Sabra and Shatila massacre
|Sabra and Shatila massacre|
|Part of the Lebanese Civil War|
Bodies of victims of the massacre in the Sabra and the Shatila refugee camp
|Location||West Beirut, Lebanon|
|Date||16–18 September 1982|
|Target||Sabra and the Shatila refugee camp|
|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 Palestinians and Lebanese Shiites, by the Kataeb Party, a Lebanese Christian militia, in the Sabra neighborhood and the adjacent Shatila refugee camp 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. In June 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon with the intention of rooting out the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). By mid-1982, 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, Christian Phalangists and possibly also the South Lebanon Army (SLA) — were in the vicinity of Sabra and Shatila at the time of the slaughter, taking advantage of the fact that the Multinational Force had removed barracks and mines that had encircled Beirut's Muslim neighborhoods and kept the Israelis at bay during the Beirut siege. 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 Israel Defense Forces surrounded Sabra and Shatila and stationed troops at the exits of the area to prevent camp residents from leaving and, at the Phalangists' request, fired illuminating flares at night.
Amongst the actual killers were the "Young Men", a gang recruited by Elie Hobeika, the Lebanese Forces intelligence chief and liaison officer with Mossad, 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. Other Phalangist commanders involved were Joseph Edde from the South, Dib Anasta, head of the Phalangist Military Police, Michael Zouein and Maroun Mischalani from East Beirut. In all 300-400 militiamen were involved, including some from Sa'ad Haddad's South Lebanon Army. In 1983, a commission chaired by Seán MacBride, the assistant to UN secretary general and president of United Nations General Assembly at the time, concluded that Israel bore responsibility for the violence because, as the occupiers of the camps, events taking place therein were their responsibility. The UN commission led by MacBride also concluded that the massacre was a form of genocide. 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 "for ignoring the danger of bloodshed and revenge", 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 Christian Maronites 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 1970s.
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 U.S.-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 15 June 1982, 10 days after the start of the invasion, the Israeli Cabinet passed a proposal put forward by the Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, that the IDF should not enter West Beirut but this should be done by Lebanese Forces. Chief of Staff, Rafael Eitan, had already issued orders that the Lebanese Christian militias should not take part in the fighting and the proposal was to counter public complaints that the IDF were suffering casualties whilst their allies were standing by. The subsequent Israeli inquiry estimated the strength of militias in West Beirut, excluding Palestinians, to be around 7,000. They estimated the Phalange to be 5,000 when fully mobilized of whom 2,000 were full-time.
On 23 August 1982, Bachir Gemayel, leader of the Lebanese Christian militias, 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 Force. 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.
On the evening of 14 September, following the news that Bashir Gemayel had been assassinated, Prime Minister Begin, Minister for Defence Sharon and Chief of Staff Eitan agreed that the Israeli army should invade West Beirut. The public reason given was to be that they were there to prevent chaos. In a separate conversation, at 8.30 pm that evening, Sharon and Eitan agreed that the IDF should not enter the Palestinian refugee camps but that the Phalange should be used. The only other member of the cabinet who was consulted was Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir. Shortly after 6.00 am 15 September, the Israeli army entered West Beirut. This Israeli action breached its agreement with the United States not to occupy West Beirut.
On the night of the 14/15 September 1982 the IDF chief of staff Eitan flew to Beirut where he went straight to the Phalangists' headquarters and instructed their leadership to order a general mobilisation of their forces and prepare to take part in the forth-coming Israeli attack on West Beirut. He also ordered them to impose a general curfew on all areas under their control and appoint a liaison officer to be stationed at the IDF forward command post. He told them that the IDF would not enter the refugee camps but that this would be done by the Phalangist forces. The militia leaders responded that the mobilisation would take them 24 hours to organise.
On morning of Wednesday 15 September Israeli Defence Minister, Sharon, who had also travelled to Beirut, held a meeting with Eitan at the IDF's forward command post, a five storey builing 200 metres southwest of Shatila camp. Also in attendance were Sharon's aide Avi Duda'i, the Director of Military Intelligence -Yehoshua Saguy, a senior Mossad officer, General Amir Drori, General Amos Yaron, an Intelligence office, the Head of GSS - Avraham Shalom, the Deputy Chief of Staff - General Moshe Levi and other senior officers. It was agreed that the Phalange should go into the camps.
Following the assassination of Lebanese Christian President Bachir Gemayel, the Phalangists sought revenge. By noon on 15 September, Sabra and Shatila 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 Sabra and Shatila. Hours later, IDF tanks began shelling Sabra and Shatila.
The following morning, 16 September, the sixth IDF order relating to the attack on West Beirut was issued. It specified: "The refugee camps are not to be entered. Searching and mopping up the camps will be done by the Phalangists/Lebanese Army".
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 Sabra and Shatila, 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 area in IDF-supplied jeeps, following Israeli guidance on how to enter it. 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 Sabra and Shatila 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 area. According to a Dutch nurse, the camp was as bright as "a sports stadium during a football game".
Two hours after the first Phalangist force entered Shatilla camp a mixed group of Phalangists and Israeli officers were observing the attack from the roof of the forward command post when one of the militia men in the camp radioed his commander Hobeika asking what to do with 50 women and children who had been taken prisoner. Hobeika's reply was overheard by an Israeli officer, who testified that he said: "This is the last time you're going to ask me a question like that; you know exactly what to do." Other Phalangists on the roof started laughing. Amongst the Israelis there was Brigadier General Yaron, Divisional Commander, who asked Lieutenant Elul, his Chef de Bureau, what the laughter was about and Elul translated what Hobeika had said. Yaron then had a five minute conversation, in English, with Hobeika. What was said is unknown.
At 11:00 pm the same evening 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.
Later in the afternoon, a meeting was held between the Israeli Chief of Staff and the Phalangist staff. On Friday morning, the Israelis surrounding Sabra and Shatila ordered the Phalange to halt their operation, concerned about reports of a massacre.
On 17 September, while Sabra and Shatila 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. The New York Times reported on September 1982:
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 wrote, "After three days of rape, fighting and brutal executions, militias finally leave the camps with 1,700 dead".
- 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 Soviet Union, by contrast, asserted that: "The word for what Israel is doing on Lebanese soil is genocide. Its purpose is to destroy the Palestinians as a nation." 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." The Nicaragua delegate asserted: "It is difficult to believe that a people that suffered so much from the Nazi policy of extermination in the middle of the twentieth century would use the same fascist, genocidal arguments and methods against other peoples." Canada and Singapore 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 ...".
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 independent commission headed by Seán MacBride, however, did find that the concept of genocide applied to the case as it was the intention of those behind the massacre "the deliberate destruction of the national and cultural rights and identity of the Palestinian people". Individual Jews throughout the world also denounced the massacre as genocide.
The MacBride 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 Sabra and Shatila in the Beirut area between 16 and 18 September.
Israel's own commission found that only "indirect" responsibility befit Israel's involvement. British journalist David Hirst accused the Israel of crafting the concept of indirect responsibility so as to make Israeli involvement and responsibility seem smaller. According to him, it was only by means of errors and omissions in the analysis of the massacre that the Commission was able to reach that verdict.
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 Bachir'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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- Report of the Kahan Commission – hosted by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- Sabra and Shatila by Robert Fisk
- "Sabra and Chatila Massacres After 19 years, The Truth at Last?" By Robert Fisk, The Independent, 28 November 2001
- Sabra and Shatila, the unforgivable slaughter (French)
- The Kahan Commission on Sabra and Shatila Massacre, published by Israel State Archives: