The Sabra and Shatila massacres will always be remembered as the greatest butchery of civilian life in the history of Lebanon, and the second would probably be Tel el Zaatar. Unlike Tel el Zaatar though, Sabra & Shatila camps lacked any militants, and the camps were similar to what the US diplomat Morris Draper compared the entrance of Elie Hobeika’s elite squad (faction of the Lebanese Forces) to the camp as bunch of Ku Klux Klan militants, with most advanced weapons, unleashed on African – Americans surrounded by troops forbidding them to escape the camps. I recommend in order to understand better the overall story to read these two articles (Regarding Bashir Gemayel's Elections - The Other Story, Investigating Bashir Gemayel (Part I): Bashir and the Israelis
Ever since Cairo 1969, the Palestinian Refugee Camps were transformed in general as military base-points for the PLO, under the hand of Yasser Arafat. With the war breaking out, Palestinian Camps outside the West Beirut became pocket enclaves for the PLO against their opponents and their allies the Lebanese National Movement.
With the brutal Israeli siege of West Beirut butchering the Lebanese civilians, Phil. Habib succeeded to broker a deal, against all odds and Sharon’s obstacles, between the United States and the PLO: which was to evacuate them outside Lebanon, and the militants to be distributed in Jordan, Syria, and Tunisia (all three countries accepted with severe hesitance because no country in the right mind would welcome the heavily armed PLO). The only country that fully volunteered to accept the whole PLO faction was Iraq, but the PLO were quick to decline Saddam’s offer because they didn’t want to be in the Iraqi fronts fighting Iran. In return, Bashir Gemayel gave his word of honor that the families of the PLO and the civilians shall not be touched. Sharon also was not supposed to enter West Beirut because it will backfire on the US Foreign Policy and the US administration’s ties with the Arab nations, specially Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan.
The Multi-Nationals who oversaw the evacuation of the PLO militants were supposed to remain for a month after the PLO were evacuated from West Beirut. The purpose of the evacuation was to block the Israelis any alibi to remain in Lebanon, which primarily was the eradication of the PLO through their own forces and the Lebanese Forces. The Multi-Nationals, composed from the US (taking the primary role of the evacuation) Marines, the French (being second politically), and the Italians. Other than the fact several encounters between the US marines and Israeli Defense Forces took place during the evacuation, the PLO were evacuated up to suspected capacity of 95%. Philip Habib returned to his retirement, after Sarkis presented him with the highest medal of honor existent in the Lebanese Government (whatever was functional of it then), and everything went from bad to worse.
Bashir Gemayel was expected to last six years and bring order to Lebanon, according to US calculations; however, what the US didn’t calculate that the “other Lebanon” would do the impossible to assassinate him, since in their eyes he invited the Israelis over for his private usage. When Bashir Gemayel was assassinated, all hell broke loose. The Multi-Nationals already withdrew hastily (first by the decision of the new Secretary of State Schultz, and hence triggered a domino effect with the Italians and French to withdraw hastily). By the end of the month after the massacre, Reagan announced the return of the Multi-National Forces back to Lebanon. Morris Draper became the head of the US Presidential Diplomatic Convoy to Lebanon.
With Bashir Gemayel dead, the Israelis entered West Beirut under the allegation of protecting the Muslims of West Beirut (strangely they fired at the residents of West Beirut Smart Bombs and prohibited weaponry, not to forget the 16 hour marathon of bombing) whereby only Lebanese civilians were slaughtered.
You will notice, my fellow readers, that again I will quote my favorite two books, Boykin’s “Cursed is the Peacemaker”, and Traboulsi’s “A History of Modern Lebanon”, for one reason only, these two bothered heavily to reconstruct history as it happened with references that are rarely mentioned elsewhere.
Draper was informed by Begin that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) will move to checkpoints on West Beirut “with the object of keeping things quiet and insuring that there were no incidents to mar the peace.”
On the US Versus Israeli Level
And I start my quoting:
“Three hours later, Draper arrived in Beirut for Bashir’s funeral and saw that ‘the city was in flames.’ Despite Begin’s assurances that the IDF was taking ‘strictly limited precautionary measures,’ Draper saw the IDF going at it hot and heavy with tank and artillery fire. The funeral could wait. He ordered his car turned around and headed off to the IDF headquarters outside Beirut “where I essentially could get only incomplete information and pap to the effect that ‘everything was fine’. Draper felt he’ been had. “Begin told me as a representative of the United States government that the Isrealis were not going to move into the heart of Beirut..” He told a straight out, 100 percent, baldfaced lie to the United States government, his great friend. I mean, a solemn undertaking by the prime minister of a friendly state? Unheard of!.”
