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Thursday, September 15, 2005

Remembering the Sabra and Shatila massacre

The Washington Post in September 1982 described it as “something out of someone’s worst dreams. Buildings broken, bodies lying in the street, people in alley ways crumpled in great big piles.”

On Saturday morning, September 18 1982, the world discovered a massacre in the areas of Sabra and Shatila south west of Beirut. Hundreds of bodies of Palestinian and Lebanese men, women and children, mutilated, hacked, ridden with bullets, tied up and raped, and some burnt beyond recognition covered the narrow alleys of the Palestinian refugee camp in Shatila and the surrounding Lebanese neighborhoods.

The massacre capped a bloody Israeli invasion that, according to the Macbride international commission that investigated the invasion, killed 20,000 people, 80 per cent of whom were civilians. It also orphaned 6000 children and made 800,000 refugees.

The Macbride report concluded that Israel “committed acts of aggression contrary to international law, made use of weapons and warfare forbidden by international law, deliberately and indiscriminately bombarded civilian targets including hospitals and schools, systematically bombarded cities, towns, villages and refugee camps, and was involved in the planning and the preparation of the massacres at Sabra and Shatila and played a facilitative role in the actual killings.”

A recent book by Bayan al-Hout put the number of victims in the Sabra and Shatila massacre at 3500.

On September 16, the Israeli army led select members of the “Lebanese Forces,” the “Free Lebanon Army,” “the Tigers” and the “Guardians of the Cedars” - all Christian Maronite militias trained and armed by Israel- into Sabra and Shatila. The army lit the sky with flares and supervised the killings from a tall command post overlooking the scene.

This “noble” mission, as described by one of the killers in an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel, was to rid “Lebanon of its last remaining enemies. We were to search the camp and take all the able-bodied men prisoners.” Acting on orders from Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon and the Israeli Army Chief of Staff to “find and destroy terrorists,” they stabbed and shot their way into the modest refugee homes and shelters, accompanied by “Israeli friends”, as the killer described them, who were there to make their work “easier."

The issue of the Palestinian refugees in Beirut had been on the table during the meetings that brought together Bashir Gemayel and then defence minister Ariel Sharon. Between June 15 and September 12, Sharon and his chief of staff Raphael Eitan pressured the Lebanese Forces to implement “Operation Spark”, which involved the entry of the Lebanese forces into West Beirut and the refugee camps.

During a meeting in the house of the Lebanese army intelligence officer Johnny Abdo on the 23rd of July (while West Beirut was under siege), Bashir appeared unwilling to take care of the Palesinian “problem” himself, and asked the Israelis to shoulder the responsibility. He told the head of Military Intelligence (General Saguy) that the “general problem” of Palestinian refugees was too early to be discussed. However, he asked the IDF to occupy southwest Beirut and destroy the camps as that action “won’t cause great sorrow among local Muslims residing in the northwestern part of the city and some would even cooperate.”

After Bashir’s assassination on September 14, Sharon met with the distraught Lebanese forces commanders and pressured them to enter Beirut. He told them to “take control of the Lebanese army” before “proposals are made.” If they entered West Beirut behind the Israeli army, he told them, they could create facts on the ground that can withstand future American pressure:

Employ every legal avenue, [but] if you don’t succeed we will support you.

According to Israeli authors Schiff and Ya’ari, Sharon at this point “ordered” the Lebanese Forces commanders to “to enter the camps and destroy whatever was left of the PLO's infrastructure in West Beirut. He is quoted as saying "I don't want a single one of them left!" When Elie Hobeika, the head of the LF military intelligence, pressed for details on “how to single them out”, Sharon replied: “I am off to Bekfaya now. We’ll discuss that at a more restricted session.”

The Sabra and Shatila massacre was essentially a military operation planned by the Israeli army. The degree of direct Israeli involvement is staggering. All evidence indicates that it was a military operation facilitated by the Israeli army in every way possible: through the maps, the presence of a liaison officer at the forward command post, the flares that lit up the skies for the killers, and the presence of Israeli soldiers with the killers.

The killer who was interviewed by Der Spiegel in February 1983 said that he belonged to the Tigers, the militia that Bashir had pretty much eliminated while consolidating his power in East Beirut. He also said that many of his comrades had lost a brother in battles with the Palestinians. He mentiones “a dozen Israelis in green uniforms without indication of rank” who came along. “They had maps with them and spoke Arabic well, except that like all Jews, they pronounced the hard 'h' as 'kh.' “Our officers had told us that "the Israeli friends who will accompany you are also volunteers, they haven’t said anything to their army about their involvement with us…they will make your work easier."

Although the Kahan commission set up after the massacre denied the existence of Israeli soldiers among the killers, many survivors and witnesses have indicated that they heard or spotted Israeli soldiers. The choice of the killers who went into the camps was made in accordance with their background and their level of hatred towards Palestinians.

The Sabra and Shatila massacre generated a lot of negative publicity for Israel. Even though Begin had given the impression that he did not care for world opinion, he started to fear the effects of this massacre on American support for Israel, especially in light of Regan’s peace plans.

Sharon and Begin thus did not hesitate to entirely blame their Christian allies for it. Following massive public outcry, the Likud led government set up an inquiry commission to investigate “all the facts and factors connected with the atrocity carried out by a unit of Lebanese forces against the civilian population in the Shatila and Sabra camps.”

The Kahan report’s main focus was to show Israel’s “moral fortitude and its functioning as a democratic state that scrupulously maintains principles of the civilized world.” It never set out to interview survivors and never visited the site of the massacre. In another word, it was not an investigation. It was considered good enough that Israel conducted such an inquiry “on a subject not related to Israel’s responsibility.”

Nevertheless, the Kahan commission recommended the dismissal of the Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, Chief of Staff Raphael Eitan and Director of Military Intelligence Yehoshua Saguy for not foreseeing the killings (and not for their role in it), in the context of “no guilt can be assigned to Israelis.”

Good post, Kais.
Palestinians should never forget Sabra and Shatila.

Now back to Lebanon and Lebanese.

Do you think you might post some day about "Remembering the Black Saturday/Damour massacres".
Cause Lebanese should never forget Black Saturday/Damour massacres.
Allow me to doubt that you might do it one day.

Your "travail de mémoire" is dictated by the agendas of the leftist propagandists... who decided once and for all that only Sabra and Shatila massacres count. Why, i don't know; you don't care. Was it more telegenic?? Was it more awful than Damour or Black September??...

Your problems Kais:
Arabism: You hate Israel more than you love Lebanon
Sectarianism: You love Non Lebanese Arabs/Muslims more than you love Lebanese Christians (whether they have an arab or a nonarab narrative of their identity).

You have the absolute right for both Arabism and Sectarianism.
As to this self-righteousness you and your pseudo-secular arabist or self-proclamed leftist friends cultivate, less arrogance and some insight would be a good start.

PS: Thank you for being far more polite than i was yesterday in you answer to my comment.
PS2: Excuse me for the bad english
Marc Habibi--

You know me through the few pieces I have posted so far, and I do not think it is fair to accuse me of favoring Muslims and Arabs over Lebanese Christians. People write about what they know, and their beliefs are shapes by experience and knowledge. Having said that, I am certainly not an "Arabist", whatever that means, and my secularism runs deeper than you know. My pride tells me I shouldn't have to prove it to you, but hopefully you'll become aware of it through future posts.

I don't know if you've noticed, but I did not treat the massacre as a page from the Lebanese civil war. I focused on the Israeli involvement, which I believe was overlooked by many commentators inlcuding yourself who, it seems, would rather reduce it into a crime committed by Christians against Muslims. I believe it's much more than that. Though the carefully selected killers were Christians, I do not believe they represented Lebanese Christians. That's not what I said. I was expressing frustration over Israel increasing immunity through impunity. The world let them get away with it. They let them blame it on Lebanese Christians. That's not entirely accurate. This would be like blaming the Damour massacre on the weapons and not the people who committed it. The massacre was not a Lebanese affair (as Kahan and the Israeli PR machine would like you to believe) and needs to be seen in the context of Israel's war on Palestinians and Palestinian nationalism, as well as Israel's failed plan in Lebanon.
I am just going to comment on one of the lines marc had: You hate Israel more than you love Lebanon.

It should probably have been "You like palestinians more than you like Lebanon", which is a line quite a few people use when support for some aspect of palestinian life is discussed. The only thing that I could never understand is the underlying exclusivity implied by such a sentence. To support palestians, do we have to start out with a disclaimer that discusses our unending support for Lebanon?

On another more abstract note - how secular is secular? Don't most Lebanese have some taint of sectarianism imprinted on them?
If "loving Lebanon" means turning a blind eye to injustice committed in front of me and in the name of a country I am also a part of, then Lebanon in that shape and form is my number one enemy.

If sympathizing with the plight of a people whose fate and mine are interconnected is considered treason or an act of "Arabism" (what is meant here anti-Lebanonism) then I am the number one Arabist traitor.

FYI, the victims of Sabra and Shatila were Lebanese and Palestinian, not that it should matter what their "nationality" was.

We cannot build a new country on amnesia. These events are part of our history.

Hopefully one day our history books will include fewer nationalistic fabrications and more truth.

I do not want to defend posting about Sabra and Shatila anymore. I wish somebody had commented on the massacre itself. Shame.

I think you should should stick to your almighty Lebanese Christian militia sites, you know, ones that advocate the deaths of Palestinians--and stay off of this blog.

Seems funny that you want to point out all of "Kais' problems" considering that you know NOTHING about him and his feelings for Lebanon. And considering it's the anniversary of a horrible event, maybe THAT's why he posted this, not out of extreme hatred for Israel or uber-love of Palestinians...why can't people mark anniversaries, regardless of nationality? Let your tiny brain digest that for a second or two.

Since you expertly analyzed Kais and his being Lebanese in 5 minutes, let's make a few assumptions about you. (And you ARE a Lebanese Christian, correct?) If I wanted to assume anything about you, your problems would most likely be:

--You can't speak Arabic, or you think you do but it's horrible. Just stick to your French.
--Palestinians must die...all of them. And maybe give the Christian ones citizenship to beef up "your" population, but let the Muslims rot in refugee camps.
--You think you're European, not Arab.
--You believe that Christian militias were victims during the war; they never murdered a single innocent civilian--including other Christians.
--Bashir Gemayal is your all time hero.

Now, the only reason I am being a big bitch and generalizing, is because you were dumb enough to point out and ASSUME Kais' many problems and act like Sabra and Shatila victims had it coming. I don't actually believe all of these stereotypes apply to every Lebanese Christian, but when I am living in Lebanon (and NO am I not Lebanese, nor am I Arab), I've been finding that more and more have fallen into these stereotypes--judging from your post, you are probably one of them. Sad indeed. As a side note-- I love Lebanon more than any other country in the world--I hate when people like you spoil it.

One last thing that actually has to do with Sabra and Shatila,consider this:

Since you seem to be a bit uneducated (and let's not excuse your bad english since you are such an arrogant f**k), let me remind you that LEBANESE WERE ALSO SLAUGHTERED IN SABRA AND SHATILA. Maybe you chose to ignore that in your pointless, Kais-insulting post, because they were predominantly Lebanese Muslims.

Glad I could insult you. No go read about Sabra and Shatila again, and actually learn something.

Have a good day.

To support palestians, do we have to start out with a disclaimer that discusses our unending support for Lebanon?


Given recent Lebanese history, you need to be very specicic:

1) To what extent are "you" engaging Lebanon?

2) Who is "you", i.e. who and how is this decision made in Lebanon (currently mostly by Hezbo).
My dear gun slinger JW,

Support for the Palestinians in their struggle for liberation from occupation comes naturally for freedom loving Lebanese.

Lebanese understand occupation better than anyone. Just visit Nahr El-Kalb. We can also add the Crusaders, the Ottomans ,The French, The Israelis and of course those Syrians.

The Palestinian and Lebanese struggles were born at the same time in 1922 and their peoples have relations that transcends the League of Nations border.

What will you ultra Lebanese do when you cannot blame Lebanon's problems on foreign Muslim forces.

