On 6 June 1982, Israeli forces invaded
On 1 September, a few days after the last wave of Palestinian fighters had left Beirut,
On 14 September 1982,
Lebanese Forces militia, units from the
Israeli journalist Amnon Kapeliouk described scenes from the massacre:
The massacre began immediately, and lasted for forty hours without stop ... in the first hour, the gunmen killed hundreds of people; they were shooting at anything that moved in the alleys. They broke down front doors and wiped out entire families eating dinner. Some families were murdered in bed, still wearing their pajamas. In many homes, children, three or four years old, were found in their pajamas, and blood-soaked blankets.... in many cases, the attackers dismembered their victims before killing them. They crushed the heads of children and babies against walls. Women and girls were raped before they were slaughtered with hatchets. Often, men were dragged out of their homes to be quickly and collectively executed in the street with hatchets and knives. The militants spread terror as they indiscriminately slaughtered men, women, children and the elderly ... a woman’s arm was found chopped off at the wrist so that her jewelry could be stolen.
The killing continued for forty-three hours, from 6 p.m. at sundown on Thursday, 16 September, until 1 p.m. on Saturday, 18 September. Sources vary in estimating the number of people killed in the massacre; while some sources estimate the number of victims between 4,000 and 4,500, it is almost certain the number is no less than 3,500. During the three days of the massacre, bulldozers were able to hide hundreds of bodies under the rubble or bury them in mass graves. Amnon Kapeliouk believes the Sabra and Shatila massacre “was committed intentionally” and that it was aimed at “effecting a mass exodus by the Palestinians from Beirut and Lebanon.”
The Israeli government did not deny that it had overseen the Palestinian refugee camps during the days of the massacre; the Israeli army had surrounded them from the first hours it entered Beirut. Yet it denied any knowledge that the massacre had happened, noting that order number 6 of the Israel Defense Forces command, on the morning of 16 September, had stated that “the refugee camps are not to be entered” because “searching and mopping up the camps will be done by the Phalangists/Lebanese Army.” The pretext for conducting this operation, after the camps were attacked, was that 2,500 Palestinian fighters has remained there after the evacuation of the PLO forces from Beirut. With this as background, as the massacre was at its height, the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper quoted Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin himself saying, “Many terrorists have remained there with their weapons, and we have ascertained this in the last two nights.”
Yet all these arguments did not convince large segments of the Israeli public, who were shocked by news and images of the massacre. On 25 September, at the call of the Peace Now movement, around 400,000 Israeli men and women demonstrated on the streets of Tel Aviv , condemning the massacre and demanding the formation of a commission of inquiry, to find out whether the Israeli government was responsible for what had happened.
Due to Israeli pressure in the street, Menachem Begin and his government were forced to form, on 28 September, a commission of inquiry to investigate “the atrocities committed by a unit in the Lebanese Forces against the civilian population in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps”; it was chaired by Judge Yitzhak Kahan
, President of the
In the wake of the massacre, units from the Lebanese Army entered the refugee camps and deployed throughout the neighborhoods of West Beirut and in Beirut’s southern suburbs. The Lebanese Council of Ministers officially invited the American, French, and Italian governments to send a multinational force to help the Lebanese army maintain security and ensure residents’ safety. On 21 September, the Lebanese National Assembly elected
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Kapeliouk, Amnon. Sabra and Shatila: Inquiry into a Massacre. Beirut: Association of Arab-American University Graduates, 1984.
Sayigh, Rosemary. Too Many Enemies: The Palestinian Experience in Lebanon. London: Zed Books, 1994.
Shahid, Leila, with an introduction by Linda Butler. “The Sabra and Shatila Massacres: Eye-witness Reports.” Journal of Palestine Studies 32, no.1 (Autumn 2002): 36–58.
Shaikh, Zakaria. “Sabra and Shatila 1982: Resisting the Massacre.” Journal of Palestine Studies 14, no.1 (Fall 1984): 57–90.
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