“In a nasty meeting the next day, Thursday, September 16, raper and Sam Lewis confronted Sharon about his violation of the Habib agreement and the damage it had done to Habib’s, America’s, and Israel’s credibility. Sharon’s icey reply: “Circumstances changed, sir.’”
“It was all the PLO’s fault, Sharon argued. They had violated the agreement. They had left behind vast stores of weapons and 2,500 terrorists to use them. Those terrorists, Sharon said, were hiding in the Palestinian refugee camps of West Beirut, including Sabra and Shatila. Sharon now had the camps surrounded.” (Cursed is the Peace Maker, Roy Boykin, Applegate Press – 2002 – P. 267 – 268).
The US diplomats knew that Sharon was exaggerating the numbers left behind.
Hence, “Draper kept asking the Israelis for the source of their belief in thousands of stay-behind terrorists, but he never got a good answer. ‘At most there were a handful of guerrillas; left behind, he says. “There were a few armed men in the camps… BUT THEY WERE ALL MEN OF SIXTY OR SEVENTY YEARS OLD. THEY MAY HAVE HAD OLD SHOTGUNS, BUT THEY WERE OT A THREAT. Essentially, THE CAMPS WERE DISARMED.” (Ibid, P. 269)
With Bashir Gemayel dead, the US diplomats lost a major actor on the Lebanese arena, and there was no one to control that powerful militant party Phalange/Lebanese Forces. The US would say the following: “
The nearest American equivalent to sending the Phalange into the camps would be sending heavily armed Ku Klux Kansmen into an African-American neighborhood with a license to kill. Chosen to lead the operation was the head of Phalange Intelligence, Elie Hobeika. Dillion knew him from his services as Bashir’s personal bodyguard and describes him as a “Pathological killer….”
Most of his squad belonged to an intelligence unit that the Israelis considered specially trained in “discovering terrorists.” HIS SQUAD APPARENTLY HAD LITTLE TRAINING IN DISCOVERING ANYONE OTHER THAN TERRORISTS, GIVEN THEIR VIEW THAT ‘PREGNANT WOMEN WILL GIVE BIRTH TO TERRORISTS; THE CHILDREN WHEN THEY GROW UP WILL BE TERRORISTS,” and both were thus fair game. THE PHALANGISTS’ REPUTATION PROMPTED THE IDF TO REPEATEDLY INSTRUCT THEM TO KILL ONLY TERRORISTS, NOT CIVILIANS. SINCE BOTH CONSIDERED TERRORIST AND PALESTINIAN ORE OR LESS SYNONYMOUS, THIS WAS SORT OF LIKE GIVING THE KLAN A LICENSE TO KILL ONLY AFRICAN – AMERICANS THEY CONSIDERED TROUBLEMAKERS.” (Ibid, P. 269)
Begin insisted to the US diplomats that he was entering West Beirut afterwards to protect the Muslims of West Beirut from Phalange aggression, which the US diplomats compared his justification of a coyote entering in to protect the chicken. IDF General Eitan told Morris Draper: “The Phalange… are obsessed with the idea of revenge…. I’m telling you that some of their commanders visited me, and I could see in their eyes that it’s going to be a relentless slaughter.” (Ibid, P.270) That was on September 16, and as Eitan was speaking, the massacres began in Sabra – Shatila. The IDF knew the Phalange will out of revenge for the assassination of their leader Bashir Gemayel will seek revenge blindly, but they had to make sure they are directed towards the Palestinian civilians rather the Muslims.
The Sabra-Shatila massacres lasted days. The Israeli intelligence informed Sharon that there were no terrorists four hours after this massacre of 3000 civilians began.
“But what Sharon apparently did not anticipate was that his intelligence reports were wrong: The Phalangists found rather few people in the camps who fit any but the most all-inclusive definition of terrorist. INDEED, THE IDF INTELLIGENCE OFFICER ON THE SPOT MONITORING EVENTS REPORTED WITHIN HOURS OF THE PHALANGISTS’ ENTRY, “THERE ARE EVIDENTLY NO TERRORISTS IN THE CAMP.” So the Phalangists slaughtered pretty much whoever they did find: defenseless women, children, old men, even cats, dogs, and horses. Whereas actual PLO fighters had fought rabidly earlier in the invasion, the Phalangists encountered hardly any resistance in the camps.
From the Earliest Hours, the IDF ha clear indications that the Phalangists were killing civilians, lots of civilians. To stanch that hemorrhaging, they again approached the Lebanese Army Forces (not to be mistake with Lebanese Forces) go into the camps,” Sharon said to Draper on Friday, apparently neglecting to mention that the Phalange was already in the camps. ‘They can kill the terrorists. But if they don’t, we will.” The LAF again refused, saying they could not cross the IDF ring around the camps to do anything without looking like a tool of the IDF.
