31 years ago, from 16 to 18 September 1982, Lebanese Phalangist forces massacred the Palestinian population of the Sabra and Chatila camps. Israeli troops that occupied Beirut at the time, commanded by Ariel Sharon as Defense minister, allowed rightwing militias to access the camps. Here we publish fragments of the Kahan Report, elaborated by an Israeli commission that tried to cover up Tel Aviv’s and Sharon’s responsibilities in that massacre that shook humankind.
36 hours of death and silence
The killings began at 6 o’clock in the afternoon of Thursday 16 September 1982, when the Israeli army facilitated the access of over 300 elements of the rightwing militias, Lebanese Forces, to the area of the Sabra and Chatila camps in an operation that, as Tel-Aviv would later on claim, pretended the elimination of about two thousand Palestinian combatants left behind by Arafat in the refugee camps. Those allegations were totally unfounded.
The massacre continued until eight o’clock on the morning of Saturday 18 September, that is, over 36 hours of assassinations in the midst of Israel’s total, absolute and impenetrable silence.
31 years thereafter, the exact number of civilian victims of that killing remains unknown, and most probably will never be known, since the Israeli military intelligence apparatus calculate a figure between 700 and 800 Palestinians killed in the course of that criminal action. Meanwhile, Palestinian sources estimate the deaths of several thousands, among them children, women –even pregnant ones— and elderly people that were humiliated in the worst ways, some of them even stabbed, bayoneted and torn apart before or after being murdered..
According to reports by journalists who arrived on site a few hours afterwards, massive and summary executions of youths also took place.
One eyewitness, US journalist Thomas Fredman from The New York Times, said: “I have frequently seen groups between the ages of twenty and thirty years old that were lined up against the walls, with their hands and feet tied, and later exterminated with bursts of machinegun fire in the style of professional gangster bands.”
Every version confirms that the executors of this butchery were members of the Lebanese Forces “Phalangists”, a militia armed by Israel which was Tel Aviv’s most faithful ally since the unleashing of the Civil War in Lebanon in 1975. It must be pointed out, nevertheless, that those criminal acts were carried out in an area under total control by the Israeli army, that had even established a command post on the roof of a building 200 meters South East of the Chatila camp.
The operation of the invasion began while the Israeli army, that encircled both camps, prevented anyone to go in or out of them and launched night illumination shells in order to facilitate the task of the militia. Zionist soldiers offered their help to the Maronite militia in the course of the killing.
The information about the massacre began to filter down after the escape of several children and women to the Acre Hospital at Chatila, where they informed the doctors what had happened, while the news about these facts reached foreign journalists in the morning of Friday the 17th.
Of the 20 thousand people who were inside those two camps when the butchery began, three thousand 297 men, women and children were murdered in less than two days. Among them, 1 800 were killed in the streets and alleys, 1 097 at the Gaza Hospital and another 400 at the Acre Hospital. Among the corpses, those of over 136 Lebanese were found. (Editor’s Note: However, other sources estimate that the exact figure of victims will never be known, because several hundreds more Palestinians were massacred without the possibility of officially registering their deaths.)
Menahem Begin, the Israeli Prime Minister, in his comment about the massacre before the Knesset expressed that the members of the Palestinian Resistance were “animals that walked on their two legs,” while a Phalangist officer declared after the news of the events were publicized that “the swords and guns of the Christians would pursue the Palestinians wherever they went and would finish them off definitely.”
Another officer declared to a US correspondent: “We have waited a long time to be able to access the camps in West Beirut, the Israeli have chosen us because we are better than them in this type of house-by-house operations.” Through its correspondent, Radio London broadcast that while the acts of killings went on, Israeli soldiers shut off the camps with their tanks and shot against anything that moved.
The creation of the Kahan Commission
With the dissemination of the news of the massacre and its repercussion in every capital of the world, Israel was forced to create the Commission headed by the Chairman of the Supreme Court, Isaac Kahan, to investigate those developments. The Council of Ministers determined that the Commission should gather the truth and the elements related to the savage acts committed by a unit of the “Lebanese Forces” against civilians at the Sabra and Chatila camps.
