Terrorist activity from Lebanon against the northern Israel region makes life there unbearable. A short while after the Likud forms a coalition, the new government orders the Israeli Air Force to strike terrorists targets in the heart of Beirut. Dozens of civilians are hit in the raid.
On July 1981 US mediator Philip Habib achieves a cease fire between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).
Although the cease fire is kept, Ariel Sharon orders IDF’s General Headquarters to prepare Operation Oranim, with the following objectives:
- To prevent terrorists from shelling the northern region of Israel
- To destroy the terrorists’ infrastructure in Beirut and force the Syrians to withdraw their troops from the city.
- To create the political circumstances that would enable the election of a pro-Israeli government in Lebanon
According to the plan, IDF is to take over Beirut within 96 hours. On January 1982 the plan is complete and IDF units begin training.
Sharon spends months planning the war and meets secretly with Lebanese Christian militia allies whom he plans to help install as Lebanon’s government once they kick the PLO out of Beirut. Sharon’s vision is to join forces with the Christian militia in order to liberate Lebanon from the clutches of Syria and the Palestinians. He aspires to create a continuous zone of peace from Alexandria in Egypt in the South, until Tripoli in the north of Lebanon.
On February 1982, Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan (Raful) asks the government to authorize a military action against the terrorists in Lebanon after a group of terrorists infiltrates from Jordan to Israel. The government authorizes an air strike, and at the same time large ground forces do their way to the northern border and prepare to go into Lebanon in case the PLO would shell the northern settlements in response to the planned air raid on Beirut. The United States strongly opposes such big scale military operation which would clearly be the end of the cease fire. Israel scraps the plan and aborts the air strike.
On 1999, Sharon would say about US-Israel relations: “This is the question of Israel’s independence. On one hand we saw a process where the American aid has increased; we saw expressions of friendship from the American government, which stood by Israel in difficult times. But at the same time a sort of slavery was formed, a voluntary slavery, as a natural process. Do you think Israel would have taken today a decision such as Begin’s to strike a nuclear plant? I think not. Do you think Israel would have helped today, as it did in the 1960’s to Kurds, Yemenites, in the war of the Ethiopians against the Somali tribes? I think not. What I’m asking is this: Is the Israeli leadership, in terms of its mental state, capable of standing and stating clearly: ‘Listen, this we are willing to accept, and this not.’, and insist on it? Much less. Much less than in the days when it was a state of million and a half people. Is there an ability to take a decision without consulting the US first? It’s always in the background. Everything you say is immediately followed by questions such as: ‘But what would the US President think about it?
What would the US Secretary of State think about it?’ Or, ‘What would the Europeans say about it? They might impose economic sanctions as they did before.’ And on and on. This leads to loss of independence in terms of decision making. This means that without any serious reason, you are getting into a situation where your ability to act is gradually diminished. Today’s Israel does not have the same degree of independence as it used to have when it was a 2.5 million people state, when it should have been vice versa.
“But let me stress this: I do not think that in today’s world any state can enjoy full independence. You have to be considerate. We live in a different world. The degree of independence is diminishing, and to us it’s about issues that have to do with our very existence in the long term. They always say, and I also think it’s true, that the US is committed to the existence of Israel, but we have seen what happened in Kuwait. The greatest power in the world had difficulties in making a decision to go to the Gulf war in 1991. It took five months. Israel under Arab rule would not last five days; this is what we must understand. This is the difference between existence and non-existence.
Nobody knows how the US would look twenty years from now. There are changes. Even in the demographic structure. It could be that the degree of its interest in this zone would be much smaller. We don’t know how things would evolve, so we have to be more cautious… Israel has to regain its independence as much as possible. We, in terms of reliance on the United States, have gone too far.”
On April 21, 1982, an IDF officer is killed in South Lebanon in a landmine explosion. The Israeli government orders the air force to strike terrorist targets in Lebanon. PLO does not respond.
On June 3, 1982, Israel’s ambassador to Britain, Shlomo Argov, is shot in the head by terrorists from Abu Nidal’s organization. He is severely wounded.
On Friday, June 4, the Israeli government holds an emergency meeting and orders the Israeli air force to strike terrorists targets in Beirut and South Lebanon. It is well understood by all ministers that if PLO responds with shelling of north Israel, a large scale operation in Lebanon would take place.
Operation Oranim order is given to Commanders of Israeli divisions on the Israeli-Lebanese border. An elite IDF unit is called and prepares to land 10 kilometers north of Sidon.
Many are wounded in the Israeli air raid on Beirut. Terrorists shell north Israel, and an exchange of fire begins.
The next day, Dan Meridor, secretary of the Israeli government, announces: “The Israeli government ordered the IDF to make sure that Israeli population in the Galilee is out of the fire range of the terrorists which are based in Lebanon. This operation is called Peace of the Galilee.”
IDF moves deep into Lebanon. At first the forces crosses friendly villages. The local villagers greet the soldiers, shower them with rice and hand them coffee. They too want the terrorists out. One of them said, “Now, God willing, we will be better off, thanks to the presence of Israeli Army in Sidon. We got rid of the terrorists. I congratulate the Israeli people.”
Prime Minister Menachem Begin declares in the Knesset that the operation has a limited scope: “If we succeed in pushing back the line 40 kilometers from our northern border – the job is done. There will be no more fighting.”
The following video describes the events which led to the Lebanon War and its declared objectives:
As the Israeli army heads north, beyond the original forty kilometer limit, Sharon bombards the Cabinet with a military data. But some ministers are concerned that Sharon might not have explained the real purpose of the war.
Itzhak Berman, Former Cabinet Minister, says: “On the third day of the war I asked them to tell us what are the war’s objectives, because it is a matter that the government has do decide on. Not on tactical operational decisions, which the government members are not familiar with. The government should decide on the war’s objectives. It was promised that there will be a meeting to discuss the objectives of the war. No such meeting was ever held and that was one of the reasons I resigned.”
Mordechai Tzipori, Israeli Communication Minister during the years 1981 – 1984, says: “40 kilometers was the real goal that was announced by the government and that was decided on by the government. The rest was due to us being dragged, which could be avoided.”
Chief of Staff, Rafael Eitan, had a more ambitious goal to the war, more in the lines of Operation Oranim, which was not presented to the public at the time. He wanted to reach Beirut-Damascus road and to impose a siege on Beirut.
In the very early stages of the operation, paratroopers and armored forces landed in the Awali river, north to Sidon, way beyond the 40 kilometers line.
First lieutenant in reserve Alon Shemi, paratrooper: “Once we landed there, and we were familiar with the plans, it was obvious that the whole 40 kilometer thing is a deception. It was not clear who’s trying to deceive who, but it was clear that it is deception. Maybe the government wanted to deceive the people or maybe the Defense Minister wanted to deceive other ministers. That was not clear. But it was clear that it was a deception.”
On the first night of the fighting, the Beaufort Castle was captured by Israeli forces. Prime Minister Begin and Defense Minister Ariel Sharon arrived there the following morning and met the soldiers.
Ariel Sharon said: “This is one our greatest achievements. This place was a nuisance and has posed a threat for years and years.”
During the first days of war, coast line cities of Tyre and Sidon were bombarded as a preparation for the invasion of Israeli troops and capturing the terrorists and confiscating their arms and ammunition. It was a war on civil targets. The enemy, PLO gunmen, hid among women, children and the elderly.
Lieutenant colonel in reserve Gali Hoss, infantry regiment Commander: “The terrorists wore jeans, T-shirts, a belt with two pouches, sneakers and were armed with Kalachnikov rifles. And we were the conquering army, dressed from head to toe, full metal jackets, weapons, fully equipped, in great numbers — they sent to Lebanon whomever they could. The wheel has turned – they fought for their homes, we were fighting outside our country. They were light and poor, we were heavily armed. They were very determined in their fighting, very brave.”
The soldiers saw difficult sights, to which they were unaccustomed. Such was the case in the combat on Ein Hilwe, where a hospital was mistakenly hit on the outskirts of the refugee camp.
Lieutenant colonel in reserve Gali Hoss, infantry regiment Commander: “There were two burned ambulances there, and around them scattered fifty bodies, and I’m talking about hospital population. When you participate in this play and the killed players are soldiers in uniforms, you accept it, these are the rules of the game. But when you suddenly see that among the dead is a girl, the same age as the girl you have at home, you realize that this is something completely different, that this is horrible, and what is most horrible is that you have a part in it.”
The inhabitants of the refugee camps were called to evacuate their homes prior to the storming of IDF troops. Thousands of people left the villages and marched to nearby orchards and to the coast.
At this stage, the only opposition to the war in Israel was sounded by Hadash Party. Knesset Member Meir Vilner submitted a no-confidence motion against the government and said in the Knesset: “This is a war against a people that has no country, no state; this is a war against the Palestinian people, against a civil population, against a national liberation movement. Is this bravery? You are leading us to an unnecessary and dangerous war to Israel.”
The no-confidence motion was defeated by a great majority. The government felt that there was a national consensus that the war was justified.
Prime Minister Menachem Begin said after the vote: “I wish to thank the opposition parties for their support. This national unity is one of the nicest hours of Israel.”
The media also supported Operation Peace of the Galilee.
- “Relief in Nahariya: It would be as safe as Tel Aviv.”
- “Joy in Kiryat Shmone: This is the most justified action.”
- “Citizens support the government actions in the north.”
- “We are doing the right thing.”
Knesset Member Yossi Sarid, Labor Party: “This was one of the worst hours, one of the ugliest hours, and one of the most idiotic hours in the history of Israel. Many of those who vote then for the war knew that the public was misled; they knew that the war was not meant to take only 48 hours and they knew that it was not limited to forty kilometers as it was presented. They also knew that as we sat there in the Knesset and voted, combats were already held way beyond the 40 kilometers line, but they were much more comfortable with this agreed lie, and therefore someone like me had no choice but not to join the consensus of this war, maybe for the first time in the history of Israel.”
On the forth day of the fighting the first cracks in the consensus where exposed.
Israeli TV reported: “This is the town of Damur, or what’s left of it. This town is less than 10 kilometers to the south of Beirut, and IDF has already moved north to the southern outskirts of Beirut.”
The storming of IDF forces northward, way beyond the 40 kilometer line, gave rise to doubts about the true objectives of the operation. Is it really only about the Peace of the Galilee?
Naomi Ben Tzur, a mother of a soldier: “My son, as a tank driver, told us that he drove for forty hours non stop, until they ran out of gas and water. And then we realized, and I think we were the first to realize the great deception. The story about 40 kilometers, the limited operation, suddenly becomes a war, a war with no limits, no time limits and no territorial limits.”
Prime Minister Menachem Begin said in a television interview: “There are still thousands of terrorists. Do we want them back? The 40 kilometer or 43 kilometer line should be a line of peace, which means that beyond it there should be no terrorists at all, so we had to go further to the north from the 40 kilometer line in order to ensure that they don’t come back.”
Syria was also forced to participate in the fighting. In the forth day of the war the Syrian missile batteries were destroyed by Israeli fighters. In addition, dozens of Syrian fighters were downed in air battles. IDF forces moved to the north, towards the Beirut-Damascus road, aiming to cut off Beirut and to impose a siege on it.
On the forth day, the Israeli forces were already in the outskirts of Beirut. The objective became more and more clear: surrounding and maybe even destroying Arafat’s headquarters in Beirut, and then joining forces with the Christian Militias that were fighting the Palestinians under the leadership of Bashir Gemayel. The Lebanese Forces with their commander Bashir Gemayel were the Israeli hope in the war. For several years now, Israel assisted the Christian Militias in the Lebanese civil war against the Muslims.
During the war Bashir Gemayel said: “All what you are seeing here now is not only an Israeli business, but for eight years Syrians and Palestinians were helping each other for the destruction of this country.”
On Friday, June 11, a cease fire, which was reached thanks to US mediation, was announced. Israeli casualties so far: 214 killed, 23 missing in action, one prisoner of war and 1,114 wounded.
First lieutenant in reserve Meir Perry, paratrooper: “OK, we achieved a cease fire, but now what, what next, what does it really give us, or anyone else? And most troubling of all is that the cease fire is not kept by our forces, and that we receive conflicting messages as civilians, as the citizens of Israel, and as soldiers, and this gap is beginning to cause a great unease.”
Defense Minister Ariel Sharon said in a press conference: “We have no cease fire with the terrorists. We have not decided on any cease fire with the terrorists, we have never signed any cease fire with terrorists, we do not engage in any dialog with terrorists who openly state that their goal is the destruction of Israel.”
Israel did not like the cease fire as long as PLO holds its positions in West Beirut. The Lebanese civil war has divided the city to Muslim neighborhoods in the west and to Christian neighborhoods in the east. The border line was marked by ruined buildings, sand bags and fortified positions on both sides. IDF tightened its grip on the city from the south and from the east. The siege on Beirut began.
