War is Peace
Excerpted from Fateful Triangle, 1999
|On June 6, 1982, a massive Israeli expeditionary force began the long expected invasion, Operation “Peace for Galilee,” a phrase “which sounds as if it comes directly out of the pages of 1984,” as one Israeli commentator wrote:Only in the language of 1984 is war-peace and warfare-humane. One may mention, of course, that only in the Orwellian language of 1984 can occupation be liberal, and there is indeed a connection between the “liberal occupation” [the Labor Party boast] and a war which equals peace. 93
Excuses and explanations were discarded almost as quickly as they were produced: the Argov assassination attempt, defense of the border settlements, a 25-mile limit. In fact, the army headed straight for Beirut and the Beirut-Damascus highway, in accordance with plans that had long been prepared and that were known in advance to the Labor opposition (see section 6.3). Former chief of military intelligence Aharon Yariv of the Labor Party stated: “I know in fact that going to Beirut was included in the original military plan,”94 despite the pretense to the contrary, dutifully repeated by the U.S. government, which could hardly have been in much doubt about the facts if U.S. intelligence was not on vacation.
* See TNC W chapter 13. See Ze’ev Schiff, “Green Light, Lebanon,” for further discussion of the tacit authorization from Washington of the invasion it knew to be imminent.
5.1 Extermination of the Two-Legged Beasts
The first target was the Palestinian camp of Rashidiyeh south of Tyre, much of which, by the second day of the invasion, “had become a field of rubble.” There was ineffectual resistance, but as an officer of the UN peace-keeping force swept aside in the Israeli invasion later remarked:
“It was like shooting sparrdws with cannon.” The 9000 residents of the camp-which had been regularly bombed and shelled for years from land, sea and air-either fled, or were herded to the beach where they could watch the destruction of much of what remained by the Israeli forces. All teen-age and adult males were blindfolded and bound, and taken to camps, where little has been heard about them since.95
This is typical of what happened throughout southern Lebanon. The Palestinian camps were demolished, largely bulldozed to the ground if not destroyed by bombardment; and the population was dispersed or (in the case of the male population) imprisoned. Reporters were generally not allowed in the Palestinian camps, where the destruction was worst, to keep them from witnessing what had happened and was being done. There were occasional reports. David Shipler described how after the camps were captured the army proceeded to destroy what was left. An army officer, “when asked why bulldozers were knocking down houses in which women and children were living,” responded by saying: “they are all terrorists.”96 His statement accurately summarizes Israel’s strategy and the assumptions that underlie it, over many years.
There was little criticism here of Israel’s destruction of the “nests of terrorists,” or of the wholesale transfer of the male population to prison camps in Lebanon and Israel-or to their treatment, discussed below. Again, one imagines that if such treatment had been meted out to Jews after, say, a Syrian conquest of Northern Israel, the reaction would have been different, and few would have hesitated to recall the Nazi monsters. In fact, we need not merely imagine. When a PLO terrorist group took Israeli teen-age members of a paramilitary (Gadna) group hostage at Ma’alot, that was rightly denounced as a vicious criminal act. Since then, it has become virtually the symbol of the inhuman barbarism of the “two-legged beasts.” But when Israeli troops cart off the Palestinian male population from 15 to 60 (along with many thousands of Lebanese) to concentration camps, treating them in a manner to which we return, that is ignored, and the few timid queries are almost drowned in the applause-to which we also return-for Israel’s display of humanitarian zeal and moral perfection, while aid is increased in honor of this achievement. It is a scene that should give Americans pause, and lead them to raise some questions about themselves.
Israel’s strategy was to drive the Palestinians to largely-Muslim West Beirut (apart from those who were killed, dispersed or imprisoned), then to besiege the city, cutting off water, food, medical supplies and electricity, and to subject it to increasingly heavy bombardment. Naturally, the native Lebanese population was also severely battered. These measures had little impact on the PLO guerrilla fighters in Beirut, but civilians suffered increasingly brutal punishment. The correct calculation was that by this device, the PLO would be compelled to leave West Beirut to save it from total annihilation.97 It was assumed, also correctly, that American intellectuals could be found to carry out the task of showing that this too was a remarkable exercise in humanity and a historically unique display of “purity of arms,” even having the audacity to claim that it was the PLO, not the Israeli attackers, who were “holding the city and its population hostage”-a charge duly intoned by New York Times editors and many others. (See section 8.2.3.)
