Sabra and Shatila massacre

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Sabra and Shatila massacre
Part of the Lebanese Civil War

Bodies of victims of the massacre in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps[1]
LocationWest Beirut, Lebanon
Date16–18 September 1982
TargetSabra and Shatila refugee camps
Attack typeMassacre
Deaths762 to 3,500[2] (number disputed)
PerpetratorsKataeb Party militia under Elie Hobeika
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Sabra and Shatila massacre
Part of the Lebanese Civil War

Bodies of victims of the massacre in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps[1]
LocationWest Beirut, Lebanon
Date16–18 September 1982
TargetSabra and Shatila refugee camps
Attack typeMassacre
Deaths762 to 3,500[2] (number disputed)
PerpetratorsKataeb Party militia under Elie Hobeika

The Sabra and Shatila massacre was the slaughter of between 762 and 3,500 civilians, mostly Palestinians and Lebanese Shiites, by a Lebanese Christian militia in the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut, Lebanon from approximately 6:00 pm 16 September to 8:00 am 18 September 1982.[3]

The massacre was presented as retaliation for the assassination of newly elected Lebanese president Bachir Gemayel, the leader of the Lebanese Kataeb Party. It was wrongly assumed that Palestinian militants had carried out the assassination, now known to have been perpetrated by Lebanese militants with ties to Syria.[citation needed] In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon with the intention of rooting out the PLO. By mid-1982, under the supervision of the Multinational Force the PLO withdrew from Lebanon following weeks of battles in West Beirut and shortly before the massacre took place. Various forces — Israeli, Phalangists and possibly also the South Lebanon Army (SLA) — were in the vicinity of the camps at the time of the slaughter, taking advantage of the fact that the multinational forces had removed barracks and mines that encircled Beirut's Muslim neighborhoods and kept the Israelis at bay.[4] The Israeli advance over West Beirut in the wake of the PLO withdrawal, which enabled the Phalangist raid, was considered a violation of the ceasefire agreement between the various forces.[5] The Israel Defense Forces surrounded the camps and stationed troops at the exits of the camps to prevent camp residents from leaving and at the Phalangists' request,[6] fired illuminating flares at night.[7][8]

The actual killers were the "Young Men", a gang recruited by Elie Hobeika, the Lebanese Forces intelligence chief, from men who had been expelled from the Lebanese Forces for insubordination or criminal activities.[9] The killings are widely believed to have taken place under Hobeika's direct orders. Hobeika's family and fiancée had been murdered by Palestinian militiamen, and their Lebanese allies, at the Damour massacre of 1976,[10][11] itself a response to a previous massacre of Palestinians and Lebanese Muslims at the hands of Christian militants. Hobeika later became a long-serving Member of the Parliament of Lebanon and served in several ministerial roles.[citation needed] In 1983, a UN commission chaired by Sean MacBride concluded that Israel bore responsibility for the violence.[12] In 1983, the Israeli Kahan Commission, appointed to investigate the incident, found that Israeli military personnel, aware that a massacre was in progress, had failed to take serious steps to stop it. Thus Israel was indirectly responsible, while Ariel Sharon, then Defense Minister, bore personal responsibility, forcing him to resign.[13]


From 1975 to 1990, groups in competing alliances with neighboring countries fought against each other in the Lebanese Civil War. Infighting and massacres between these groups claimed several thousand victims. Examples: the Syrian-backed Karantina (January 1976) by the Lebanese Christian militia against Kurds, Syrians and Palestinians in the predominantly Muslim slum district, Damour (January 1976) by the PLO against Christians in Beirut, including the family and fiancée of the Lebanese Forces intelligence chief Elie Hobeika; and Tel al-Zaatar (August 1976) by Phalangists against refugees living in a camp administered by UNRWA. The total death toll in Lebanon for the whole civil war period was around 150,000 victims.[14]

The PLO had been attacking Israel from southern Lebanon and Israel had been bombing PLO positions in southern Lebanon since the early 70s.[15]