Within just a week, four hundred Israeli tanks and a thousand guns besied Beirut. For two months the Israeli army repeatedly bombed and shelled Arafat’s headquarters, killing thousands of civilians in the process.
Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan said in a television interview: “They are under siege. We determine how tight this siege is. If we want to – we shut down water supply, cut off electricity, prevent gasoline supply, and then we shall see who can endure longer. And if they fire with sniper rifles, maybe it’s because that’s what’s left to them. So we will come with a one ton bomb on any target we decide on.”
IDF troops seized street after street and tightened the loop around PLO’s neck. They prepared to occupy the whole city. They had the detailed plans. The soldiers were training for Military Operations on Urban Terrain.
Lieutenant colonel in reserve Gali Hoss, infantry regiment Commander: “I came to Beirut, and I saw a city which was greater than Tel Aviv. It wasn’t some small town. We were about to conquer a huge city, with huge buildings. It was in a horrible state after many years of war, but it was huge nevertheless. After I saw what happened in Ein Hilwe, I wondered how many people live in this city. How many civilians? And they had nowhere to run to, this was it, this was Beirut.”
First lieutenant Itay Shiloni: “On one hand we refused to realize that it was really going to happen, but then again we were positive that it would eventually. We were certain that no matter what, this would not be over until we reach each and every house in Beirut, cease fire or no cease fire. It was clear that we were going to be in those streets.”
Lieutenant colonel in reserve Gali Hoss, infantry regiment Commander: “To a certain degree, we needed to formulate a new kind of fighting style that would fit taking over a 40-story building, which is kind of taking over a street standing upright. Not only we were not prepared for this, I never thought I would have to do something like that. This is very complex.”
Lieutenant colonel in reserve Amiram Zakin, ifantry regiment Commander in a television interview:
- Amiram Zakin: “I thought of 155mm artillery, Vulcan machine guns and air raids.”
- Reporter: “And that only then your guys would begin to climb up the skyscraper?”
- Amiram Zakin: “No, I did not think that we should go up a high building, and I don’t think so today. To accomplish that, you can put explosives and the building is gone. And yes, I know, it is very immoral to do so. But this way no soldier gets killed. And if it’s a war, then it has its own rules.”
On 1998 Ariel Sharon said in a television interview:
- Ariel Sharon: “They did not have a plan to go into Beirut.”
- Reporter: “The soldiers said that they were training for it. They were training on houses, on streets, on blocks.”
- Ariel Sharon: “I’m sure that the soldiers were training, and today they are also training. And not only that the soldiers were training, they were also planning and their commanders were planning. But let’s be precise about it: Did IDF planned at some point to take control over Beirut? It planned many things. But, was there in this operation, operation Peace of the Galilee, an intention to occupy Beirut? The answer is No.”
Whether a plan to occupy Beirut existed or not, the siege on the city and the detailed plans have cracked the Israeli consensus about the war.
Demonstrators carried signs in peace rallies, saying:
- Get out of Lebanon
- For the sake of Israel, Stop Begin and Sharon
- Beirut – The City of Killing
- The Lebanon War = Hundreds of casualties but no solution
- The Palestinian Issue will not be solved by military force
- Stop destroying Beirut
- Stop the blockade of Beirut immediately
- Shall you kill the innocent with the evil?
Major General Matityahu Peled said in a speech during a peace rally: “Never before a rally was held in the midst of a war in Israel. This rally is held because the majority of the people abhors this war, opposes it, and demands its immediate ending.”
Meir Kahana, head of Kach extreme right wing party, said: “The left minority changed US policy during the Vietnam War, and God forbid this is what is going to happen here. Thanks to the Prime Minister and the Defense Minister we now have a golden opportunity to eliminate the PLO, completely eliminate it, completely!”
Israel became an arena of rallies for and against the war. Emotions ran high. The split deepened.
Moti Goldman, a soldier in an elite commando unit, protested during the war, saying, “I saw the silence of the bodies of our dead soldiers that were left with us in our APC’s. I vowed to make the Beaufort Castle a symbol for breaking the silence, to cry the silence of our deceived dead.”
