Sabra and Shatila massacres—why do we ignore them?

The following is part of a series of articles from Chris Tolworthy reposted here with kind permission. The articles together ask many questions about the September 11 atrocity and its aftermath, as well as looking into it from numerous angles. The articles are split into a number of pages on this site (which you can follow using the links at the bottom).

The Sabra and Shatila massacres - why do we ignore them?
Chris Tolworthy
March 2002

The massacres at Sabra and Shatila provide an interesting comparison to the September 11th tragedy. Both killed around 2800 innocent people (although the exact count at Sabra and Shatila may be much higher). Both were probably guided by men with a history of terrorism. However, while Sepember 11th is remembered in the west, Sabra and Shatila are largely ignored.

In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon and killed between 2000 and 3500 innocent civilians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. The striking thing is that the west almost ignores it. Try a web search for "Sabra and Shatila" and look for western sources. For example, the Time Magazine web site just headlines the invasion as "Israel Strikes at The PLO" and barely mentions the massacre. Yet everyone agrees that it took place.

"In 1983, an Israeli state inquiry found Mr Sharon, then defense minister, indirectly responsible for the killing of hundreds of men, women and children at Sabra and Shatila camps during Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon." ."(1)

On December 16, 1982 the United Nations General Assembly condemned the massacre and declared it to be an act of genocide. Sharon resigned as defense minister, but later became Israeli Prime Minister.

The massacre was recently investigated by the BBC and the conclusions were damning. The BBC team reported on their investigation, and included this interesting comment:

"In Beirut we confronted the man accused of leading the slaughter. There was in Lebanon a sense of surprise that we would wish to revisit such an event. As one former militia leader said, 'For God's sake if you prosecuted for war crimes here we'd all be in jail.'"(2)

A British parliamentary motion requested:

"That this House congratulates the BBC for Panorama's recent in-depth analysis of the massacres in Sabra and Shatilla during the war in Lebanon in 1982; notes that following the massacres an internal Israeli commission of inquiry forced the resignation of the then Israeli Defence Minister, Ariel Sharon; believes there is sufficient prima facie evidence to indicate that Ariel Sharon, now the Israeli Prime Minister, should be tried for war crimes; and calls upon the international community to ensure that he is duly charged at the earliest possible opportunity.' (3)

The motion added "that 400,000 people in Israel demonstrated their horror and disgust at such a crime against humanity"

How does this compare with the World Trade Center bombings - in numbers and in how it happened?

"The precise number of victims of the massacre may never be exactly determined. The International Committee of the Red Cross counted 1,500 at the time but by September 22 this count had risen to 2,400. On the following day 350 bodies were uncovered so that the total then ascertained had reached 2,750. Kapeliouk points out that to the number of bodies found after the massacre one should add three categories of victims:

  • (a) Those buried in mass graves whose number cannot be ascertained because the Lebanese authorities forbade their opening;
  • (b) Those who were buried under the ruins of houses; and
  • (c) Those who were taken alive to an unknown destination but never returned.

The bodies of some of them were found by the side of the roads leading to the south. Kapeliouk asserts that the number of victims may be 3,000 to 3,500, one-quarter of whom were Lebanese, while the remainder were Palestinians."(4)

At time of writing (late January 2002) these issues are finally coming before a court in Belgium.

Will Sharon and others be tried for war crimes? Possibly.

Will they be found guilty? Probably not.

Since the trial was announced, key witnesses have been tracked down and assassinated:

"A potential key witness in the Belgian war crimes case against the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, was blown up outside his house in Beirut yesterday [January 25th], together with three bodyguards. Elie Hobeika, a Lebanese warlord involved in the massacre of more than 1,000 Palestinians in the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps in 1982, died only a few days after saying he would give evidence in Belgium."(5)


"The secrets of the Sabra and Chatila Palestinian camp massacres in 1982 have gone to the grave with yet another former Phalangist militiaman, the third Lebanese to die mysteriously in little more than two months. Michael Nassar, who was a former associate of Elie Hobeika - the Phalangist leader murdered in a car bombing in Beirut in January - was shot dead in Brazil by a man firing a pistol equipped with a silencer. His young wife, Marie, was shot down beside him...

"The first former right-wing Christian to be struck down was one of Hobeika's old colleagues, Jean Ghanem, who drove his car into a tree on New Year's Day...

"A Belgian court has postponed a decision over whether to indict Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, for his role in the massacres - he was held 'personally responsible' by an Israeli commission of inquiry - while lawyers for the survivors produce more evidence. But the vital evidence that may lie in the memories of those involved with the killers, who were allied to Israel at the time, is disappearing almost by the week as the death list grows." (6)

For details of American support for Israel - currently approaching one hundred billion dollars - see the Washington Report at

On this page:

  1. Footnotes


Please note: HTML links were created between January-March 2002. Some of these links may have expired when you read this.

1. From The Irish Times2,commenting on the upcoming Belgian trial.

2. Fergal Keane, "Sabra and Shatila: Dealing with facts3"

3. House of Commons Wednesday 21 November 2001 Notices of Motions4

4. Professor Dr. Ahmad Al-Tal, "The Massacre of Sabra and Chatila in 1982.5" Professor Al-Tal is not some ignorant fanatic. He is Dean of Zarka Private National Community College. In 1980 he received an Award of Distinction from the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. He is the author of several books on higher education and Jordanian history.

5. "Sharon witness blown up in Beirut6"" by Brian Whitaker and Ian Black. The Guardian, Friday January 25, 2002

6. "Third former militiaman with links to Sabra and Chatila is murdered7" by Robert Fisk. The Independent, 11 March 2002


Back to top

0 articles on “Sabra and Shatila massacres—why do we ignore them?”:

Author and Page Information

  • Posted:

Back to top