Dan Connell, a journalist with wartime experience and Lebanon project officer for Oxfam, describes Israel’s strategy as follows:
The Israeli strategy was obvious. They were hitting a broad belt, and they kept moving the belt up toward the populated area and pushing the people in front of it. The Israelis forced an increasing concentration of people into a smaller space, so that the casualties increased geometrically with every single shell or bomb that landed.
The attackers used highly sophisticated U.S. weapons, including “shells and bombs designed to penetrate through the buildings before they explode,” collapsing buildings inwards, and phosphorus bombs to set fires and cause untreatable burns. Hospitals were closed down or destroyed. Much of the Am el-H ilweh refugee camp near Sidon was “flat as a parking lot” when Connell saw it, though 7-8000 Palestinians had drifted back-mostly women and children, since the men were “either fighting or arrested or dead.” The Israelis bulldozed the mosque at the edge of the camp searching for arms, but “found 90 or 100 bodies under it instead, completely rotted away.” Writing before the Beirut massacres but after the PLO had departed, he notes that “there could be a bloodbath in west Beirut” if no protection is given to the remnants of the population.98
The Israeli press also reported the strategy of the invading army. One journalist observing the bombardment of Beirut in the early days describes it as follows:
With deadly accuracy, the big guns laid waste whole rows of houses and apartment blocks believed to be PLO positions. The fields were pitted with craters. . . Israeli strategy at that point was obvious-to clean away a no-man’s land through which Israeli tanks could advance and prevent any PLO breakout. 99
The military tactics, as widely reported by the Israeli and foreign press, were simple. Since Israel had total command of the air and overwhelming superiority in firepower from land, sea and air, the IDF simply blasted away everything before it, then sent soldiers in to “clean out” what was left. We return to some descriptions of these tactics by Israeli military analysts. The tactics are familiar from Vietnam and other wars where a modern high technology army faces a vastly outmatched enemy. The difference lies in the fact that in other such cases, one rarely hears tales of great heroism and “purity of arms,” though to be accurate, these stories were more prevalent among American “supporters” than Israeli soldiers, many of whom were appalled at what they were ordered to do.
Economist Middle East correspondent G. H. Jansen describes Israel’s tactics in the first days of the war as follows: to surround cities and towns “so swiftly that civilian inhabitants were trapped inside, and then to pound them from land, sea and air. After a couple of days of this there would be a timid probing attack: if there were resistance the pounding would resume.”* “A second striking aspect of Israeli military doctrine exemplified in the Lebanese campaign,” he notes, “is the military exploitation of a cease-fire. Israel has done this so often, in every one of its wars, that perhaps one must assume that for the Israeli military ‘cease-fire’ only means ‘no shooting’ and is totally unconnected with any freezing of positions on the ground along a ‘cease-fire’ line.” We have, in fact, noted several earlier examples of exploitation of cease-fire: the conquest of Eilat in 1949 and of the Golan Heights in 1967. “The Israelis, in this war, have refined their cease-fire-exploitation doctrine by declaring cease-fires unilaterally, at times most advantageous to them. This has left them free to switch cease-fires on and off with a show either of peaceful intent or of outraged indignation. For the Israelis the cease-fire is not a step towards a truce or an armistice, it is simply a period of rest, reinforcement and peaceful penetration-an attempt to gain the spoils of war without fighting.”100 Such tactics are possible because of the huge military advantage that Israel enjoyed.