Kais you have an excellent site and I want to congratulate you for reminding us about Sabra & Shatila and what it represented.

Support for the Palestinians in their struggle for liberation from occupation comes naturally for freedom loving Lebanese.

My Dear Issam , you keep making assumptions and not answering questions.

First, I am not blaming anyone. I am just telling you I am sick and tired of Palestine, and I have other problems. You want to call me callous, that is your right, but you cannot force me to care.

Here is the issue now: You can support your buddies at $10/year or 100$/year, or by fighting there, or by blowing yourself up. It is YOUR choice as it is MINE.

That is what you don't understand. You think it's "support" versus "no support". No, it is how far will you go, on a scale of 0-100 , say. Individuals have to choose, then society ar large.

With Lebanon destroyed once over this issue (with NO gains for the Palis) my choice is what it is. (And again, I am not saying Lebs are not responsible.)

One of the main problems in Leb. then and now, is that one faction wants to tell others what the extent of their sacrifice should be.

And if you are a freedom-lover, leave me alone to make my own decisions, and accept them.

Since you write here, I assume wou are not willing to die for that cause. Fine, but how much of your OWN (time, family, resources etc..) are you willing to sacrifice (and are you really)?

Just answer my last question, no philosophy and no lectures please.
Jw , I have chosen and Lebanon has chosen to support the cause of the Palestinians. It is your right to choose not to support their cause for liberation. Just don't stand in the way of others in exercising their free choice.

Support takes many forms and it is the Palestinians who are responsible to carry on their struggle legitimately. Our reponsibility to to provide political support, not to stab them in the back and contract Israel's dirty work.

You are free to be an Israeli supporter in Lebanon .That is your minority right and Lebanon's problem.

We cannot ignore our neighbour to the south anymore than we can ignore what is taking place in Iraq. They all affect Lebanon's political imbalance and its political legitamacy.

Ok Issam,

I am not a supporter of Israel, so for the n-th time stop making stupid assumptions.

I have chosen and Lebanon has chosen
No Issam, you do NOT speak for the "people" and you do not speak for LEBANON, no one does. Except perhaps a PM or a Prez which would have to take the view of the majority or a consensus view.

Lebanon had not "chosen" pre 75, hence the war, and Leb today has not "chosen" as the Hezbo arms is a contentious issue.

As for you, fine then, you decide what you need to do, as long as it does not ENDANGER me individually or our nation. If we agree on that, we have made tremendous progress.

["Endangerment" was the result of the Cairo accord in 69 which was mainly responsible for the 75-76 war. And again the Lebanese BEAR responsibility).

I am glad you are not a fan of Israel. The most sraunchly pro Israeli President of Lebanon Amin Gemayal refused to ratify the treaty signed with Israel under occupation. Was he heeding Lebanon's consensus.

In 1968,Lebanon's airport was attacked before the Cairo accords and all 13 of MEA's aircraft were destroyed in an Israeli commando operation. A flagrant act of agression that earned a UN condemnation.

For 30 years, the Syrians threatened us with civil war if we did not accept their rule and freedom loving Lebanese were not dissuaded .

We still have some honour left to lend moral and political support to our neighbours under occupation, regardless of the threats from Israel.

I am sure you will also say that Israel's claim to the waters of the Wazani and the Litani ,which they have no riparian rights but have always claimed , are also endangering Lebanon and our poor gunslinger.


Thank God, you are only a minority

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Thank God, you are only a minority

Well, and unfortunately you are in the majority.

A majority in the Arab "intellectual" world which keeps missing the point (obvious from your reply). That's why no solution is in sight. Keep up the good work.
Akh ya JW. You are quick to jump to assumptions. My comment was directed at Marc's baseless assumptions on Kais.

And no, it we say that Palestinians deserve a fair and just treatment, we do not have to begin every such statement with a disclaimer. That is pointless, and a waste of time.

I am not going to get into your arguement with Issam - there is too much rhetoric going on in both sides.
What Tigers? Man there was no Tigers in 82. Remember Safra?

