The Sabra and Shatila massacre was the killing of between 762 and 3,500 civilians, mostly Palestinians and Lebanese Shiites, by a militia close to the Kataeb Party, also called Phalange, a predominantly Christian Lebanese right-wing party in the Sabra neighborhood and the adjacent Shatila refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon. From approximately 6:00 pm 16 September to 8:00 am 18 September 1982, a widespread massacre was carried out by the militia virtually under the eyes of their Israeli allies. The Phalanges, allies to the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), were ordered by the IDF to clear out Sabra and Shatila from PLO fighters, as part of the IDF maneuvering into West Beirut. The IDF received reports of some of the Phalanges atrocities in Sabra and Shatila but failed to stop them.
In 1983, a commission chaired by Seán MacBride, the assistant to the UN Secretary General and President of United Nations General Assembly at the time, concluded thatIsrael, as the camp’s occupying power, bore responsibility for the violence. The commission also concluded that the massacre was a form of genocide.
In 1983, the Israeli Kahan Commission, appointed to investigate the incident, found that Israeli military personnel, aware that a massacre was in progress, had failed to take serious steps to stop it. The commission deemed Israel indirectly responsible, and Ariel Sharon, then Defense Minister, bore personal responsibility “for ignoring the danger of bloodshed and revenge”, forcing him to resign.
Before the massacre, it was reported that the leader of the PLO, Yasir Arafat, had requested the return of international forces, from Italy, France and the United States, to Beirut to protect civilians. Those forces had just supervised the departure of Arafat and his PLO fighters from Beirut. Italy expressed ‘deep concerns’ about ‘the new Israeli advance’, but no action was taken to return the forces to Beirut.
- According to the BBC, “at least 800” Palestinians died
- Bayan Nuwayhed al-Hout in her Sabra and Shatila: September 1982 gives a minimum consisting of 1,300 named victims based on detailed comparison of 17 victim lists and other supporting evidence, and estimates an even higher total
- Robert Fisk wrote, “After three days of rape, fighting and brutal executions, militias finally leave the camps with 1,700 dead”
- In his book published soon after the massacre, the Israeli journalist Amnon Kapeliouk of Le Monde Diplomatique, arrived at about 2,000 bodies disposed of after the massacre from official and Red Cross sources and “very roughly” estimated 1,000 to 1,500 other victims disposed of by the Phalangists themselves to a total of 3,000–3,500
On 16 December 1982, the United Nations General Assembly condemned the massacre and declared it to be an act of genocide.