* Israeli troops in fact often warned inhabitants to leave before the land sea and air pounding, but many report, not surprisingly that they were unaware of the warnings see Michael Jansen, The Bathe of Beirut Furthermore the leaflets sometimes were dropped well after the bombardment of civilian targets began as in Sidon (see Israet in Lebanon p 72, citing “the detailed diary of a reputable representative of a relief organisation among other evidence). It has repeatedly been claimed that Israel suffered casualties because ofthe policy of warning inhabitants to leave but it remains unexplained how this came about in areas that were sure to be next on the list, warning or not and how casualties could be caused by the use of the tactics just described, which are repeatedly verified in the Israeli press (see p. 218 and below, for many examples). Danny Wolf, formerly a commander in the Paratroopers, asks “If someone dropped leaflets over Herzliya [in Israel] tomorrow, telling the civilians in iliding to evacuate the town within two hours, wouldn’t that be a war crime?’ (Amir Oren, Koteret Rashit, Jan.19, 1983). It would be interesting to hear the answer from those who cite these alleged IDF warnings with much respect as proof of the noble commitment to “purity of arms.”
Since the western press was regularly accused in the United States of failing to recognize the amazing and historically unique Israeli efforts to spare civilians and of exaggerating the scale of the destruction and terror-we return to some specifics-it is useful to bear in mind that the actual tactics used were entirely familiar and that some of the most terrible accounts were given by Israeli soldiers and journalists. In Knesset debate, Menachem Begin responded to accusations about civilian casualties by recalling the words of Chief of Staff Mordechai Our of the Labor Party after the 1978 invasion of Lebanon under the Begin government, cited on p.181. When asked “what happens when we meet a civilian population,” Our’s answer was that “It is a civilian population known to have provided active aid to the terrorists… Why has that population of southern Lebanon suddenly become such a great and just one?” Asked further whether he was saying that the population of southern Lebanon “should be punished,” he responded: 4‘And how! I am using Sabra language [colloquial Hebrew]: And how!” The “terrorists” had been “nourished by the population around them.” Our went on to explain the orders he had given: “bring in tanks as quickly as possible and hit them from far off before the boys reached a face-to-face battle.” He continued: “For 30 years, from the war of independence to this day, we have been fighting against a population that lives in villages and in towns…” With audacity bordering on obscenity, Begin was able to utter the words: “We did not even once deliberately harm the civilian population. all the fighting has been aimed against military targets…”
Turning to the press, Tom Segev of Ha’aretz toured “Lebanon after the conquest” in mid-June. He saw “refugees wandering amidst swarms of flies, dressed in rags, their faces expressing terror and their eyes, bewilderment…, the women wailing and the children sobbing” (he noticed Henry Kamm of the New York Times nearby; one may usefully compare his account of the same scenes). Tyre was a “destroyed city”; in the market place there was not a store undamaged. Here and there people were walking, “as in a nightmare.” “A terrible smell filled the air”-ofdecomposing bodies, he learned. Archbishop Georges Haddad told him that many had been killed, though he did not know the numbers, since many were still buried beneath the ruins and he was occupied with caring for the many orphans wandering in the streets, some so young that they did not even know their names. In Sidon, the destruction was still worse: “the center of the town-destroyed.” “This is what the cities of Germany looked like at the end of the Second World War.” “Half the inhabitants remained without shelter, 100,000 people.” He saw “mounds of ruins,” tens of thousands of people at the shore where they remained for days, women driven away by soldiers when they attempted to flee to the beaches, children wandering “among the tanks and the ruins and the shots and the hysteria,” blindfolded young men, hands tied with plastic bonds, “terror and confusion.”
Danny Rubinstein of Davar toured the conquered areas at the war’s end. Virtually no Palestinians were to be found in Christian-controlled areas, the refugee camps having been destroyed long ago (see the description by Attallab Mansour pp 1 8&7). The Red Cross give the figure of 15,000 as a “realistic” estimate ‘of the number of prisoners taken by the Israeli army. In the “ruins of Am el-Hilweh,” a toothless old man was the youngest man left in the camp among thousands of women, children and old men, “a horrible scene.” Perhaps 350-400,000 Palestinians had been “dispersed in all directions” (“mainly women, children and old men, since all the men have been detained”). The remnants are at the mercy of Phalangist patrols and Haddad forces, who burn houses and “beat the people.” There is no one to care for the tens of thousands of refugee children, “and of course all the civilian networks operated by the PLO have been annihilated, and tens of thousands of families, or parts of families, are dispersed like animals.” “The shocking scene of the destroyed camps proves that the destrudtion was systematic.” Even shelters in which people hid from the Israeli bombardments were destroyed, “and they are still digging out bodies”-this in areas where the fighting had ended over 2 months earlier. 101 An Oxfam appeal in March 1983 states that “No one will ever know how many dead are buried beneath the twisted steel of apartment buildings or the broken stone of the cities and villages of Lebanon.”