Besides it was a force composed of irregular hardcore fanatics under the orders of Hobeika. Even Bashir wanted to expel them because they couldn't be controlled but Hobeika protected them.

"Sharon at this point “ordered” the Lebanese Forces commanders "

Give me a break will ya? The LF allied with Israel and the correct word would be Sharon "asked". In fact if you read Menargue's book you'll see that the LF refused a lot of "orders" from the Israelis when they believed that it wasn't in their interests to do so.
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BTW this is an excellent paper on the massacres.


Re-read my post, you didn't say anything I didn't actually state regarding the status of the killers (select members).

As for the order, I didn't invent this. This is based on actual minutes of meetings between Sharon and those commanders, which Menargue has a copy of. And, re-read my post regarding "refusing" Sharon's orders. When Bashir was around they stalled. After his death and at least until the massacre, they were pretty much following Eitan and Drori orders. The point is, the IDF bore direct responsibility because they were in control of the area and had officers coordinating the operation. And unfortunatly, the Lebanese army was not far either.
Gross exageration and pathetic disinformation.

Sharon can say whatever he wants, the LF, despite all their errors and the atrocities that they commited, were no Israeli puppet. If you read Menargues well, you'll see that the LF were driving the Israelis crazy because they were not behaving as the Israelis wanted. In 84, the LF-Israeli relations were so bad that the Israelis retaliated and 'gave' the Shuf to Jumblat, I'll spare the details.

1984-85 was a very bad period for them because they chose to pause their alliance with Israel and found themselves with no external support. This is to say that they prefered to be excluded than instrumentalized. After 85 the LF survived through a new alliance with Baathi Iraq and Israel became irrelevant to them.

The LF worked with the Israelis when they thought it was their interest to do so, period. It's true that they abused the popuation too often (including Christians BTW), but this doesn't mean that you can depict them as puppet. They are no Israeli-haters but they are no Sharon's ass-kisser also. SLA were real puppet, I give you that, but so were Hezbollah, Amal and so many others.

The Israeli option was a very bad option indeed, but it unfortunately was the only one. Christian leaders were aware of the negative implications of their choice, but the only other option was immediate slaughtering by Palestinian forces.

Our Arab 'brothers' forced the Christian community to 'chose' between immediate occupation and obliteration of our country and an Israeli alliance. If there was another viable option, you can be sure that the Christian leaders would have gone for it. So please, don't patronize us.
Vox- You are responding to allegations that I did not make. I really don't understand what your problem is. My post, again, focused on Israeli responsibilty for the massacre and you insist on arguing that the LF were no puppets just because I quoted sources saying some of their commanders were "ordered" by the Israeli military. These military orders are well documented and even Alain Menargues, whom I met with, can tell you that certain units were awaiting Israeli army orders to deploy. This does not mean Bashir and his fellows were carrying out purely Israeli objectives. I know the history of that alliance and I know how Bashir both manipulated Israelis and Americans and refused to be an Israeli puppet towards the end (the famous Begin meeting). Are you trying to say that S&S was entirely planned by the LF command and that they bear complete responsibility? If so, I disagree with that conclusion.
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Sorry Kais, the tone of the comment was more agressive than I intented, you post something and you notice it later. I still like your blog in general. It's more or less balanced.
I'm sorry but you shouldn't delete posts that simply have a different opinion than yours. Or I should say opinions that were shaped through a different experience than yours. I enjoy reading everyone's posts regardless of how much I may disagree. How else can we get rid of our racism if we don't recognize it and start listening?
hello. it is awesome to read that at this time, people reasoning with archaic references,like in the past.

we should listen our neigbor, respect him and UNDERTAKE ONLY IN A WAY OF HUMAN RESPECT.

"Just don't stand in the way of others in exercising their free choice." !!! how can you say a such thing??! it is cause of man like you that WAR exist.
a free choice can be exercising ONLY if it respect the voice of the people. if a child is on your way,are you going to crush him because your free choice is to go straight and do not stop? every people is like the child, respect him and his will.if he don't want to move, PLEASE,bypassed him.you have learned a great thing : the love, the listening of you is the love and the listening of your next.and you have tu love and listening you.

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