On 3 June, 1982 an assassination attempt was made upon Israeli Ambassador to Britain Shlomo Argov. The attempt was the work of Abu Nidal, who headed a group rival to Arafat's PLO. Even though the PLO was not involved in the assault, and condemned it, Israel used it as a justification to break a ceasefire then in force with the group, and as a casus belli for a full-scale invasion of Lebanon.[16]

On 6 June 1982 Israel invaded Lebanon moving northwards to surround the capital, Beirut.[17] Following an extended siege of the city the fighting was brought to an end with a US brokered agreement between the parties on 21 August 1982, which allowed for safe evacuation of the Palestinian fighters from the city under the supervision of Western nations and guaranteed the protection of refugees and the civilian residents of the refugee camps.[17]

On 23 August 1982, Bachir Gemayel, who was very popular among Maronites, was elected President of Lebanon by the National Assembly. Israel had relied on Gemayel and his forces as a counterbalance to the PLO, and as a result, ties between Israel and Maronite groups had grown stronger.[18][19][20]

By 1 September, the PLO fighters had been evacuated from Beirut under the supervision of Multinational Forces (MNF).[21][5] The evacuation was conditional on the continuation of the presence of the MNF to provide security for the community of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.[5] Two days later the Israeli Premier Menachem Begin met Gemayel in Nahariya and strongly urged him to sign a peace treaty with Israel. According to some sources,[22] Begin also wanted the continuing presence of the SLA in southern Lebanon (Haddad supported peaceful relations with Israel) in order to control attacks and violence, and action from Gemayel to move on the PLO fighters which Israel believed remained a hidden threat in Lebanon. However, the Phalangists, who were previously united as reliable Israeli allies, were now split because of developing alliances with Syria, which remained militarily hostile to Israel. As such, Gemayel rejected signing a peace treaty with Israel and did not authorize operations to root out the remaining PLO militants.[23]

On 11 September 1982, the international forces that were guaranteeing the safety of Palestinian refugees left Beirut. Then on 14 September, Gemayel was assassinated in a massive explosion which demolished his headquarters. Eventually, the culprit, Habib Tanious Shartouni, a Lebanese Christian, confessed to the crime. He turned out to be a member of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and an agent of Syrian intelligence. Palestinian and Muslim leaders denied any connection to him.[24]

Within hours of the assassination, Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, supported by Begin, decided to occupy West Beirut, informing only then Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir and not consulting the Israeli cabinet. The same night Sharon began preparations for entering the Sabra-Shatila refugee camps.[25] Thus on 15 September, the Israeli army reoccupied West Beirut. This Israeli action breached its agreement with the United States not to occupy West Beirut.[26]

The attack

Following the assassination of Lebanese Christian President Bachir Gemayel, the Phalangists sought revenge. By noon on 15 September, the Sabra-Shatila camps had been surrounded by the IDF, which set up checkpoints at the exits and entrances, and used a number of multi-story buildings as observation posts. Amongst them was the seven-story Kuwaiti embassy which, according to TIME magazine, had "an unobstructed and panoramic view" of the camps. Hours later, IDF tanks began shelling the camps.[25]

According to Linda Malone of the Jerusalem Fund, Ariel Sharon and Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan[27] met with Phalangist militia units and invited them to enter the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, claiming that the PLO was responsible for Gemayel's assassination.[28] The meeting concluded at 3:00 pm 16 September.[25]

An hour later, 1,500 militiamen assembled at Beirut International Airport, then occupied by Israel. Under the command of Elie Hobeika, they began moving towards the camps in IDF supplied Jeeps, following Israeli guidance on how to enter the camps. The forces were mostly Phalangist, though there were some men from Saad Haddad's "Free Lebanon forces".[25] According to Ariel Sharon and Elie Hobeika's bodyguard, the Phalangists were given "harsh and clear" warnings about harming civilians.[26][29] However, it was by then known that the Phalangists presented a special security risk for Palestinians. Bamahane, the IDF newspaper, wrote on 1 September, two weeks before the massacre, that, in a conversation with an Israeli official, a Phalangist said: "the question we are putting to ourselves is — how to begin, by raping or killing?"[30]

The first unit of 150 Phalangists entered the camps at 6:00 pm. A battle ensued that at times Palestinians claim involved lining up Palestinians for execution.[25] During the night the Israeli forces fired illuminating flares over the camps. According to a Dutch nurse, the camp was as bright as "a sports stadium during a football game".[31]

At 11:00 pm a report was sent to the IDF headquarters in East Beirut, reporting the killings of 300 people, including civilians. The report was forwarded to headquarters in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, where it was seen by more than 20 senior Israeli officers.[25]

At one point, a militiaman's radioed question to his commander Hobeika about what to do with the women and children in the refugee camp was overheard by an Israeli officer, who heard Hobeika's reply: "This is the last time you're going to ask me a question like that; you know exactly what to do." Phalangist troops could be heard laughing in the background.[26]

Later in the afternoon, a meeting was held between the Israeli Chief of Staff and the Phalangist staff. On Friday morning, the Israelis surrounding the camps ordered the Phalange to halt their operation, concerned about reports of a massacre.[26]

On 17 September, while the camps still were sealed off, a few independent observers managed to enter. Among them were a Norwegian journalist and diplomat Gunnar Flakstad, who observed Phalangists during their cleanup operations, removing dead bodies from destroyed houses in the Shatila camp.[32]

Many of the bodies found had been severely mutilated. Many boys had been castrated, some were scalped, and some had the Christian cross carved into their bodies.[33]

Janet Lee Stevens, an American journalist, later wrote to her husband, Dr. Franklin Lamb, "I saw dead women in their houses with their skirts up to their waists and their legs spread apart; dozens of young men shot after being lined up against an alley wall; children with their throats slit, a pregnant woman with her stomach chopped open, her eyes still wide open, her blackened face silently screaming in horror; countless babies and toddlers who had been stabbed or ripped apart and who had been thrown into garbage piles."[34]

Before the massacre, it was reported that the leader of the PLO, Yasir Arafat, had requested the return of international forces, from Italy, France and the United States, to Beirut to protect civilians. Those forces had just supervised the departure of Arafat and his PLO fighters from Beirut. Italy expressed 'deep concerns' about 'the new Israeli advance', but no action was taken to return the forces to Beirut.[35] Henry Kamm, Special to The New York Times, in a report dated 16 September 1982, from Rome:

Yasir Arafat, leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, demanded today that the United States, France and Italy send their troops back to Beirut to protect its inhabitants against Israel...The dignity of three armies and the honor of their countries is involved, Mr. Arafat said at his news conference. I ask Italy, France and the United States: What of your promise to protect the inhabitants of Beirut?

Number of victims

Memorial in Sabra, South Beirut

U.N. condemnation

On 16 December 1982, the United Nations General Assembly condemned the massacre and declared it to be an act of genocide.[41] The voting record[42][43][44] on section D of Resolution 37/123 was: yes: 123; no: 0; abstentions: 22; non-voting: 12.

The delegate for Canada stated: "The term genocide cannot, in our view, be applied to this particular inhuman act".[44] The delegate of Singapore – voting 'yes' – added: "My delegation regrets the use of the term 'an act of genocide' ... [as] the term 'genocide' is used to mean acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group." Canada and Singapore also questioned whether the General Assembly was competent to determine whether such an event would constitute genocide.[44]

The United States commented that "While the criminality of the massacre was beyond question, it was a serious and reckless misuse of language to label this tragedy genocide as defined in the 1948 Convention ...".[44]

Such comments led William Schabas, director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the National University of Ireland,[45] to state: "the term genocide ... had obviously been chosen to embarrass Israel rather than out of any concern with legal precision".[44]

The commission's report, Israel in Lebanon, concluded that the Israeli authorities or forces were directly or indirectly responsible in the massacres and other killings that have been reported to have been carried out by Lebanese militiamen in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in the Beirut area between 16 and 18 September.[12]

