Sabra and ShatilaBy Gush-Shalom
In the summer of 1982, the Israeli army invaded West Beirut, violating an explicit commitment given to the American mediator, Phillip Habib, not to do so. By that time, the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) forces had already left the city.
From that moment on, West Beirut, including the Palestinian refugee camps Sabra and Shatila, became an Israeli occupied territory, making the Israeli army responsible for everything happening there.
After the occupation, the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces)let the "Phalangists," members of an extreme Maronite Christian group, enter the two camps. These people had already committed heinous massacres in other Palestinian refugee camps. They were headed by a notorious mass-murderer, Eli Hweika.
All senior Israeli officials involved with Lebanon knew that the Phalangists were committing atrocities in order to panic the Palestinians into fleeing from Lebanon.
When the Israeli cabinet was informed of the army's intention of letting the Phalangists in, Minister David Levy, who was born in Morocco, warned that this would cause a disaster. His colleagues ignored his warning.
Immediately upon entering the camps, the Phalangists started to butcher men, women and children indiscriminately.
The commander of the action, Eli Hweika, oversaw the action from the roof of the Israeli divisional command post, which was located right next to the camps. The officers of the Israeli division commander, General Amos Yaron, overheard Hweika instructing his men by walkie-talkie to kill women and children, too. They hastened to inform Yaron, but he ignored the message. (Later he admitted: "Our senses had become blunted.")
During the night, while the massacre was going on (it lasted altogether three days), the Israeli Chief-of-Staff, General Raphael Eytan, ordered the army to accede to the Phalangists' request and light the area with flares. He also provided the Phalangists with a tractor (which served, it is assumed, to bury the bodies).
A young Israeli officer who heard the horrible stories of the shocked women who had succeeded in fleeing from the camps, ran from one officer to another, begging them to interfere. All of them refused.
After the massacre, the Begin government refused to order an independent investigation. In a huge demonstration in Tel-Aviv (the mythological 400-thousand-demo), we compelled the government to appoint a high-level state investigation committee, headed by Supreme Court judge Yitzhaq Kahan. It did a good job and its report included all the facts mentioned above. In its conclusions, it found that the Minister of Defense (Ariel Sharon), the Chief-of-Staff and a number of other senior officers bear "indirect responsibility" for the outrage. Some of us argued even then that the committee had bent backwards in order to protect the reputation of the state, and that from the same facts much more far-reaching conclusions could have been drawn.
The committee recommended, inter alia, to dismiss the Minister of Defense from his office and to remove Yaron from the active command of troops in the field. But the committee did not recommend to dismiss Sharon altogether from the government and from public life, neither did it dismiss Yaron from the army. It did not take any step against the Chief-of-Staff, because he was about to finish his term anyhow. Other officers suffered minor penalties.
Today, Ariel Sharon is Prime Minister, practically commanding the army and Amos Yaron is Director General of the Ministry of Defense. As a matter of fact, all those accused by the Kahan report have been promoted.
Most importantly, not one of those suspected of responsibility for the massacre was ever put on trial (as distinguished from a commission of inquiry).
After the enactment of the Belgian law of universal jurisdiction, the survivors of the massacre sued Sharon and the officers in Brussels. It's this case that has caused the present uproar.
Nobody questions the integrity of the Belgian judicial system. If Sharon and his men are confident of their innocence, why shouldn't they stand trial and prove it? After all, the Israeli government has put at their disposal its senior attorneys, paid by the state. (One could ask, of course, why I should pay for the legal defense of people put on trial for alleged war crimes. But never mind.)
All this has nothing to do with anti-Semitism. The use of this defamation against everybody who dares to criticize Sharon and his colleagues reminds one of Dr. Samuel Johnson's sayings: "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."
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