beirut?
Number of victims
- According to the BBC, "at least 800" Palestinians died.
- Bayan Nuwayhed al-Hout in her Sabra and Shatila: September 1982 gives a minimum consisting of 1,300 named victims based on detailed comparison of 17 victim lists and other supporting evidence, and estimates an even higher total.
- Robert Fisk, one of the first journalists to visit the scene, quotes (without endorsing) unnamed Phalangist officers as saying "that 2,000 Palestinians – women as well as men – had been killed in Chatila." In a 2002 article in The Independent, Fisk speaks of "1700 civilians murdered."  The Palestinian Red Crescent put the number killed at over 3,000.
- In his book published soon after the massacre, the Israeli journalist Amnon Kapeliouk of Le Monde Diplomatique, arrived at about 2,000 bodies disposed of after the massacre from official and Red Cross sources and "very roughly" estimated 1,000 to 1,500 other victims disposed of by the Phalangists themselves to a total of 3,000–3,500.
On 16 December 1982, the United Nations General Assembly condemned the massacre and declared it to be an act of genocide. The voting record on section D of Resolution 37/123 was: yes: 123; no: 0; abstentions: 22; non-voting: 12.
The delegate for Canada stated: "The term genocide cannot, in our view, be applied to this particular inhuman act". The delegate of Singapore – voting 'yes' – added: "My delegation regrets the use of the term 'an act of genocide' ... [as] the term 'genocide' is used to mean acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group." Canada and Singapore also questioned whether the General Assembly was competent to determine whether such an event would constitute genocide.
The United States commented that "While the criminality of the massacre was beyond question, it was a serious and reckless misuse of language to label this tragedy genocide as defined in the 1948 Convention ...".
Such comments led William Schabas, director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the National University of Ireland, to state: "the term genocide ... had obviously been chosen to embarrass Israel rather than out of any concern with legal precision".
The commission's report, Israel in Lebanon, concluded that the Israeli authorities or forces were directly or indirectly responsible in the massacres and other killings that have been reported to have been carried out by Lebanese militiamen in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in the Beirut area between 16 and 18 September.
British journalist David Hirst accused the Israeli commission of crafting the concept of indirect responsibility so as to protect Israel from assuming full responsibility for the slaughter along with the Phalangists. He further states that the Commission was only able to achieve that verdict by means of errors and omissions in the analysis of the massacre.
Sharon "personal responsibility"
At first, Sharon refused to resign, and Begin refused to fire him. It was only after the death of Emil Grunzweig after a grenade was tossed into the dispersing crowd of a Peace Now protest march, which also injured ten others, that a compromise was reached: Sharon would resign as Defense Minister, but remain in the Cabinet as a minister without portfolio. Notwithstanding the dissuading conclusions of the Kahan report, Sharon would later become Prime Minister of Israel.
The Kahan commission also recommended the dismissal of Director of Military Intelligence Yehoshua Saguy', and the effective promotion freeze of Division Commander Brig. Gen. Amos Yaron for at least three years.
Role of Hobeika
Robert Maroun Hatem, Elie Hobeika's bodyguard, stated in his book From Israel to Damascus that Hobeika ordered the massacre of civilians in defiance of Israeli instructions to behave like a "dignified" army.
Pierre Rehov, a documentary filmmaker who worked on the case with former Lebanese soldiers, while making his film Holy Land: Christians in Peril, came to the conclusion that Hobeika was definitely responsible for the massacre, despite the orders he had received from Ariel Sharon to behave humanely.
Hobeika was assassinated by a car bomb in Beirut on 24 January 2002. Lebanese and Arab commentators blamed Israel for the murder of Hobeika, with alleged Israeli motive that Hobeika would be ‘apparently poised to testify before the Belgian court about Sharon’s role in the massacre (see section above). Prior to his assassination, Elie Hobeika had stated "I am very interested that the [Belgian] trial starts because my innocence is a core issue."
Sharon libel suit
Ariel Sharon sued Time magazine for libel in American and Israeli courts in a $50 million libel suit, after Time published a story in its 21 February 1983, issue, implying that Sharon had "reportedly discussed with the Gemayels the need for the Phalangists to take revenge" for Bashir's assassination. The jury found the article false and defamatory, although Time won the suit in the U.S. court because Sharon's defense failed to establish that the magazine's editors and writers had "acted out of malice," as required under the U.S. libel law.
Relatives of victims sue Sharon
After Sharon's 2001 election to the post of Prime Minister of Israel, relatives of the victims of the massacre filed a lawsuit On 24 September 2003, Belgium's Supreme Court dismissed the war crimes case against Ariel Sharon, since none of the plaintiffs had Belgian nationality at the start of the case.
According to Robert Fisk, Osama bin Laden cited the Sabra and Shatila massacre as one of the motivations for the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing, in which al-Qaeda attacked an American Air Force housing complex in Saudi Arabia.
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