Sabra and Shatila remembered

September 16, 2012 at 9:21 am (communalism, crime, hell, history, Human rights, israel, Jim D, Middle East, palestine, terror)

Today is the thirtieth anniversary of the massacres (designated as genocide by the UN General Assembly), at Sabra and Shatila. These were two mainly Palestinian refugee camps on the outskirts of West Beirut, set up in the aftermath olf the 1967 war, and at the time under the control of Israel following their penetration into Lebanese territory, the evacuation of PLO forces and the declaration of a supposed “ceasefire.”

Although Israeli forces did not carry out the massacres, they resulted from an alliance between Israel and the Lebanese Phalangists – a Christian semi-fascist party and militia. Israel supplied the Phalangists with money and arms. Israel’s aim was to drive the Palestinians out of Beirut by means of terror directed against civilians – women, children and the aged.

The decision to move into West Beirut was taken by Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Defence Minister Ariel Sharon, in violation of of the “ceasefire” and, indeed, of promises made to the US after the PLO evacuation.

Sharon and Israel’s Chief of Staff, Rafael Eitan decided that Phalangist forces should storm the two camps and assigned the operation to to Eli Haqiba, a senior Lebanese security official at a meeting at which Fadi Afram, Commander of the Lebanese forces, was also present.

On Thursday 16th September, the Phalangists attacked, watched by the Israeli army, which had surrounded the camps. In the chilling words of one account*, It was “a three-day orgy of rape and slaughter”. The Israelis provided the attackers with lighting, bulldozers and maps. Palestinians who manged to escape were captured and returned to the camps by Israeli forces. By the end of the third day, bodies were everywhere: “Many of the victims had been mutilated by axes or knives; others had their heads smashed, their eyes removed, tyheir throats cut and the skin had literally been stripped from their body. Severed limbs lay strewn about the floor and others had been disembowelled.”

Shatila camp, Beirut, 20 September 1982 (Photo: UNRWA/Beirut)

The exact number of victims is not known and probably never will be, not least because the Lebanese authorities refused to co-operate with the Red Cross and would not open mass graves. The likely figure is between 3,000 and 3,500, about a quarter of whom were Lebanese and the rest Palestinian.

The Israeli public was horrified when reports began to come through and 30,000 Israelis marched in Tel Aviv, demanding the resignations of Begin and Sharon.

In 1983 the Kahan Commission of Inquiry into the Events at the Refugee Camps in Beirut, established by Israel to investigate the events, found Sharon to be “unfit for public office”. He was elected Prime Minister in February 2001.

On this day we must remember and honour the victims. And we must redouble our efforts for the only just settlement of the whole Israel/Palestine tragedy: two states for two peoples.

* ‘War Crimes and Atrocities’, by Janice Anderson, Anne Williams and Vivian Head, published by Futura, 2007.


  1. Argaman said,

    Your points are well taken, but a lot more Israelis than 30,000 protested – the usual number given is 400,000.

  2. SteveH said,

    “but a lot more Israelis than 30,000 protested ”

    And yet the oppression goes from strength to strength.

  3. Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

    But reading English language Israeli media I can’t help but see that even the Left there appears to be gradually abandoning the two state solution

    Here is Carlo Strenger for instance:

    Migron has been evacuated, but this doesn’t save the two state solution. It was evacuated, because it was built on private land, not because it is part of the future state of Palestine. Dozens of other settlements remain standing, and there are now more than 300,000 settlers east of the Green Line, not including East Jerusalem.

    For decades, Israel’s left has defined itself by its commitment to the two state solution. But it is time to take a cold, hard look at reality: We’ve lost. Last year, Palestinian philosopher, peace activist and president of Al Quds University Sari Nousseibeh has said so in his book What is a Palestinian State Worth? He called upon fellow Palestinians to realize that Jews are too traumatized by their history to give up sovereignty over the West Bank, and that a Palestinian state was not worth further blood and mayhem.

    I wasn’t ready to hear this then, but it is simply no use to continue closing our eyes. I do not give up on the two state solution on ideological grounds -with all its faults, at least it made moral, political and demographic sense. I give up on it, because it will not happen.

    Most of the member’s of Netanyahu’s coalition are explicitly for the one state solution, and Bibi himself has only paid lip service to a Palestinian state: His actions speak differently. But even Israeli opposition leaders hardly speak of the two state solution, because they have come to realize that it costs them too many votes.

    Moreover, the situation is quite similar on the Palestinian side. Palestinian elites prefer one state west of the Jordan; Abbas’ political standing is weak, and it is unclear whether there will be another Palestinian leader committed to the two state solution.

    Hence, with weary hearts, we need to look at alternatives. The left’s natural allies are those on Israel’s right who believe in the core values of liberal democracy like Moshe Arens and Reuven Rivlin. Both believe that Israel should annex the West Bank and give Palestinians full political rights and thus reject an apartheid state.

    The idea of one state West of the Jordan faces huge problems: how are two people who have been locked into a mortal, tragic struggle for more than a century supposed to run a state together?