Families of the fallen attacked Goldman and announced: “Our loved ones have not fallen in vain. We, the bereaved families that lost their loved ones in Operation Peace of the Galilee, object the horrible and cynical abuse of our fallen dears by political factions. Let IDF uproot all terror organizations from the land of Lebanon. Inciters: leave us alone in our grief.”
On 1998 Ariel Sharon said in a television interview: “Documents that we found in Beirut, cite the heads of the PLO saying, ‘The rallies of the Left in Israel are our last hope.'”
The battles in Beirut went on for many weeks. IDF made a slow progress, nibbling on the outskirts of the city. The government got the support of the Knesset to its decision to demand that the PLO should evacuate Beirut and leave Lebanon.
Several months after the war began, tens of thousands of people gathered in a peace rally organized by Peace Now. Supporters of the war attacked the demonstrators with harsh words:
- “You are Kapos, Nazi collaborators, you push Jews into the Nazi crematoriums”
- “Get out of Tel Aviv, you miserable little Palestinians”
- “Go home, keep your filth out of the city”
On 1998 Ariel Sharon said in a television interview: “Chaim Guri (a renowned poet and publicist) wrote, ‘Let’s face it. This is the first time there’s a war under a Likud government.’ And this was the problem. What happened in that war was a split that was mostly fabricated by the Labor Party and the Left in an attempt to overthrow, in an un-democratic way, a government which was elected in a democratic and a legitimate way.”
But Sharon omitted the rest of what Guri wrote: “Menachem Begin, with his own words, contributed to the breaking of the consensus. Begin had a very small majority, but he didn’t give a damn. He didn’t care about those who did not vote for him. It is Begin who created the division to good fellows and bad fellows, to faithful and traitors.”
On a pro-war rally Menachem Begin said: “Yesterday Arafat invited Arik Sharon to Beirut. Beware, Arafat, for Arik Sharon might accept your invitation.” And the crowd roared enthusiastically.
Sabri Jiryis, Senior PLO advisor, says: “In my opinion the Palestinian people should award Sharon a prize for what he did for the Palestinian cause, especially in the 1982 war, the Lebanon war, and his raids on Beirut. In the beginning of the 1980’s the PLO, the Palestinian movement, were based in Beirut, Lebanon, and they almost forgot about Palestine. And then Sharon came and threw the Palestinians out of there and didn’t leave them any other place to go to. So we, the Palestinians, started to fight in the West Bank and Gaza.”
Israel was determined that the surrounded PLO terrorists should leave Beirut. While diplomatic efforts were made to achieve that goal, Israel launched a heavy bombardment on West Beirut. Although the targets were carefully picked, there were civilian casualties.
First lieutenant Itay Shiloni: “We saw fighters come and bombard and go. We got used it. It happened every day. We used to sit on balconies with binoculars, watched the sun set and our fighters bombard West Beirut. We did not make any connection between what we saw and the fact that people got killed. Every bomb dropped by a fighter felt as something that might postpone our physical invasion into the city.”
Colonel Eli Geva, Armored Brigade Commander, asked to be relieved of command. He did not see any point and justification for the ongoing war efforts to occupy the city of Beirut: “I saw no purpose in the continuation of the war, the price of the fighting in West Beirut was unreasonable in light of the purpose, which would lead to nothing at all. The price in terms of what we were supposed to do to the local population was such that demanded a second thought whether we were allowed to operate in the first place. I asked to be relieved from the obligation to lead the soldiers to such a place.”
Eli Geva was severely criticized. One junior officer said to a television reporter: “I feel personally betrayed. I am simply ashamed that I had such a commander. He simply abandoned one hundred thousand soldiers who all have fathers and mothers. He left because he thinks he cannot enter Beirut? And what about me? Don’t I have parents? Don’t I have soldiers under my command? Don’t we have thoughts? Don’t we have feelings? What would be if every one of us would have just left?”
In a press conference, held shortly after Geva’s resignation, Prime Minister Begin attacked his decision: “Among other things he told me, ‘I see through my binoculars little children.’ I asked him, ‘Did you receive orders to kill those children?’ He said, ‘No.’ So I told him, ‘What’s your point, then?’ He did not answer. He is afraid that he might receive such an order. Out of fear??”
On 1998, Eli Geva said in a television interview: “When I told him that we were shooting civilians, he said that it was reported to him that there were no civilians there. I remember I told myself that he had no alternative, but to say that.”
