I recount in A Beirut Heart: One Woman’s War, that four days after Lebanon’s newly elected president, Bachir Gemayal, was assassinated between fifteen hundred and two thousand men, women and children were found massacred in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla.
The massacres began on the night of September 16, 1982 when about two hundred militiamen, sent by then Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, entered the camps. These men were hand-picked by Sharon from one of the more extreme Christian militia whose village had been ravaged by Palestinian guerrillas. They had seen their family members slaughtered and defiled, their homes destroyed. Ariel Sharon knew they wanted revenge.
For forty-eight hours, from the evening of September 16 to September 18, Israelis stood guard outside the camps to prevent anyone from escaping. They sent up flares to aid the militiamen inside the camps. When the job was d one, they bulldozed the bodies into heaps, pushed them into shallow make-shift graves and covered them with dirt.
Ariel Sharon, Defense Minister in Menachem Begin’s government, was forced to resign after a special Israeli investigative panel declared him to be “personally responsible” for the massacre. Sharon was the architect of the invasion of Lebanon and his was a war of deception because he tricked his Cabinet colleagues into launching this operation by pretending the aims were very limited. In fact, his plan was to completely change the geopolitics of the region—to create a new order in Lebanon by electing Bachir Gemayal as president, getting him to sign a peace treaty with Israel, then expel the Syrian forces from Lebanon and replace Syria with Israeli hegemony in the Levant.
Sharon’s war of deception ended with the horrifying massacre and one that should resonate with people who are familiar with Jewish history. It was almost a replica of the Kishinev massacre in pre-First World War Russia, one of the worst atrocities in Israeli memory. The Tsar’s army surrounded Kishinev and allowed the people inside the village to rampage. Over a three day period, they killed forty-five Jews. On a much larger scale, this was pretty much what happened in Sabra-Shatila. The Israeli army surrounded it, sent in the Christian militiamen who went on a murderous spree, killing close to two thousand.
We lived about a mile and a half from the camps and, in the aftermath of the massacre, could smell the rotting corpses. My husband’s secretary lived in an apartment building across from the camps. She was terrified by the constant machine gun bursts but it was the voices of children crying, of women pleading for their lives that touched her soul.
“I was too frightened to even pull open the blinds and look out”, she said, “but it was the voices I heard, the pain in their pleas for mercy, that I’ll never forget.”
“There was a foul, almost sickeningly sweet smell in the air…and the flies. There were great hordes of them everywhere. That’s when I knew something horrible had happened.”
She recalled a group of young boys who looked as if they had been playing one of those games where children huddle together over a ball, arms linked, shoulders touching; they had fallen together in a pile. Their faces looked as if they had been daubed with dark red finger paint.
A small girl lay on her side in an alleyway a short distance away. She thought at first it was a doll, her dress blotched with blood and dirt, a crimson halo encircling her head.
While Ariel Sharon was forced to step down as Defense Minister, no one could have imagined that he would bounce back as Israel’s Prime Minister. But this was part and parcel of his career as a soldier and as a politician. Sharon committed his first war crime as a young major in 1953 when he destroyed many houses in the Jordanian village of Qibya and was responsible for the massacre of 69 civilians. The consistent thread in his career was the use of brute force.
President George W. Brush famously called Sharon a man of peace. There is not a single scintilla of evidence to support the notion of Sharon as such a man.
In January 2014, when Sharon’ finally died after a prolonged coma, the New York Times turned him from a war criminal and mass murderer into a god. They even released an earlier op-ed written by Sharon in which he justified the invasion of Lebanon and the massacre.
In September 2015, on the 30th anniversary of the massacre, the New York Times published another op-ed, this one with links to documents released by the Israel State Archive which showed that Sharon’s responsibility was far greater than originally thought. It also showed that the Israeli government knew perfectly well what he had planned and that they stonewalled to prevent the massacre from being stopped. On September 16, American diplomats ordered the Israelis to halt the massacres and withdraw their forces from Beirut. Sharon fended them off so that the killing could continue for another day.
Clearly, Ariel Sharon was never a man of peace.
This book is available for purchase here: