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Re: Hamas and all that
by Louis Proyect
08 April 2002 19:28 UTC
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Newsweek, October 4, 1982, UNITED STATES EDITION 

The Making of a Masssacre 


What did the Israelis know and when did they know it? All last week those
questions hung over the aftermath of the gruesome massacre at Sabra and
Shatila. Again and again, the Israelis backpedaled from their initial
explanations as the evidence of Israel's failure to prevent or put an early
end to the tragedy mounted. The unsettling fact was that throughout the 40
hours of carnage, Israeli soldiers equipped with high-powered binoculars
had perched on top of a seven-story building 250 paces from the Sabra
shantytown. On the worst night of the massacre, they had lit the theater of
death with their own flares. And before the killing was over, they had
stood by as the murderers dug a 50-square-yard mass grave and dumped
Palestinian bodies into it -- all within the direct line of sight of the
Israeli observation post. Not all the accounts available last week added
up, but they did point to a number of distressing conclusions. The Israelis
had deliberately sent hundreds of Christian militiamen into the camps,
licensing them to round up Palestinian guerrillas and arms believed hidden
among the refugees. The Israelis had instructed their proxies to spare
civilians, but they can hardly have been blind to the dangers to the
innocent in light of the longstanding blood feuds between Lebanon's
Christians and Muslims. The Israelis brushed off early reports of the
carnage; when they finally ordered the murderous operation stopped, they
allowed the Christians to take a leisurely 12 hours before withdrawing from
the camps. Tragically, the killers had used that hiatus to finish off their
brutal slaughter of perhaps 1,000 Palestinian men, women and children. 

As cleanup crews labored to bury at least some of the dead with dignity,
the details of the horror in Sabra and Shatila were beginning to emerge: 

Wednesday, Sept. 15.: At 2 a.m., Israeli troops who charged into West
Beirut after the assassination of Lebanese Presidentelect Bashir Gemayel
moved quickly to isolate the two refugee camps in the southern suburbs of
West Beirut. By nightfall they had secured the western, southern and
eastern approaches to the camps. In Jerusalem, Israeli Defense Minister
Ariel Sharon learned early in the day that the Israeli advance had
encountered resistance from left-wing militia and possibly some remaining
Palestinian guerrillas. He later said that he took an "immediate decision"
to send either Christian or Lebanese troops into the camps to ferret out
the guerrillas and their arms. 

Thursday, Sept. 16.: According to Sharon, Israeli Chief of Staff Lt. Gen.
Rafael Eitan and Maj. Gen. Amir Drori, the commander in chief of the
Israeli northern forces, made unsuccessful attempts to persuade the
Lebanese Army to go into the Palestinian camps. On Thursday the Israelis
gave up on the Lebanese option. On Thursday afternoon Drori met with the
Phalangists' local division commander and arranged for the Christian gunmen
to do the job. Sharon the Christians were going into the camps; no vote was
taken. Later, Sharon and Israeli Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir insisted
that the Israelis gave the Phalangists repeated directions to spare the
innocent. "It was emphasized in coordinating meetings," Shamir said, "that
the action was against terrorists and that the civilian population should
not be harmed, especially women, children and old people." 

That afternoon Phalangist military transports began rumbling from East
Beirut toward Beirut International Airport at the southern end of West
Beirut. At roughly the same time, trucks and jeeps emblazoned with the
insignia of Maj. Saad Haddad, Israel's handpicked warlord in southern
Lebanon, drove north toward the airport along an Israeli-controlled road.
The Christians made their way with the help of signposts carrying the
Phalangist symbol -- a triangle inside a circle -- which stood at 50-yard
intervals all the way to the airport's western runway. After the Christian
forces had rendezvoused, they moved north to a crossroad dominated by the
Kuwaiti Embassy at the southwest corner of the Sabra and Shatilacamps. 

By this time the Israelis had redeployed most of their troops to the west
of Shatila. There, they lined up more than a dozen tanks and armored
personnel carriers along Camille Chamoun Avenue. They also set up a command
post in a bombed-out, sevenstory United Nations building opposite the
Kuwaiti Embassy and stationed soldiers with binoculars on the roof. A few
yards away Lebanese soldiers manned their own observation post near another
multistory building overlooking the camps. Around 5 p.m. as many as 600
Christian fighters pushed past the Israelis and massed at the southern
entrance to the camps. The militiamen entered the camps along a wide road
that slices north between the dense welter of one-story buildings, tin
hovels, mosques and narrow, winding alleys that make up Shatila and Sabra. 

Thursday night: As darkness fell, Israeli paratroopers outside the camps
began to fire flares from 81 mm mortars, lighting the skies for the
Phalangists as they combed the camps. Israeli planes flew overhead,
dropping more flares. At 7 p.m. the crackle and thud of small arms,
grenades and mortar fire began to reach the European doctors at Gaza
Hospital, which sits between Shatila and Sabra. Shortly afterward, a first
wave of people flowed into the hospital in search of refuge from the
militiamen. One Israeli soldier told the Tel Aviv-based daily Haaretz that
several "hysterical Palestinian women" ran out of the camps screaming that
the Christians were gunning down their children and loading men onto
trucks. "I told my officers, but they just said, 'It's OK'," the soldier

Standing before the Knesset, Sharon would later maintain that Israeli
officials had no more than "suspicions" about a massacre as late as Friday
morning. But according to a Jerusalem Post report, the Phalangists told
Israeli officers Thursday night that a bloody operation was under way.
Between 1 1:30 and midnight, the Post contends, Israel's divisional command
in West Beirut wired the alarming message to Israeli defense headquarters
in Jerusalem. "Three hundred terrorists and civilians have been killed so
far," the wire read. The Post said that the note circulated to as many as
20 top Israeli military officials. Other reports, however, suggest that an
unexplainded foul-up kept the message from going any further than Israeli
intelligence headquarters in Tel Aviv. 

Government reports in Jerusalem also asserted last week that the Israeli
command post at the Kuwaiti Embassy crossroad stood as far as a mile away
from the camps. But NEWSWEEK's Ray Wilkinson last week personally measured
the distance from the command post to the camps at 250 paces. He also
examined the line of sight from the roof of the building. "From there all
details of the camps are plainly visible, even to the naked eye," he
reported. ."With binoculars the Israelis could have been able to see even
the smallest detail." During the massacre, Israelis were also present at
the Lebanese Army outpost, which provided a view straight down into the

Israeli troops must have witnessed signs of the murderous Phalangist
rampage as early as Thursday night. When Western journalists entered the
camps two days later, they observed scores of Palestinians in grotesque
attitudes of death. The Christians bound the hands and feet of some
refugees before they shot them. They gunned down others while the victims
watched television or ate dinner. They chained a group of men to the back
of a pickup truck and dragged them into a garage. Inside the same garage
they left a pile of corpses, one with its genitals ripped away. Elsewhere,
"the militia were standing over Palestinian prisoners with knives and
asking questions," recalled a 15-year-old Palestinian boy who escaped the
massacre. "Whenever they didn't answer they were cut about the neck and
face with knives." 

Friday morning, Sept. 17.: By dawn Gaza Hospital had admitted 82 people
suffering from shrapnel and bullet wounds. Other Palestinians sought refuge
at the Akka Hospital near the southern gate of the camps. Patients at both
centers told harrowing tales of summary executions -- of men being lined up
against walls and shot. "About 10 young boys had AK-47 rifles," recalled
one European nurse at Gaza. "They said the murderers were coming in and
they had to defend themselves. They sat on the steps of the hospital, some
with their heads in their hands, saying, 'We're going to be killed
tonight'." Milad Farouk, an 11-year-old Palestinian, was brought to Gaza
with bullet wounds in one arm and one leg and a bloody stump where one
finger had been shot off. "I watched my mother, father and three brothers
being killed in front of me," he told doctors. 

Some of the refugees fled toward Akka Hospital with Christian fighters in
hot pursuit. When a band of militiamen entered Akka early Friday, they shot
two Palestinian doctors and a civilian, and took three wounded men away.
Later, a militiaman raped Intisar Ismail, a 19-year-old Palestinian nurse,
then killed her. When a team of tour Palestinian doctors and nurses tried
to leave Akka under a white flag, Christian fighters blew them up with a
grenade. The International Red Cross evacuated the rest of the hospital
staff shortly afterward. Soon after sunrise on Friday, 200 more Christians
arrived from the Beirut airport with jeeps and bulldozers, including one
with Israeli markings. The men swept past the Israeli outposts into the

At 8 a.m. Friday Wilkinson visited the area. A man wearing a Phalangist
uniform stopped him 100 yards inside Sabra. While the fighter barked
questions, another militiaman rushed up and announced: "I have found an old
man." "Shoot him," came the reply. When the Christians came out of the
camps to rest, the Israelis furnished them with food and water. According
to a report by Ron Ben-Yishai, a well-known Israeli television
correspondent, several Israeli officers and men witnessed executions and
saw bodies lying in the camps on Friday morning. 

Reports of the blood bath also reached Zeev Schiff, the respected defense
correspondent for Haaretz, early Friday. Schiff immediately alerted
Mordechai Zippori, Begin's communications minister. -Zippori passed word to
Shamir, who received the message about 11:20 a.m. and asked his aides to
request a briefing from the Israeli military. At that point the trail grows
murky. "Schiff reported several different things, and most of them did not
check out," one Israeli government source complained. In any event,
Schiff's report may or may not have come up when Shamir met at noon with
Sharon and U.S. special envoy Morris Draper or when Shamir met later with
Sharon and Israeli intelligence chief Yehoshua Saguy. 