By late June, the Lebanese police gave estimates of about 10,000 killed. These early figures appear to have been roughly accurate. A later accounting reported by the independent Lebanese daily An-nahar gave a figure of 17,825 known to have been killed and over 30,000 wounded, including 5500 killed in Beirut and over 1200 civilians killed in the Sidon area. A government investigation estimated that 90% of the casualties were civilians. By late December, the Lebanese police estimated the numbers killed through August at 19,085, with 6775 killed in Beirut, 84% of them civilians. Israel reported 340 IDF soldiers killed in early September, 446 by late November (if these numbers are accurate, then the number of Israeli soldiers kifled in the ten weeks following the departure of the PLO from Lebanon is exactly the same as the number of Israetis killed in all terrorist actions across the northern border from 1967). According to Chief of Staff Fitan, the number of Israeli soldiers killed “in the entire western sector of Lebanon” – that is, apart from the Syrian front – was 117. Eight Israeli soldiers died “in Beirut proper,” he claimed, three in accidents. If correct (which is unlikely), Eitan’s figures mean that five Israeli soldiers were killed in the process of massacring some 6000 civilians in Beirut, a glorious victory indeed. Israel also offered various figures for casualties within Lebanon. Its final accounting was that 930 people were killed in Beirut including 340 civilians, and that 40 buildings were destroyed in the Beirut * 350 in all of Lebanon. The number of PLO killed was given as 4000.
The estimates given by Israel were generally ridiculed by reporters and relief workers, though solemnly repeated by supporters here. Within Israel itself, the Lebanese figures were regularly cited; for example, by Yizhar Smilanski, one of Israel’s best-known novelists, in a bitter denunciation of Begin (the “man of blood” who was willing to sacrifice “some 50,000 human beings” for his political ends) and of the society that is able to tolerate him. 104 In general, Israeli credibility suffered seriously during the war, as it had in the course of the 1973 war. Military correspondent Hirsh Goodman reported that “the army spokesman [was] less credible than ever before.” Because of repeated government lies (e.g., the claim, finally admitted to be false, that the IDF returns fire only to the point from which it originates), “thousands of Israeli troops who bear eye-witness to events no longer believe the army spokesman” and “have taken to listening to Radio Lebanon in English and Arabic to get what they believe is a credible picture of the war.” The “overwhelming majority of men-including senior officers”-accused lsraeli military correspondents of “allowing this war to grow out of all proportion to the original goals, by mindlessly repeating official explanations we all knew were false.” The officers and men “of four top fighting units. . accused [military correspondents] of covering up the truth, of lying to the public, of not reporting on the real mood at the front and of being lackeys of the defence minister.” Soldiers “repeated the latest jokes doing the rounds, like the one about the idiot in the ordnance corps who must have put all Israeli cannon in back to front. ‘Each time we open fire the army spokesman announces we’re being fired at…”‘ Goodman is concerned not only over the deterioriation in morale caused by this flagrant lying but also by Israel’s “current world image.”105 About that, he need not have feared too much. At least in the U.S., Israeli government claims continued to be taken quite seriously, even the figures offered with regard to casualties and war damages.
