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Sabra and Chatila refer to the names of two towns located in West Beirut. During the 1982 Lebanon War in these towns there were Palestinian refugee camps.
Background to the Lebanon War
The 1982 Lebanon War, also known as the First Lebanon War, was an armed conflict that took place between June 6 and 22, 1982. The Israel Defense Forces invaded southern Lebanon with the intention of expelling the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), a political and paramilitary movement created in 1964 that claims to be the ‘representative of the Palestinian people’.
The dispute between Lebanon and Israel dates back to the 1970s. In 1978 Israel occupied part of the Lebanese territory, located in the strip south of the Litani River. The UN Security Council approved resolutions for Israel to abandon the occupied territories and restore peace in the territory.
In June 1978, the Israeli troops withdrew from Lebanese territory except from what from the capital of Israel called the 'security zone', in that area the Israeli forces had the support of the Lebanese Christian militia, to whom they they offered military training and financial aid.
In the summer of 1982 Israel launched an offensive against Lebanon again, during this time Beirut was taken, besieged and bombed for two months, until the PLO left the city.
On September 14, 1982, Bashir Gemayel, a Christian and Lebanese president-elect, was killed along with 40 other people during an explosion at the Lebanese Forces headquarters in Beirut., sparked by pro-Syrian and pro-Palestinian groups.
As a consequence of the attack, the Minister of Defense of Israel, Ariel Sharón, ordered the occupation of western Beirut the following day.
The September 15 the Israeli Defense Forces had the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps completely surrounded and controlled entrances and exits. Ariel Sharón and the Israeli Chief of Staff met with the Lebanese Christian phalanx and informed them of their strategy: they were to enter the refugee camps, find the PLO militiamen and hand them over to the Israel Defense Forces, the Israeli soldiers would monitor the operation and provide them with the necessary logistical support.
The massacre in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps
At four in the afternoon on September 16, 1982, Christian militiamen gathered at Beirut International Airport, then occupied by Israel, under the command of Gemayel's successor, Elie Hobeika.
At six o'clock in the afternoon the Falangist militiamen stormed the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps, Thus began the massacre of Palestinians, who were mostly women, children and the elderly and all defenseless civilians. Apart from the deaths, there were all kinds of atrocities such as rape, torture or mutilation.
Israeli troops attended the massacre without intervention. Some senior Israeli officials in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem had information about what was happening. Some reports about the massacre that was taking place reached the government of Israel.
Menahem Begin, Prime Minister of Israel at the time, went so far as to say the following: “In Shatila, non-Jews killed non-Jews, what do we have to do with it?»
The final result of fatalities has not been clarified and there is, as usual, a dance of figures between several hundred and 2,400, according to the Red Cross.
The events that occurred in Sabra and Chatila had a intense impact on Israelis, which caused a deep political crisis.
On September 25, a demonstration was called in Tel Aviv, attended by 400,000 people, the largest in the history of Israel. Public opinion demanded responsibilities, resignations and an investigation of what happened.
Menahem Begin was so pressured that he finally commissioned a commission of inquiry to the Chief Justice Yitzhak Kahan. The Kahan report was released in February 1983.
The report pointed to the Falangist Christians responsible for the killings of the Palestinians and criticized the indifference of some ministers and military commanders.
The behavior of the General Staff is classified as gross negligence and the dismissal of Ariel Sharón is recommended, despite which he continued with his political career, despite the fact that he resigned from his position because of the report.
The United Nations General Assembly called the killings genocide through resolution 37/123.