British journalist David Hirst accused the Israeli commission of crafting the concept of indirect responsibility so as to protect Israel from assuming full responsibility for the slaughter along with the Phalangists. He further states that the Commission was only able to achieve that verdict by means of errors and omissions in the analysis of the massacre.[46]

Sharon "personal responsibility"

The Kahan commission found that Ariel Sharon "bears personal responsibility",[13]

At first, Sharon refused to resign, and Begin refused to fire him. It was only after the death of Emil Grunzweig after a grenade was tossed into the dispersing crowd of a Peace Now protest march, which also injured ten others, that a compromise was reached: Sharon would resign as Defense Minister, but remain in the Cabinet as a minister without portfolio. Notwithstanding the dissuading conclusions of the Kahan report, Sharon would later become Prime Minister of Israel.[47][48]

Other conclusions

The Kahan commission also recommended the dismissal of Director of Military Intelligence Yehoshua Saguy[49]',[50] and the effective promotion freeze of Division Commander Brig. Gen. Amos Yaron for at least three years.[50]

Role of Hobeika

Robert Maroun Hatem, Elie Hobeika's bodyguard, stated in his book From Israel to Damascus that Hobeika ordered the massacre of civilians in defiance of Israeli instructions to behave like a "dignified" army.[29]

Pierre Rehov,[51] a documentary filmmaker who worked on the case with former Lebanese soldiers, while making his film Holy Land: Christians in Peril, came to the conclusion that Hobeika was definitely responsible for the massacre, despite the orders he had received from Ariel Sharon to behave humanely.

Hobeika was assassinated by a car bomb in Beirut on 24 January 2002. Lebanese and Arab commentators blamed Israel for the murder of Hobeika, with alleged Israeli motive that Hobeika would be ‘apparently poised to testify before the Belgian court about Sharon’s role in the massacre[52] (see section above). Prior to his assassination, Elie Hobeika had stated "I am very interested that the [Belgian] trial starts because my innocence is a core issue."[10]

Sharon libel suit

Ariel Sharon sued Time magazine for libel in American and Israeli courts in a $50 million libel suit, after Time published a story in its 21 February 1983, issue, implying that Sharon had "reportedly discussed with the Gemayels the need for the Phalangists to take revenge" for Bachir's assassination.[53] The jury found the article false and defamatory, although Time won the suit in the U.S. court because Sharon's defense failed to establish that the magazine's editors and writers had "acted out of malice," as required under the U.S. libel law.[54]

Relatives of victims sue Sharon

After Sharon's 2001 election to the post of Prime Minister of Israel, relatives of the victims of the massacre filed a lawsuit[55] On 24 September 2003, Belgium's Supreme Court dismissed the war crimes case against Ariel Sharon, since none of the plaintiffs had Belgian nationality at the start of the case.[56]

Reprisal operations

According to Robert Fisk, Osama bin Laden cited the Sabra and Shatila massacre as one of the motivations for the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing, in which al-Qaeda attacked an American Air Force housing complex in Saudi Arabia.[57]

