Tom Carew writes us from Dublin, Ireland, about what he aptly calls the "stock Sharon slur" — a charge that has resonated for decades now, based on nothing. Here is his letter:
Many reports on the gravely—ill Israeli PM Arik Sharon, are not complete without their version of the "stock Sharon slur". They can glibly assure the nation that he was "personally responsible for the Sabra and Shatila camps massacre". No further explanation needed.
The facts are quite different. The Israeli Government set up the "Kahan Commission" under Supreme Court President Yitzhak Kahan, which reported on 8 February, 1983, under 5 months after the killings. It judged that the then Defence Minister Sharon was responsible for 3 procedural failings, [a] he omitted to get the PM's approval in advance for letting the main armed Lebanese Christian force, the "Phalange", into 2 of the 4 Beirut Palestinian camps, Sabra and Shatila, [b] he failed to inform PM Begin promptly of the entry or subsequent killings, and [c] there was no normal military "situation—assessment" either before the decision was made [by Sharon himself], or before it was implemented.
More seriously, the Commission also faulted Sharon for two substantive omissions. [a] He knew the record of the Phalange and their lax "combat ethics", had met their leaders, and their political leader, the Lebanese President—elect Bashir Jemayel, had been murdered with 25 others by a bomb on Tuesday, 14 Sept, 1982, but nonetheless on the morning of Wed 15 Sept, he disregarded these omens and approved the entry of the Phalange militia, without Israeli forces, into the two camps. The entry took place on the evening of Thursday, 16 Sept, 1982.
[b] Having made such a decision, Sharon then omitted to order any Israeli precautions against Phalange revenge during their mission, such as either a joint Israeli—Phalange operation in the camps, or on—the—spot Isreali military supervision. It was physically impossible for the Israeli Army outside to see what was happening in the maze of narrow alleys within the camps, but that problem would have been clear to Sharon and his commanders from the IDF forward command post 200m away on the roof of a high building.
Sharon resigned as Defence Minister, the Chief—of—Staff, Lt—Gen Rafi Eitan, was not given a second term of office the following month, and both the Division GOC in Beirut, Bgd—Gen Amos Yaron, and GHQ Director Military Intelligence Maj—Gen Yehoshua Saguy, were moved.
The scale of the 3—day killings is unknown but was estimated by Lebanese sources as 460, only 35 being women or children, but Israeli Intelligence suspected up to 700 or 800. The Red Cross counted 328 bodies, but others had been buried or taken away. In context, the worst day in the Lebanon Civil War from 1975 to 1990 was the 8—hour Syrian massacre of Christians in October 1990 with about 700 killed, and in May 1985 Muslims massacred Palestinians in two Beirut camps, Shatila again, and Burj el—Barajneh, with 635 killed and 2,500 wounded — on UN figures.
None of this alters the simple but vital fact that "personal responsibility" for the massacre was solely that of the Lebanese Arab killers themselves, and Sharon neither [a] ordered, [b] instigated, [c] approved, or [d] even knew of any massacre, or intention to kill. The personal responsibility lies with the Phalange Commander, Fadi Frem, their Intelligence Chief Elie Hobeika, and the perpetrators from their 5,000 members [2,000 f/t and 3,000 p/t].
The impetuous and even reckless quality of Sharon, which contributed to his outstanding success in the field against Egyptian threats in both the 1967 Six—day Way, and the 19—day 1973 Yom Kippur War, when he was halted 1km from the Cairo—Ismailia highway, explains his style, and also led to his being passed over for promotion to Chief—of—Staff. But his true greatness lies in being ready to re—think and change drastically, as in his August 2005 Gaza Withdrawal, or founding his new "Kadima" Party in Nov.
For any commentator or reporter to gravely misrepresent the role of a dying leader in this way is not just sloppy and careless use of language, but one more example of their systematic bias in covering Israel.