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The Sabra-Shatila Massacre - A Brief Overview

by Stanley Heller

Mid September is the anniversary of an horrific massacre. In 1982 many hundreds of Palestinian civilians were slaughtered in Beirut Lebanon in two refugee camps during Israel invasion of that year. Even today there's no agreement on many of the basic facts.

Wikipedia says that claims about the number killed range between "780 and 3,500". It's not even clear how long it lasted. In the camps themselves the killing went from September 16-18, but many hundreds were taken out of the camp and disappeared.

In June 1982 Israel invaded Lebanon and surrounded Beirut. It's goal was to drive the Palestinians out of Lebanon, to force out Syrian troops out and to put a Phalange leader as head of Lebanon. The Phalange was a political party/militia formed in the '30's by Pierre Gemayel after he participated in the Olympics in Germany in 1936. He was impressed by the Nazis.

By midsummer Israeli troops had occupied a large part of Lebanon and had surrounded Beirut. Phalange leader Bashir Gemayel was indeed elected Lebanese President in 1982 under their watchful eyes. In August there was a ceasefire. Ronald Regan's diplomat Philip Habib then made a bargain with Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat. Supposedly to prevent further destruction of Lebanon armed Palestinians would leave Beirut and the United States would guarantee the safety of the Palestinian civilians. 9,000 fighters left Beirut. However the international forces that were supposed to protect Palestinians left Beirut on September 11. Four days later Bashir Gemayel and 25 others were killed in a huge bomb blast. Then Israel's defense minister Ariel Sharon made up the absurd tale that 2,000 heavily armed fighters were still in the Palestinians camps. He arranged for the Phalange militia to enter to look for the supposed fighters. Evidently South Lebanon army forces, a puppet army directly controlled by Israel, were sent in also. The results were hideous. Few of the victims were shot. They were mostly killed by knives in all the ways madmen and sadists have done throughout the ages. Over 900 of the murdered have been identified by name. The war correspondent Robert Fisk of the UK, who was one of the first to enter the camps after the massacre, estimates 1,700 were killed. He also says that he saw hundreds of men in basement rooms being interrogated by Israelis who later were "the 1,100 who were disappeared" These men were "taken away, handed back to the Phalange and murdered"

The United Nations Security Council condemned the massacre. The U.N. General Assembly declared it an "act of genocide" (section D2).

The Begin/Sharon Israeli government in 1982 denied all responsibility saying they had no idea a massacre would occur.

After a huge rally of angry Israelis their government set up a commission to study what went on. The commission estimated 700 Palestinian and Lebanese had been killed, but decided no Israeli bore any criminal responsibility.

No Israeli spent a day in jail for any of the murders. Ariel Sharon lost his position as head of the Defense Ministry, but years later he became Prime Minister of Israel. The Israeli government didn't ask the Lebanese government to investigate or arrest any of the killers.

The man who directed Phalange militia attack on the camps was Elie Hobeika. In 2001 he agreed to testify to a Belgian court that was investigating the criminal responsibility of Ariel Sharon for the massacre. On January 24, 2002 Hobeika and three other people were killed by a car bomb explosion near Beirut.

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