Saturday, September 15, 2007

Sabra and Shatila 25 years ago

Hundreds of unarmed Palestinian and Lebanese civilians were slaughtered by Lebanese Christian Militiamen in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila under the watchful eyes of the Israeli Defence Forces . the context is important but the facts remain that this was a cold-blooded massacre. As far as the details are concerned much has been left to speculation and clouded in a shroud of mistery and shame. 25 years later very few are interested in finding out the truth and asking the tough questions.

In remembrance of the victims we publish this article from

Israel Wants to Forget Sabra-Shatilla Massacres

Twenty five years after Christian militiamen massacred Palestinian refugees in Beirut's refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, Israel seems to have forgotten its involvement in the slaughter. "Everything happened as if we in Israel wanted to wipe the massacre from collective memory and think as little as possible about the army or government's responsibility," said Middle East specialist Abraham Sela. "It is striking that the defense minister at the time, who was held directly responsible by a state commission, went on to become prime minister in 2001 and benefit from a resurgence of popularity," he said.In February 1983, Ariel Sharon was forced to resign after the commission of inquiry headed by then Supreme Court Chairman Yitzhak Kahan, blamed him for failing to stop the massacre of hundreds of Palestinian men, women and children at the hands of his Lebanese allies. The Kahan commission found Sharon "indirectly" and "personally" responsible for the killings and reproached him for not appreciating the risks of revenge after Lebanese president elect Bashir Gemayel was killed. Gemayel, who was Israel's most important ally in Lebanon and a leader of the Lebanese Forces militia which went on to spearhead the massacres, was killed on September 14, 1982 in a bombing that left his supporters braying for revenge. Less than 24 hours later, the Israeli army took control of the Muslim sector of Beirut and gave the green light for Gemayel's enraged militia supporters to comb the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps for Palestinian militants. Why did Sharon not see the risk? Why did Israeli soldiers not intervene to stop the massacres? How exactly were Israeli officials involved? A quarter of a century later, the answers are still unclear. In Israel, the questions are rarely asked and no answers are likely to be forthcoming. Sharon has been in a coma for nearly two years. Elie Hobeika, the former intelligence chief for the Lebanese Forces whom Israel held responsible, was assassinated in 2002. Sharon always maintained he could not be blamed for Arab Christians killing Arab Muslims, charging that he was the victim of a defamation campaign. The argument didn't wash with the Kahan commission but historian Tom Segev believes he "certainly had an impact on Israeli opinion". "The fact that Sabra and Shatila are far from Israeli minds today is not to say that at the time, the killings were not deeply traumatic as demonstrated by a monster demonstration in Tel Aviv," Segev said. "But since then, the second intifada broke out in 2000 followed by a wave of attacks. These developments brought Sharon to power as the only strong man capable of stopping terrorism and his role in the Lebanon war was forgotten." Israel sealed off the camps for three days, while Lebanese militias, notably the Lebanese Forces, went on a killing spree, targeting helpless civilians.Between 800 and 2,000 Palestinians, and 100 Lebanese, died as Israeli troops watched the militiamen carry out mass murder in Sabra and Shatila. A group of survivors tried to launch a lawsuit in Belgium against Sharon and an Israeli army general over the massacre, but in September 2003 a Belgian court threw out the case. The survivors continue to blame the Israeli army, Sharon and Christian Lebanese militia commanders, including the late Hobeika. But historians agree on one point: behind the massacre was a desire among the Lebanese Forces to end any Palestinian armed presence in Lebanon -- the same vision behind Israel's assault on Beirut in 1982. "I don't believe (Israel) decided the Christian militia would commit a massacre or that there was an explicit green light but these things don't need to be said," Sela noted.(AFP)

Beirut, 14 Sep 07, 15:42

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