    The state west of the Jordan River will not have a common national ethos. It will be locked into a struggle for ethnic dominance for decades. The central weapon in this struggle will, as demographer Arnon Sofer said, women’s wombs: Jews and Palestinians will fight each other by having as many children as possible in order to gain a majority

    But maybe the state West of the Jordan will not be that different from the reality we live in already. Israel is involved in a culture war about its future character. The demographic struggle and the use of large numbers of children has been going on for decades. National-religious and ultra-Orthodox Jews have built on the assumption that they will simply out-birth secular Jews. Many of them wait for the moment in which Israel’s democracy will transform into a full-fledged theocracy.

    For quite some time, there has been no such thing as an Israeli society, but a number of tribes that hardly communicate with each other and have no common values except security. Israel already lives with the abnormality of having four different education systems: a secular Hebrew, a national-religious, an ultra-Orthodox and an Arab system.

    The one state solution will turn Israel’s disintegration as a society de facto into a reality de jure. The new state will have to function as a confederation and give considerable autonomy to its constituent states or cantons. We will have to look deeply into existing models for such confederate structures as in Switzerland, Canada and Belgium. And we will have to watch closely how the EU progresses towards a stronger central government that unites very different cultures and languages.

    I am writing none of this with pleasure or joy, and I have no illusion that the new state of Israstine (or whatever it will be called) will emerge without painful pangs of birth and protracted conflict. But this is what the majority of Israelis have decided in their actions and through their vote; and what the Palestinians have led to with a series of historic mistakes. We have to make the best of a bad situation.

    (I’ve quoted the whole text as accessing Ha’aretz articles can be very hit and miss and is likely to become more so as the paper is firing so many of its staff).

    Now I have several problems with Strenger’s position here and it is conceivable that this is but a way station on a personal move to the right which we’ve seen multiple Israeli left intellectuals take before – but there really does seem less and less interest in even talking about never mind defending the two-state solution in Israel itself.

  4. Babz Badasbab Rahman said,

    ^^^ That’s a pretty amazing article. I was for a one state solution if it was secular, democratic and protected all ethnic and religious groups from discrimination but the issue was never up for discussion in Israel so thought it was pointless even bringing the topic up for discussion

  5. Jim Denham said,

    How many times before have I heard the cry about two states “I give up on it, because it will not happen”?

    The problem is, if it (two states) “will not happen,” what hope is there for any conceivable alternative? The author of the piece quoted by Roger (comment #3 above), seems to half-recognise this: “The idea of one state West of the Jordan faces huge problems: how are two people who have been locked into a mortal, tragic struggle for more than a century supposed to run a state together?”

    I am not wedded to two states by political dogmatism, but because the only viable alternative (a bi-national state, either in the whole of pre-1948 “Palestine” or West of the Jordan) presents far greater practical difficulties than two states, and would deny the Palestinians proper self-determination.

    That’s why I previously posted this historical account of the only serious attempt to build support for bi-nationalism:

  6. Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

    I’d actually agree that a cantonised federal one state solution as now advocated by Strenger (who is I believe originally Swiss) is if anything even more utopian than the two state solution.

    But after having been as dedicated a supporter of two states as anyone I do now get an increasing sense that it is truly dead amongst the only people who really matter when it comes to implementing it (i.e. the sane minorities on both sides) – those 300,000+ settlers and the transformation of East Jerusalem are now truly immovable facts on the ground just as they always were intended to be.

    And that word ‘viable’ has also to be applied to the two state solution – and I honestly can’t see that it is any more.

    In fact a truly honest response to the problem now may have to be that there is no ‘solution’ that foreign leftists can support from the comfort and safety of their armchairs – the toxic combination of nationalism and racism and fundamentalist religion have created a political Gordian knot that mere human beings are clearly incapable of unravelling,

    This doesn’t necessarily imply passivity: we can still support people fighting oppression on both sides of the wall – what we (or at least I) cannot do is continue superimposing an utterly utopian and fantastic narrative upon that struggle that fewer and fewer of those people themselves believe in.

  7. Ben said,

    By “a two-state solution” most Europeans mean the establishment of one new purely Arab State, and the reconstitution of Israel as a mixed Jewish-Arab state with a 20% Arab population that is to be increased by the influx of an unspecified but very large number of Arab “refugees”. In other words they want to create hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees and institute anti-Jewish apartheid in the ethnically pure Arab state that will be thus formed in half the historic homeland of the Jewish people. Then they wish to force an Israel within the 1967 borders to take in millions of Arabs whose strongest wish is to drive the Jews out of their country, and who have violently tried to do just that for the past 80 years.

    And they call this justice.

    The soil of Europe is sodden with the blood of murdered Jews, and the lands of the Islamic Middle East and north Africa also are cleansed of their oppressed and dispossessed Jewish communities. The same contempt and malice from the Christian and Moslem worlds that perpetrated these crimes is today directed towards the survivors and their descendents who founded and built Israel. The only difference is that today Israel’s Jews can defend themselves.

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