See also


  1. ^ 1982 – World Press Photo
  2. ^ "Remembering Sabra & Shatila: The death of their world". Ahram online. 16 Sep 2012. Retrieved 13 November 2012. 
  3. ^ Malone, Linda A. (1985). "The Kahan Report, Ariel Sharon and the SabraShatilla Massacres in Lebanon: Responsibility Under International Law for Massacres of Civilian Populations". Utah Law Review: 373–433. Retrieved 1 January 2013. 
  4. ^ Hirst, David (2010). Beware of small states: Lebanon, battleground of the Middle East. Nation Books. p. 154. 
  5. ^ a b c "A Preventable Massacre". The New York Times. 16 September 2012. Retrieved 13 November 2012. 
  6. ^ Hirst, David (2010). Beware of small states: Lebanon, battleground of the Middle East. Nation Books. p. 157. "The carnage began immediately. It was to continue without interruption till Saturday noon. Night brought no respite; the Phalangist liaison officer asked for illumination and the Israelis duly obliged with flares, first from mortars and then from planes." 
  7. ^ Friedman, Thomas (1995). From Beirut to Jerusalem. Macmillan. p. 161. ISBN 978-0-385-41372-5. "From there, small units of Phalangist militiamen, roughly 150 men each, were sent into Sabra and Shatila, which the Israeli army kept illimnated through the night with flares." 
  8. ^ Cobban, Helena (1984). The Palestinian Liberation Organisation: people, power, and politics. Cambridge University Press. p. 4. ISBN 978-0-521-27216-2. "and while Israeli troops fired a stream of flares over the Palestinian refugee camps in the Sabra and Shatila districts of West Beirut, the Israeli's Christian Lebanese allies carried out a massacre of innocents there which was to shock the whole world." 
  9. ^ Les Secrets de la guerre du Liban : Du coup d'état de Béchir Gémayel aux massacres des camps palestiniens, by Alain Menargues, final chapter
  10. ^ a b Mostyn, Trevor,, Friday 25 January 2002
  11. ^ Friedman, New York Times, 20, 21, 26, 27 September 1982.
  12. ^ a b MacBride, Seán; A. K. Asmal, B. Bercusson, R. A. Falk, G. de la Pradelle, S. Wild (1983). Israel in Lebanon: The Report of International Commission to enquire into reported violations of International Law by Israel during its invasion of the Lebanon. London: Ithaca Press. pp. 191–2. ISBN 0-903729-96-2. 
  13. ^ a b Schiff, Ze'ev; Ya'ari, Ehud (1984). Israel's Lebanon War. New York: Simon and Schuster. pp. 283–4. ISBN 0-671-47991-1. 
  14. ^ The New York Times (2012). "After 2 Decades, Scars of Lebanon's Civil War Block Path to Dialogue".
  15. ^ "Israel: A Country Study", Helen Chapin Metz, ed. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1988 (online copy)
  16. ^ Hirst, David (2010). Beware of small states. Nation Books. p. 134. ISBN 978-0-571-23741-8. "Clearly, the Israelis had just about dispensed with pretexts altogether. For form's sake, however, they did claim one for the launching of the Fifth Arab—Israeli war. The attempted assassination, on 3 June, of the Israeli ambassador in Britain, Shlomo Argov, was not the doing og the PLO, which promptly denounced it. It was another exploit of Arafat's arch-enemy, the notorious, Baghdad-based, Fatah dissident Abu Nidal . . . the Israelis ignored such distinctions." 
  17. ^ a b Nuwayhed al-Hout, Bayan (2004). Sabra and Shatila September 1982. Pluto. p. 1. ISBN 0 7453 2303 0. 
  18. ^ "By 1982, the Israeli-Maronite relationship was quite the open secret, with Maronite militiamen training in Israel and high-level Maronite and Israeli leaders making regular reciprocal visits to one another's homes and headquarters" (Eisenberg and Caplan, 1998, p. 45).
  19. ^ Sabra and Shatilla, Jewish Voice for Peace. Accessed 17 July 2006.
  20. ^ Sabra and Shatila 20 years on. BBC, 14 September 2002. Accessed 17 July 2006.
  21. ^ "1982: PLO leader forced from Beirut". BBC. 30 August 1982. Retrieved 23 May 2010. 
  22. ^ Jean Shaoul, Sharon's war crimes in Lebanon: the record (part three), 25 February 2002 on the World Socialist Web Site (published by the ICFI). Accessed 3 February 2006.