Friday afternoon : Once the massacre story had broken, Begin's cabinet
issued a statement and paid to have it printed as a full-page advertisement
in The New York Times. The statement asserted that "as soon as the [Israeli
Army] learned of the tragic events, Israeli soldiers put an end to the
slaughter andforced the Lebanese unit to evacuate the camp." In fact, it
was not until after Friday morning that the Israeli divisional commander
outside the camps made a first, tentative effort to intervene in the
massacre. He met with Drori and "raised suspicions regarding the Phalange
mode of operation," Sharon said laterSharon said Drori contacted the
Phalangist liaison officer and "ordered the cessation of the Phalangist
operation immediately." 

Soon afterward Israeli troops denied entry to the camps to another unit of
Phalaagists that arrived from the airport with tanks and medical supplies.
There were unconfirmed reports that the Israelis also fired on militiamen
to stop some ofthe outrages. But when Eitan and Drori met with top-level
Phalangist officials at 4:30 Friday afternoon, they agreed that the
Christians could stay inside the camps until Saturday morning. The Israelis
have yet to explain why they allowed the Christians the additional 12 hours
inside the camps, but presumably they thought it would be safer to send
Israeli soldiers into the cross fire in the morning rather than at dusk. 

Friday night and Saturday, Sept. 18.: Throughout those last 12 hours the
killing went on. Witnesses said that on Friday afternoon they saw
bulldozers rumble out of Sabra, their scoops filled with bodies. At some
point the bulldozers dug out a mass grave outside the west wall of Sabra,
about 200 paces from the Israeli command post. When Wilkinson found the
grave later, limbs of at least three bodies were sticking out. By Friday
night the director at the Gaza Hospital urged staff, patients and refugees
alike to flee. 

Not everyone did, and at 6 a.m. Saturday Christian fighters barged in on a
group of doctors huddled in a staff meeting. The militiamen herded together
Palestinian and Lebanese doctors as well as 20 foreign staffers --
including Americans Ellen Siegel and Michael Knipmeyer -- and forcemarched
them toward the camps. The militiamen angrily accused two Norwegian
surgeons of belonging to West Germany's Baader-Meinhoff terrorist gang. At
this point the Israelis had certainly begun to intervene to curb the
Christians' ruthlessness. One Israeli officer stopped a militiaman from
taking away a pretty European nurse. Others told Dr. David Gray, a British
anesthetist, to go back to the Gaza Hospital and reassure his patients. "I
got the impression that the officers I saw were genuinely appalled and were
trying to stop the killings," Gray said. 

At the camp entrance the foreign medical team spotted about 100 gun-toting
militiamen whom they identified as members of Major Haddad's Army. Although
Haddad admitted he was in Beirut that day, he denied that his men took part
in the massacre. Further evidence to the contrary came when a Shiite Muslim
girl at the Akka Hospital successfully pleaded for her life with a
militiaman she recognized as a fellow Shiite from her village in southern
Lebanon. (Although led by Christians, about two-thirds of Haddad's men are
Shiite Muslims from the south.) A Lebanese soldier said that the killers
also included Christian fighters from the city of Damur, 20 miles south of
Beirut. After Christian militiamen slaughtered an estimated 3,000
Palestinians at the Tel Zaatar refugee camps in 1 976, Palestinian gunners
retaliated against Christians in Damur. Afterward young Christians who fled
the town formed their own army-within-an-army in East Beirut. Ever since,
the Damur Brigade has gained a reputation as the best-trained and most
virulently anti-Palestinian of all the Phalangist forces. 

Finally, at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, an Israeli platoon moved into the camps.
Dazed residents applauded; but by that time the massacre had petered out,
largely because there were hardly any refugees left in the camps to kill.
When Wilkinson went to check out reports of the tragedy, he chatted with a
Lebanese soldier on the observation tower next to the Israeli command post.
"The killings happened in front of our eyes," the soldier admitted. "We
couldn't do anything." Later Wilkinson asked General Eitan why the
Phalangists had been allowed to wreak their horrible vengeance while
Israelis turned a blind eye. "We don't give the Phalangists orders and we
are not responsible for them," the general replied dryly. One Israeli
sergeant implicitly admitted that he had known about the slaughter but had
refrained from intervening for fear of endangering his own men. "If you
were in charge, would you have sacrificed your men to go into the camp and
stop the Phalangists?" he asked. 

Would you have paid the price?" 

Louis Proyect
Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org

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