By Friday evening, Genral Drori, the Israeli commander in Lebanon, had heard enough and halted the operation – sort of. HE ORDERED THE PHALANGISTS OUT, BUT GAVE THEM ABOUT 12 HOURS TO GET AROUND TO LEAVING. NO ONE KNOWS HOW MANY PALESTINIANS HAD BEEN SLAUGHTERED BY THE TIME THE LAST PHALANGISTS STRAGGLED OUT AFTER 38 HOURS IN THE CAMPS.” (Ibid, P.270)
From the very words of the US ambassador Dillon: “The Israelis, who had promised to stay out of Beirut, immediately invaded to ‘restore order’. That was just a pretext; there was no disorder.” He adds that restoring order doesn’t mean killing civilians. Morris Draper’s exact words to Sharon on Saturday morning: “You must stop the acts of slaughter. They are horrifying. I have a representative in the camp counting the bodies. You should be ahamed. The situation is absolutely appalling. They’re killing children! You have the field completely under your control and are therefore responsible for that area.” (Ibid, 271)
The Israelis openly sponsored Elie Hobeika’s elite squad. “The IDF quite openly sponsored their business, keeping the camps surrounded and the Palestinians trapped inside, allowing in Phalange reinforcements, hosting Hobeika in their forward command post near the camps while he stayed in radio contact with his men inside, and providing maps and aerial photos of the camps, a bulldozer, and illumination flares through the night.” (Ibid, P.270)
Phases/Summary of the Sabra-Shatila Massacre:
Fawaz Traboulsi, using latest references, divides the massacre into three phases.
“The next morning, Israeli troops entered West Beirut, which had resisted them for over three months, ostensibly ‘in order to prevent a bloodbath’; in fact, they initiated one. On Wednesday the 15th and for a whole of Thursday the 16th and early Friday the 17th, hundreds of special security units of the Lebanese Forces, seconded by regular troops stationed at the airport, were mainly responsible for committing the massacre of more than a thousand Palestinians (and no less than a hundred Lebanese) in the twin camps of Sabra and Shatila, not to speak of hundreds who disappeared. They were let in by the Israeli troops who were encircling the camps and helped by the hundreds of flares launched by these same troops. Ariel Sharon had visited Bikfaya the day beore and informed the mourning Jumayils that Bashir ha been killed by Palestinians. George Schultz , then US Scretary of State, later recalled that on Friday 17 September 1982, Ariel Sharon informed Maurice Draper that he had asked the Lebanese army to enter the camp and ‘clean them out’. He added: ‘They can kill the terrorists. But if they don’t we will.’ The Lebanese army failed to do so. [MFL notes: Phase 1]: On Wednesday 15th, units of the elite Israeli army ‘reconnaissance’ force, the Sayeret Mat’kal, which had already carried out the assassination of the three PLO leaders in Beirut (the one Ehud Barak led in Verdun in the early 1970s), entered the camps with a mission to liquidate a selecte number of Palestinian cadres. [MFL notes: Phase 2 & 3] The next day, two units of killers were introduced into the camps, troops from Sa’d Haddad’s Army of South Lebanon, attached to the Israeli forces in Beirut, and the LF security units of Elie Hobeika known as the Apaches, led by Marun Mash’alani, Michel Zuwayn, and Georges Melko.” [Fawaz Traboulsi, A History of Modern Lebanon, Pluto Press – 2007, P. 218]
He adds: “Ariel Sharon was found ‘indirectly responsible’ for the massacre by the Israeli Kahan commission of inquiry and had to resign his post as minister of defense. The US administration’s responsibility was considerable. The American peace-keeping force that oversaw the evacuation of the PLO was also assigned the task of guaranteeing the safety of ‘law-abiding Palestinian non-combatants in Beirut, including the families of those who have departed’. However, the US administration withdrew the Marines detachment two weeks before the end of its 30 days mandate, forcing the French and the Italian forces to follow suit. George Schultz later confessed to the fact that the Marines of the MNF had been ‘hurriedly withdrawn.
On 20 September, President Reagan recalled the MNF back to Beirut. [Ibid, P.219]
Couple of years ago, Elie Hobeika was assassinated in a bomb explosion, one week before he was traveling to Belgium to testify against Ariel Sharon in the International Court Tribunal. His assassins are unknown,it can be the Israelis, it can be one of his previous allies, Palestinians, or anybody as a matter of fact.
May the innocent killed find peace, and the living find peace with themselves…