Monday, September 18, 2006

September 18

re1Today is the 24th anniversary of the Sabra and Chatila massacres, carried out in West Beirut by Phalangist militias operating with the blessing and assistance of the Israeli Defense Forces. The militias – who represented a quasi-fascist political party rooted in Lebanon’s Christian community -- were retaliating against Palestinian refugees, whom they erroneously blamed for the assassination of the newly-elected president of Lebanon, the Phalangist Bashir Gemayel, four days earlier. The Phalangists were also determined to retaliate for Palestinian attacks against Christian villages like Damour, which had been ruined by PLO guerillas in February 1976. Israel, which had invaded Lebanon earlier that summer as part of its disastrous “Peace for Galilee” campaign, explicitly supported the Phalangist movement and offered its assistance as squads of militiamen entered the Sabra and Chatila camps late in the evening on September 17. Although the PLO had been evacuated from Lebanon under American cover three weeks before, Israel claimed to have reliable intelligence -- no doubt provided by Phalangist sources -- that as many as 3000 “terrorists” remained in West Beirut.

While Israeli forces surrounded the camps and illuminated the area with flares until dawn, Phalangist squads liquidated Sabra and Chatila, slaughtering as many as 1000 “terrorists” -- all of whom were deceitfully disguised as unarmed men, women, and children. In Pity the Nation, his dispiriting account of the Lebanese civil war, Robert Fisk described the scene the morning after:
Bill Foley of the AP had come with us. All he could say as he walked around was “Jesus Christ!” over and over again . . . . [t]here were women lying in houses with their skirts torn up to their waists and their legs wide apat, children with their throats cut, rows of young men shot in the back after being lined up at an execution wall. There were babies -- blackened babies because they had been slaughtered more than 24 hours earlier and their small bodies were already in a state of decomposition -- tossed into rubbish heaps alongside discarded US army ration tins, Israeli medical equipment and empty bottles of whisky.

New York Times correspondent Thomas Friedman won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the massacre, which documented Israel’s complicity in the “incident,” the euphemism preferred by much of the American press at the time. Israel’s own investigation, carried out by the Kahan Commission, assigned “personal responsibility” to Defense Minister Ariel Sharon for the September 18 attacks; Sharon resigned shortly after the report’s release in February 1983.