Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Cabinet Rejects All Accusations That Israel Was Responsible for Massacre of Palestinians in Beirut

September 21, 1982
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The Cabinet has angrily rejected “all director implicit accusations” that Israel was in any way responsible for the massacre of civilians in the Shatila and Sabra refugee camps in west Beirut Friday, reportedly by elements of the Christian Phalangists and Maj. Saad Haddad’s Christian militia, private military forces armed and supported by Israel.

A communique bristling with anger was issued after a three-hour emergency meeting of the Cabinet late last night denouncing such accusations as a “blood libel” against Israel, its government and its army.

The communique was in response to a flood of criticism abroad alleging that Israel had acquiesced in and may even have facilitated the slaughter of at least 300 Palestinian men, women and children by allowing the armed Christian forces into the camps and doing nothing to halt the carnage.

The Cabinet communique also reacted to mounting criticism at Home of Israel’s deepening involvement in strife-torn Lebanon by calling on all Israelis to “rally round their democratically elected government.”

Anti-government criticism boiled over at home. Demonstrators outside Begin’s Jerusalem residence and elsewhere in Israel demanded that Israel pull out of west Beirut and out of Lebanon. Labor Party leaders called for the prompt resignation of Begin and Defense Minister Ariel Sharon. Begin declared today that he would not resign. At the Cabinet session last night he accused the Laborites of “degenerate galutism” and of “kneeling before the goy.”


Other developments, related to the events which began with Israel’s occupation of west Beirut last Wednesday and climaxed by the discovery of hundreds of murdered civilians in the refugee camps Friday included:

Acknowledgement by Cabinet ministers that Israel was in grave crisis with the U.S.; the Cabinets agreement to increase the number of United Nations observers in Beirut but its flat rejection of the dispatch of an international force to the Lebanese capital or the transfer there of elements of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), now confined to south Lebanon; Egypt’s recall this morning of its Ambassador to Israel, Saad Mortada, conflicting reports of events in west Beirut by Israeli military sources which seemed to cast doubt on the government’s version of what transpired.

Foreign Ministry sources in Cairo said today that Ambassador Mortada was instructed to take the first available plane to Cairo for consultations arising from events in Beirut which have been strongly condemned by the Egyptian government. But this fell far short of a rupture of diplomatic relations with Israel.

Foreign Minister Kamal Hassan Ali dispatched a note to UN Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar calling Israel solely to blame for the massacre of civilians in the Palestinian refugee camps in west Beirut “because of its occupation of the Lebanese capital.” The note referred to “the bestial acts of Israel in Lebanon.”


The army, meanwhile, acknowledged that eight Israeli soldiers have been killed and about 100 wounded — a dozen seriously — since Israeli forces occupied west Beirut last Wednesday following the assassination Tuesday of President-elect Bashir Gemayel, leader of the Phalangist party. Three of the dead were killed when their tank was blown up, apparently by a rocket launched grenade.


The escalating crisis caused Begin to summon his Cabinet into extra ordinary session immediately after the conclusion of the Rash Hashanah to holiday. The government communique, read to reporters by Cabinet Secretary Dan Meridor, referred to only one of the refugee camps, Shatila, which is adjacent to the Sabra camp. It said:

“In a place where there was no position of the Israeli army, a Lebanese unit entered a refugee center where terrorists were hiding in order to apprehend them. This unit caused many casualties to innocent civilians. We state this fact with deep grief and regret.

“The IDF (Israel Defense Force), as soon as it learned of the tragic events in the Shatila camp, put an end to the slaughter of the innocent civilian population and forced the Lebanese units to evacuate the camp. The civilian population itself gave clear expression to is gratitude to the act of salvation by the IDF.

“All the director the implicit accusations that the IDF bears any blame whatsoever for this human tragedy in the Shatila camp are entirely baseless and without any foundation. The Government of Israel rejects them with the contempt they deserve. The fact remains that without the intervention of the IDF, there would have been much greater loss of life.

“Despite the internal incitement, we call upon the people of Israel to unite around its democratically elected government in its struggle for security and peace for Israel and all her citizens. No one would preach to us ethics and respect for human lives, values on which we have dedicated–and we will continue to dedicate–generations of Israeli fighters.”


Israeli officials said today that the Phalangists entered the refugee camps to search for terrorists and arms supplies. They encountered resistance in the camps and that was when the killings started, the officials said. They claimed that Israeli forces in the vicinity heard the shooting but believed it was an encounter with the terrorists.

No one could think or know that the Phalangists would carry out a massacre inasmuch as Israel believed tempers had cooled in the days following Gemayel’s assassination officials said.

Ironically, Israel had justified its occupation of west Beirut, in face of strong remonstrations from Washington, in part on grounds that it sought to prevent Phalangists from wreaking bloody revenge for the assassination of their leader. Israel also claimed it had been hoodwinked by the Palestine Liberation Organization and that at least 2,000 armed PLO terrorists remained in west Beirut after their main body evacuated the city last month.

Although the Cabinet accepted the UN Security Council’s call to station UN observers in west Beirut, it rejected an American demand that two or three UNIFIL battalions from south Lebanon be transferred there. Israel is insisting that the Lebanese army take over the positions presently held by Israeli forces.

Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir was expected to send U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz a cable today expressing Israel’s readiness to allow some 40 UN observers into west Beirut, in accordance with the Security Council resolution. Shamir reportedly received a strongly worded message from Shultz Saturday night demanding Israel’s immediate withdrawal from west Beirut.


Meanwhile, an analysis of army and other official statements and pronouncements over the holiday weekend revealed many contradictions and inconsistencies. Defense Minister Sharon claimed that Israeli forces “surrounded the (refugee) camps.” Chief of Staff Gen. Rafael Eitan said Israeli forces were positioned only at the western periphery of the camps, leaving their eastern approaches open for the Phalangist forces.

While some Israeli reports said Phalangist elements who entered the camp did so on their own authority, other official reports stated that they were sent in by the Israeli army on orders of higher civilian authorities, to help, or to carry out alone the search for PLO terrorists believed hiding in the camps.

Galei Zahal, the Israel armed forces radio, reported from Beirut at midnight last Thursday, that the IDF had “decided to leave the cleansing of the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps to the Phalange force.” The broadcast was repeated during the night but discontinued early Friday morning.

Zeev Schiff, the respected military correspondent of the independent daily Haaretz, reported that he had learned early Friday morning that a slaughter had occurred in the refugee camps during the night.

Schiff is understood to have passed his information on to Communications Minister Mordechai Zipori who, in turn, conveyed it to Shamir Friday morning. But Shamir told the Cabinet last-night that he had first learned of the massacre Friday night.

When reminded by Zipori that he had given him the information Friday morning, Shamir reportedly told aides that he “treated Zipori’s statement like he treated many other reports by him — with suspicion.” He added that he had checked with the army which told him it knew nothing of a massacre. But this apparently was hours after the massacre occurred and hours after the army had intervened to get the Phalangists out of the camp area.


Hirsh Goodman, military correspondent of the Jerusalem Post, reported today that Israeli intelligence services had warned Begin and Sharon of the danger of a blood feud between the unarmed Palestinians in the camps and the armed Phalangists groups. Observers here noted that the Middle East in general and Lebanon in particular, have a long history of blood feuds, something Israeli leaders could not have been unaware of.

Christians and Druze clashed in Lebanon some months ago until Israeli soldiers intervened. Maj. Haddad’s forces have been accused of murdering many women and children in south Lebanon after Israel invaded that region in the Litani River campaign of 1978.

While refugee camp survivors were claiming today that Haddad’s men took part in the massacre, this was denied by Haddad and by Israeli officers. Haddad claimed that the Israeli forces had prevented his men from advancing beyond the Awali River, just north of Sidon in south Lebanon. But Israeli officers reported that “at least one” of Haddad’s militiamen was shot when Israeli troops acted to oust the Phalangists from the area.

Reports from Beirut today said surviving refugees were fleeing the camps in panic when rumors spread that Haddad’s men were returning. The refugees tried to rush past an Israel army roadblock but were turned back when Israeli troops fired into the air. Israeli sources said the panic ended when Lebanese security forces persuaded the refugees that the reports of Haddad’s return were baseless.


During last night’s Cabinet session, Begin reportedly linked the west Beirut crisis with President Reagan’s plan for the West Bank and Palestinian autonomy, announced by the President September I and immediately and categorically rejected by the Begin government. He reportedly accused the Reagan Administration of using the west Beirut crisis to force Israel to accept the Reagan plan.

One senior political source was quoted today as saying, “west Beirut is the turning point in relations between the two countries” (Israel and the U.S.). Although there was criticism in the Cabinet against the decision to occupy west Beirut — taken by Begin and Sharon without consulting their fellow ministers — objections, if any, by the ministers attending last night’s meeting were kept off the record.

Begin rejected all criticism of Israel. He said the Cabinet ministers knew of the plan to allow the Phalangists to enter the Palestinian camps to get rid of the remaining terrorists. Nobody could have surmised the results, Begin said. He dismissed criticism around the Cabinet table as “wisdom after the event.”


He lashed out against the Labor Party. “That party suffers from degenerate galutism,” he said, meaning a diaspora mentality. “This is their way of shaking off responsibility, of kneeling before the goy, even if it’s libel.” He charged that it always had been the practice of Labor to say: “It is not us, it is the separationists, (Herut). That’s the way they escaped responsibility in the bombing of the King David Hotel.”

He was referring to the bombing of the Jerusalem hotel in 1947 where the British Mandate authorities maintained offices. The underground Irgun Zvai Leumi, then headed by Begin, claimed responsibility. About 90 lives were lost.


The Labor Alignment did not respond directly to Begin’s remarks but demanded today that he and Sharon “resign because of their responsibility in ordering the IDF to enter west Beirut and thus indirectly created the conditions for the massacre.”

Labor Party chairman Shimon Peres stressed that the Premier’s and the Defense Minister’s responsibility, though “indirect,” was sufficient to justify their resignation because they ignored the Labor Alignments repeated warnings to stay out of west Beirut.

Labor also demanded the immediate creation of a state commission of inquiry — similar to the one established to investigate Israel’s lack of preparedness when the Yom Kippur War broke out in October, 1973 — to study the massacre. Peres insisted today that Israel leave west Beirut immediately “even if it means leaving behind stocks of weapons.”

Recommended from JTA