JERUSALEM (Oct. 3)
Two Supreme Court justices and a retired career army officer will comprise the judicial commission of inquiry set up to investigate Israel’s role, if any, in the massacre of Palestinian civilians by units of the Lebanese Phalangist militia in west Beirut September 16-18.
The members of the panel were appointed by the President of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Yitzhak Kahan, as provided under the 1968 Commissions of Inquiry Law. Kahan, 69, and due to retire in a year, designated himself chairman. He named as his colleagues Justice Aharon Barak, a former Attorney General, and Gen. (res.) Yonah Efrat who once commanded Israel’s crack Golani Brigade and later served as commanding general of the central command.
The composition of the commission is bound to satisfy even the most skeptical that the inquiry will be conducted fairly and thoroughly. Kahan and Barak are distinguished jurists, regarded as “judges’ judges” whose entire outlook is judicial and divorced from any other considerations.
Barak, 46, served as Attorney General in the late ’70s, beginning under a Labor government and remaining in office after Likud took power. He played a key role in the Camp David negotiations of September, 1978 as a legal advisor to the Israeli negotiating team. Efrat, 56, now heads a fuel transportation company. A lifelong soldier with an outstanding record, he has never been involved in politics.
CONSEQUENCES OF INQUIRY FEARED
Meanwhile, a group of senior Israeli army officers who have reportedly called for the resignation of Defense Minister Ariel Sharon for his conduct of the war in Lebanon, was said to fear that the inquiry might blame the army for actions in west Beirut initiated and ordered by the political leaders.
Those misgivings were expressed before the commission’s composition was announced. The officers pointed out that the decision for the Israeli army to enter west Beirut on September 15 and later to send the Phalangists into the Shatila and Sabra refugee camps where the massacres occurred, were both taken on the highest political level.
An army spokesman confirmed today that a meeting took place last week between these officers and Sharon but vigorously denied a report in the London Sunday Times today that it had turned into a “near mutiny.” The Times story was co-authored by the newspaper’s Jerusalem correspondent, David Blundy, and Hirsch Goodman, military correspondent of the Jerusalem Post.
The Post, which published the Times story today, reported that its details were known to Goodman and other Israeli reporters last week but could not be published.
Other Israeli newspapers and the State radio correspondent, Shmuel Tal, said today that the Times’ report was “over-dramatized and exaggerated.” But it was generally acknowledged that some officers demanded that Sharon resign. The meeting, held at an undisclosed location outside Tel Aviv, lasted six hours. It was described as “highly emotional but nowhere near a mutiny.” Officers who had criticized Sharon sharply earlier in the day were said to have modified their tone in his presence.
According to the reports, Sharon attacked the officers for demanding the resignation of a minister and advised them to resign their own commissions if they wanted to enter politics.
Sharon, in a radio interview last week, said he might resign if the inquiry commission proved that Israeli soldiers had taken part in the west Beirut massacre. Not even Israel’s harshest critics have ever contended that was the case. The Israelis were faulted for allowing the Phalangists to enter the refugee camps.
Sharon insisted that the government did not have the slightest suspicion of what would ensue because it regarded the Phalangists as a disciplined military force.