Eli Geva was not alone. A group of reserve soldiers from an elite IDF commando unit wrote to the Prime Minister about their lack of faith in Defense Minister Ariel Sharon:
“Honorable Prime Minister!
I did not volunteer to serve in my elite unit for that! It was always clear to me that if I go to a war, it would be a just war to defend our lives and our existence as a people.
Today it is clear to me that I was deceived and called to fight in the first war in the history of Israel that was not a defense war, but a dangerous gamble aimed to achieve political goals by paying a heavy toll of IDF casualties and innocent civilian casualties.
I have no faith in the Defense Minister!”
Prime Minister Begin wrote in reply:
“Defense Minister Sharon does not need your faith. As electing citizens I assume that you have not vote for him or for his party, through which he and I and our friends serve the people of Israel. As soldiers you owe him unquestioning discipline. Under the law. Operation Peace of the Galilee, through all its stages, is the most just operation ever carried out.
First lieutenant in reserve Alon Shemi, paratrooper: “I remember the first time I saw this letter. It really astounded me. I remember how I walked the streets of Jerusalem at night dumbstruck, and went through all the process of debating with this argument [Under the law]. Because it really seemed to destroy it all. First, it was a demagogic argument. Second, it is basically a very totalitarian argument. An army of paid soldiers under the control of a ruler can be directed anywhere. But this is not the case with IDF. IDF is a people’s army, an army which is based on reserve forces of citizens.”
Soldiers were seen on television coming straight from the battlefield to protest in front of the Prime Minister’s house.
The international pressure, especially by the United States, both on Israel and on the PLO, has increased. In the middle of August Arafat surrendered and announced that he was willing to evacuate Beirut. The PLO was defeated. Mission accomplished.
15,000 Palestinian fighters left Beirut. The PLO abandoned its Beirut base and scattered over several Arab states.
On 1998 Ariel Sharon said in a television interview: “It was a historical victory. I don’t recall when in history a whole organization, a terror organization had its domain completely destroyed, and being expelled and forced to leave its capital with all its headquarters and commanders and its head Arafat, who is a war criminal by any law.”
Itzhak Berman, Former Cabinet Minister, says: “When he got the PLO out of Beirut, he didn’t understand that he was creating a vacuum. Two months after the PLO left Lebanon, the Hizbolla, which is much worse, was formed. It humiliated the Israeli army time after time. In 1984 Hamas was formed because there was a vacuum, because the PLO wasn’t there. He didn’t take this into consideration.”
Soon after the evacuation from Beirut, Arafat told in a television interview: “What about the future? It is a responsibility upon my shoulders to continue this very long march, and I promise them that this march will continue until we will be able to establish our independent state, with its capital Jerusalem.”
Prime Minister Menachem Begin said after the expulsion of the terrorists from Beirut: “These are their miserable soldiers. That’s why they look like that. And that’s why we didn’t care much for capturing him, but we did want to terminate his command along with the command of two other ‘Abus’, Abu Aiad and Abu Ziad. Oh Well, they are not a real challenge for our soldiers.”
The most important achievement of Israel was that Bashir Gemayel was elected President of Lebanon. It seemed as though Israel achieved not only the military goal of Operation Peace of the Galilee but the political one as well, namely a Lebanese government that would be willing to sign a peace treaty with Israel. But Syria could not accept Gemayel as the Lebanese president, as he was elected with the aid of Israeli artillery and tanks. He was doomed.
On September 14, 1982, three weeks after he was elected president, Gemayel was killed in a tremendous blast that destroyed the headquarters of the Phalanges Militias. Israel’s dream to establish a pro-Israeli government in Lebanon was shattered.
The following day IDF set to occupy Beirut. Prime Minister Begin ordered: “Muslims must be protected from Phalanges’ revenge,” and the IDF went to the final battle in Beirut. The task of cleansing the refugee camps, which still harbored some two thousand terrorists, was assigned to the Phalanges that lost their commander in the assassination. IDF surrounded the camps and assisted the Phalanges with lighting and observation.
On Thursday the Phalanges entered Sabra and Shatila and the massacre began. Women, after being separated from the men, ran away from the narrow streets and cried for help.
In the following video you can see pictures taken a short time after the Sabra and Shatila Massacre:
First lieutenant Itay Shiloni: “Even if they turned to me, I did not care. I had no interest in what they had to say. They were just another bunch of annoying Arabs wishing to pass from here to there, interrupting our mission. Only later I realized that they were the people who fled the camps where the massacre took place. How did you, First lieutenant Itay Shiloni, an IDF officer, stood in the crossroads and did not take an interpreter, did not ask, did not make inquiries? True, you had your orders. So what? You saw multitude of people suffering, and what have you done to prevent this? If I were to stand trial for this, I would have been found guilty.”
The massacre went on for three nights and two days. IDF soldiers around the camps heard rumors and saw fragments of what happened. They reported to their commanders. Nothing was done.
On 1998, Ron Ben Ishay, Israeli TV military reporter, said in an interview: “That night I called Arik Sharon home and told him, ‘Put an end to it.’ That was even before I saw what happened with my own eyes. I called him as soon as I heard the stories, even though I could not yet verify them that night. When I heard it from several people, I realized what was going on.”
Ariel Sharon: “I asked him, ‘Did you see it?’ He said, ‘No, I heard about it.’ And then I asked another question, ‘Did you hear from those who saw it?’ He said, ‘I heard from those who heard about it.’ Since three hours earlier I spoke with the Chief of Staff, and he told me about his impression as to what happened, and he told me that he had instructed that Lebanese Forces to evacuate the terrorists neighborhoods – which, by the way, harbored many terrorists, there were two thousands armed terrorists there – when he told me this, I understood that he took the necessary measures to remove the Lebanese Forces from within the terrorists neighborhoods.”
Ron Ben Isahy: “The next morning I arrived to Shatila in 06:00, and saw the Phalanges round up women and children and massacring them, and at that point I could no longer keep my professional composure. At that point I was literally transformed.”
Ron Ben Ishay wrote in his turmoil to the Prime Minister: “I think that if the authorities wished to, it would have been possible to prevent at least part of the massacre.”
The massacre proved to many Israelis that the war was leading Israel towards a catastrophe. The shock forced everyone to take a closer look at the goals of the war and at its methods. This was an important psychological turning point, and from that point on the war would be seen in a different light.
On Saturday, Rosh Hashana eve, news of the massacre spread world wide. Hundreds of demonstrators hurried to the square in front of Prime Minister Begin’s house and held an illegal rally, calling, “Begin is a Killer! Begin is a Killer!” and “Begin and Sharon are responsible for the Pogrom! The Pogrom is their doing!” They were dispersed using tear gas.
Knesset Member Shimon Peres said in the Knesset: “What have you done, Mr. Prime Minister and Mr. Defense Minister, when you publicly took upon yourselves the responsibility for everything that might happen in Beirut? What have you caused by announcing in advance that we control every major crossroads, and that the refugee camps are completely surrounded by us? If in fact you assumed what might happen and could not prevent it, this is a terrible failure.”
On 1998, Mordechai Zipori, who was at the time Communication Minister, said: “I told the Prime Minister at the government meeting on Rosh Hashana, ‘No matter what they say. From this room we released an announcement to the press about entering West Beirut, about entering there in order to prevent bloodshed, and blood was shed, so we would be held responsible.”
After the massacre, Defense Minister Ariel Sharon said in the Knesset: “No IDF soldier and no IDF commander has participated in this terrible deed. The hands of IDF soldiers are clean. IDF’s moral ethics remained impeccable, as it was impeccable throughout the war. Therefore, any attempt to put the blame in any way, and you [Israeli opposition parties] have done so in every media, letting the whole world know, is just making things worse.”
At first, the government refused to appoint a special committee to investigate the massacre. But 400,000 demonstrators in Tel Aviv convinced it to change its mind. A Special Committee was appointed to investigate what happened in Sabra and Shatila. Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Defense Minister Ariel Sharon and many IDF officers testified.
On 1998, Ariel Sharon said in a television interview: “More than 40 testimonies were heard. Not one person said that was happened there was predictable. They based their findings on an article published in Bamahane, which is a very important magazine, but no offence, I admit I did not have the time in those days to read it, as I have not read other newspapers, and there was an article in some Lebanese newspaper which claimed that Christians might murder Muslims. These were the two major pieces of evidence they were relying on. No one, none of the heads of the Mossad, none of the heads of the General Security Services, none of the heads of the Army Intelligence, none of them said that this might happen.”