  23. ^ Ahron Bregman and Jihan Al-Tahri. The Fify Years War. Israel and the Arabs, p. 172-174, London: BBC Books 1998, ISBN 0-14-026827-8
  24. ^ Walid Harb, Snake Eat Snake The Nation, posted 1 July 1999 (19 July 1999 issue). Accessed 9 February 2006.
  25. ^ a b c d e f Shahid, Leila. The Sabra and Shatila Massacres: Eye-Witness Reports. Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 32, No. 1. (Autumn, 2002), pp. 36–58.
  26. ^ a b c d Panorama: "The Accused", broadcast by the BBC, 17 June 2001; transcript accessed 9 February 2006.
  27. ^ Linda Malone, "Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, A War Criminal", Information Brief No. 78, 14 June 2001, The Jerusalem Fund / The Palestine Center. Accessed 24 February 2006.
  28. ^ Robert Fisk: The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East, pp. 484,488–489, ISBN 978-1-4000-7517-1
  29. ^ a b Robert Maroun Hatem, From Israel to Damascus, Chapter 7: The Massacres at Sabra and Shatilla online. Accessed 24 February 2006.
  30. ^ David Hirst, (2010). Beware of small states. Nation Books. ISBN 978-0-571-23741-8. p. 156
  31. ^ New York Times, 26 September 1982. in Claremont Research p. 76
  32. ^ Harbo, 1982
  33. ^ "Syrians aid 'Butcher of Beirut' to hide from justice," The Daily Telegraph, 17 June 2001.
  34. ^ Dr. Franklin Lamb's letter. Remembering Janet Lee Stevens, martyr for the Palestinian refugees
  35. ^ New York Times, published 17 September 1982
  36. ^ Analysis: 'War crimes' on West Bank. BBC, 17 April 2002. Accessed 14 February 2006.
  37. ^ Pluto, 2004
  38. ^ Fisk, Robert Elie Hobeika: lady-killer and blood-soaked war criminal, The Independent, 25 January 2002.
  39. ^ Schiff and Ya'ari 1984
  40. ^ Amnon Kapeliouk, translated and edited by Khalil Jehshan Sabra & Chatila: Inquiry Into a Massacre (Microsoft Word doc). Accessed 14 February 2006.
  41. ^ U.N. General Assembly, Resolution 37/123, adopted between 16 and 20 December 1982. Retrieved 4 January 2010. (If link doesn’t work, try: U.N.→ welcome → documents → General Assembly Resolutions → 1982 → 37/123.)
  42. ^ Voting Summary U.N. General Assembly Resolution 37/123D. Retrieved 4 January 2010,
  43. ^ Leo Kuper, "Theoretical Issues Relating to Genocide: Uses and Abuses", in George J. Andreopoulos, Genocide: Conceptual and Historical Dimensions, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997, ISBN 0-8122-1616-4, p. 37.
  44. ^ a b c d e William Schabas, Genocide in International Law. The Crimes of Crimes, p. 455
  45. ^ Professor William A. Schabas website of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the National University of Ireland
  46. ^ Hirst, David (2010). Beware of small states. Nation Books. ISBN 978-0-571-23741-8. 
  47. ^ Tolworthy, Chris (March 2002). "Sabra and Shatila massacres—why do we ignore them?". September 11th and Terrorism FAQ. Global Issues. Retrieved 25 January 2013. 
  48. ^ "Israel and the PLO". BBC. 20 April 1998. Retrieved 20 September 2007. 
  49. ^ "Around the world; Israeli General Resigns From Army" The New York Times, 15 August 1983
  50. ^ a b Report of the Kahan Commission - hosted by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  51. ^ Pierre Rehov's Middle East Documentaries
  52. ^ Joel Campagna, The Usual Suspects, World Press Review, April 2002. Accessed 24 February 2006.
  53. ^ Ariel Sharon, Time archive
  54. ^ Sharon Loses Libel Suit; Time Cleared of Malice by Brooke W. Kroeger.
  55. ^ "Vanished victims of Israelis return to accuse Sharon". The Guardian. 25 Nov 2001. Retrieved 13 November 2012. "The fate of the disappeared of Sabra and Chatila will come back to haunt Sharon when a Belgian court hears a suit brought by their relatives alleging his involvement in the massacres." 
  56. ^ Universal Jurisdiction Update, December 2003, Redress (London). Retrieved 5 January 2010; section Belgium, subsection 'Shabra and Shatila'.
  57. ^ The Structures of Love: Art and Politics Beyond the Transference, James Penney


External links

Coordinates: 33°51′46″N 35°29′54″E / 33.8628°N 35.4984°E / 33.8628; 35.4984