The investigation thus blamed the Lebanese Forces as the sole culprit for the killing and therefore ruled out Israel’s direct participation.
The participation of other groups, such as the forces of Saad Hadad, then head of the Lebanese Army in the South, created by Israel, was also pointed out.
The results of the investigation had to appear in such a way that Israel would only be blamed for “negligence” or an “error of appraisal.”
The other Zionist reports, and even books edited by Israel, did not fail to mention the names of high Phalangist and Lebanese Forces leaders such as Elis Houbeika, Fady Efram and others, blaming them totally for the planning of the killing and for ordering massive executions. Nevertheless, Zionist leaders such as Ariel Sharon, minister of Defense at the time, and Amir Doury, Military Chief of the Northern Region, were only blamed for having taken part in meetings in which the topic of the access of Phalangist military into both camps in order to “have them participate in the control of West Beirut” was discussed.
The results of the research work of the Kahan Commission
In February 1983, the Israeli Research Commission in charge of looking into the reality of the developments that took place at Sabra and Chatila, “un independent entity” composed of three members and known as the Kahan Commission, included in the results of its research the name of then minister Ariel Sharon as one of the persons who “assume a personal responsibility” for the events that took place.
The report of said Commission referred in detail the direct role played by Sharon in order to allow the Phalangist militias to access the Sabra and Chatila camps.
In his testimony, General Rafael Etan, Head of the General Staff of the Israeli army at the time, affirmed that the invasion of the Phalangist militias into the camps was achieved on the basis of an agreement between him and Sharon. Later on, the minister of Defense went to the headquarters of the Phalangist militia, where he met with a group of people, among them several Phalangist leaders. One day before those events, the office of Ariel Sharon handed out a document that contained a summary of the minister of Defense that points out: “In order to execute the operation in both camps the Phalangist militia must be dispatched.” This document adds that “the Israeli Defense Forces will assume the task of guiding them to the area.”
Regarding the allegation by former minister Sharon before the Kahan Commission in the sense that “no one could imagine that the Phalangist militia were going to commit a butchery in both camps,” the Commission concluded that “no one could justify the imprudent adoption of a decision that allowed the possibility of a killing,” because “no one needs a lot of reasoning to forecast a great threat of crimes that would occur in case the Phalangist militia accessed both camps without being accompanied by Israeli Defense Forces.” The Commission went farther yet by stating: “We see that anyone involved in the events in Lebanon must doubt and bear in mind the great possibility of a killing in both these camps, if it is known that the Lebanese Phalanx are going in without the Israeli forces assuming control and real supervision… and added to this is the reality of a visceral hatred that the Phalangist bear against the Palestinians, most of all because of the great shock that they experienced by the recent death of Bachir Jemayel, Lebanese President at the time…”
The Kahan Commission also concluded that “if the minister of Defense really did not doubt, when he decided to grant access of the Phalangist militia to both camps without the participation of the Israeli Defense Forces, that such a decision would lead to a disaster of that scale, the only explanation would then be that he overlooked any reason for concern with respect to what might occur because the goals that he pretended to achieve with the access of the Phalangist to both camps prevented him from taking the corresponding measures.”
The Commission clarified that “if the decision was taken knowing that there was a danger for the population of both camps to experience injuries, it must be borne in mind that there was an Israeli commitment in the sense of taking the appropriate measures to guarantee real, effective and constant supervision by the Army over the actions of the Phalangist militia on site, in order to prevent such a threat or to reduce it to a minimum. The minister of Defense, however, did not take any measure to that respect.”
The Commission concluded its report by stating: “We see that the Israeli minister of Security has committed a serious mistake by not taking into account the danger of acts of retaliation and blood spilling by the Phalangist militia against the population of both those camps”.
The last recommendation offered by the Kahan Commission consists of having “the Israeli minister of Defense, Ariel Sharon, relieved from his post, and that the Prime Minister consider his dismissal if need be.”