On February 7, 1983, Prime Minister Menachem Begin received the Inquiry Commission report late at night and promised the head of the Commission not to reveal the conclusions to anyone until the report is officially published. Begin was in his Jerusalem residence. He read the report and knew what the recommendations were. At the same time, Ariel Sharon sat in his office in the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv and had no idea what the report said. He nervously waited for Begin to call and tell him, but in vain. He then called Begin himself but got no answers. Sharon would later say that he already understood what was about to happen.
The next morning, a secretary of the Inquiry Commission brought the report to a hotel where Sharon stayed. After he read the conclusions, Sharon said to Begin, “Menachem, I want you to know that you have betrayed me.” Sharon considered quitting his political career, but eventually decided not do so.
The Committee concluded that, “Since the danger that the Phalanges would carry out the massacre was not considered, and since no prompt action was taken to stop the massacre, an indirect responsibility lies on Israel as well.”
With regard to Ariel Sharon, the panel recommended that he, “… draw the appropriate personal conclusions arising out of the defects revealed with regard to the manner in which he discharged the duties of his office” – in other words, that he resign; or, if necessary, that the prime minister exercise his authority to remove a minister from office.
The key paragraphs relating to Sharon’s responsibility are these: “In our view, Defense Minister Sharon made a grave mistake when he ignored the danger of acts of revenge and bloodshed by the Phalanges against the population in the refugee camps … It is our view that responsibility is to be imputed to the minister of defense for having disregarded the danger of acts of vengeance and bloodshed by the Phalanges against the population of the refugee camps, and having failed to take this danger into account when he decided to move the Phalanges into the camps.
“In addition, responsibility is to be imputed to the minister of defense for not ordering appropriate measures for preventing or reducing the danger of massacre as a condition for the Phalanges’ entry into the camps. These blunders constitute the non-fulfillment of a duty with which the defense minister was charged.
Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said of the Commission: “[It was] a great tribute to Israeli democracy… There are very few governments in the world that one can imagine making such a public investigation of such a difficult and shameful episode.”
But the Israeli government debated whether to accept the Committee’s conclusion. The government convened. Around the government building, opposing groups gathered and demonstrated, both for and against Sharon. The demonstrators’ conflict ended in a murder. A hand grenade was thrown to a Peace Now crowd, and Emil Greinzweig was killed.
Few days after the massacre in Sabra and Shatila, IDF forces left Beirut and retreated to the south.
First lieutenant Itay Shiloni: “A place that was considered just an hour earlier a crucial position for our security is becoming a spot we have to evacuate in half an hour. Crossroads, in which we had to prevent movement from east to west at all costs, had to be cleared in no time. The urgency to leave this city was astounding. This is also one of those things that won’t ever cease to disturb your mind: How come that a position that was so important just an hour earlier, a position that was worth getting killed for, now becoming a spot you have to rapidly clear out of?”
IDF troops stayed in Lebanon for two more years. At first they served as a buffer between Christians and Druze, who joined the Muslims. Then the Shia Muslims got organized, and the same people who greeted IDF with rice and cheers, now announced a Jihad, a Holy War, on Occupying Israel. Cruel and destructive guerilla fighting began in south Lebanon: car bombs, booby traps, ambushes and suicide bombers.
Reserve soldiers returned from service in Lebanon straight to the Prime Minister’s house to protest against the war. They put a sign with the ever increasing numbers of the dead. They carried placards that read: “Those who go to Lebanon have no trust in you.”
When the numbers of the dead got to hundreds, Prime Minister Begin got depressed. At the end of August, 1983, he announced that he cannot carry on and retired to his home. Two more winters would pass until IDF soldiers would go home too.
Knesset Member Yossi Sarid, Labor Party: “Ariel Sharon wanted this war in order to create a new Middle East. He intended to strike and eliminate the PLO and thereby create an alternative leadership, which could not be and cannot be today and cannot ever be. This was the goal. The war was designed to achieve that goal. It was very clear to someone like me that this goal could not be achieved, and therefore it’s all very simple: it was an adventure of Sharon, it could not but fail, and it did in fact fail.”
On 1998, Ariel Sharon said in a television interview: “I don’t feel that I sit here as a defendant in front of you. I think that the Peace of the Galilee War was one of the most justified wars of Israel, one of the most justified wars of Israel. And I think that the worst thing that happened is that – mostly out of internal political interests and as a result of lack of unity and lack of consensus – we did not achieve what we could have achieved. We could have achieved more.”