As relief officials and others regularly commented, accurate numbers cannot be obtained, since many-particularly Palestinians-are simply unaccounted for. Months after the fighting had ended in the Sidon area inhabitants of Am el-Hilweh were still digging out corpses and had no idea how many had been killed, and an education officer of the Israeli army (a Lieutenant Colonel) reported that the army feared epidemics in Sidon itself “because of the many bodies under the wreckage”106. Lebanese and foreign relief officials observed that “Many of the dead never reached hospital,” and that unknown numbers of bodies are believed lost in the rubble in Beirut; hospital figures, the primary basis for the Lebanese calculations cited above, “only hint at the scale of the tragedy.” “Many bodies could not be lodged in overflowing morgues and were not included in the statistics.”‘107
106Organization were unable to convince the Jews of West Beirut to immigrate to Israel. “‘Why should we leave,’ they asked? Here are our houses and our friends.”‘
The Lebanese government casualty figures are based on police records, which in turn are based on actual counts in hospitals, clinics and civil defense centers. These figures, according to police spokesmen, do “not include people buried in mass graves in areas where Lebanese authorities were not informed.”108 The figures, including the figure of 19,000 dead and over 30,000 wounded, must surely be underestimates, assuming that those celebrating their liberation (the story that Israel and its supporters here would like us to believe) were not purposely magnifying the scale of the horrors caused by their liberators. Particularly with regard to the Palestinians, one can only guess what the scale of casualties may have been.
A UN report estimated 13,500 severely damaged houses in West Beirut alone, thousands elsewhere, not counting the Palestinian camps (which are-or were-in fact towns).109 As for the Palestinians, the head of the UN Agency that has been responsible for them, Olof Rydbeck of Sweden, said that its work of 32 years “has been wiped out”; Israeli bombardment had left “practically all the schools, clinics and installations of the agency in ruins.””110 Israel made much of the fact that one UNRWA school had been converted to a PLO military training center, unknown to UNRWA. “The Israelis are entitled to be indignant,” the London Economist observed. “Their protest would carry more weight if they had not looted the college’s educational equipment, reduced its student roll to about 150 and reduced the nearby refugee camp, from which many of the students were drawn, to a mass of rubble.”111 Some older Israelis must have winced at the show of indignation, those who recalled UNRWA’s earlier incarnation as UNRRA, established to care for other refugees. The Chief of UNRRA Operations in Germany, 1945-6, writes in his memoirs that “Military training of Jewish D.P.’s was taking place in [UNRRA] camps, presumably in preparation for active participation in the war of liberation from the British Mandate on their arrival in Palestine. Instructors were found to be N.C.O.s from British and U.S. armies, in uniform, absent without, but I fancy sometimes with, leave from their units.”112 All illegal, a violation of UNRRA’s commitment, and one of the proud moments in the history of the foundation of the State of Israel. It k, once again, uncanny to see how history is being replayed, with a change in the cast of characters that will become still more macabre before we conclude, with future chapters that one hesitates to imagine.
John Kifner reported that “there was not much left standing” in the Palestinian camps after Israel’s bombardment, and that in the south, “the Israelis have bulldozed refugee camps to make them uninhabitable.”113 Contrary to a standard propaganda claim, reporters found “no heavy artillery or well-fortified positions” in the Sabra, Shatilla and Bourj al-Barajneh camps in Beirut, which had “taken a terrible pounding” since June 6 (actually, June 4), causing the flight of half of their 125,000 population in the first few weeks of the war.”114 The areas to which they escaped, particularly the Fakhani quarter in Beirut, were also mercilessly bombed. Since Palestinians are by definition all terrorists, or mothers of terrorists, or future terrorists-so different from Begin, Shamir and Sharon for example-whatever was done to them was regarded as legitimate.
5.2 Beirut: Precision Bombardment
Repeatedly, Israel blocked international relief efforts and prevented food and medical supplies from reaching victims.* Israeli military forces also appear to have gone out of their way to destroy medical facilities-at least, if one wants to believe Israeli government claims about “pinpoint accuracy” in bombardment. “International agencies agree that the civilian death toll would have been considerably higher had it not been for the medical facilities that the Palestine Liberation Organization provides for Its own people”‘116-and, in fact, for many poor Lebanese-so it is not surprising that these were a particular target of attack.
In the first bombing in June, a children’s hospital in the Sabra refugee camp was hit, Lebanese television reported, and a cameraman said he saw “many children” lying dead inside the Bourj al Barajneh camp in Beirut, while “fires were burning out of control at dozens of apartment buildings” and the Gaza Hospital near the camps was reported hit.”117 This, it will be recalled, was in “retaliation” for the attempt by an anti-PLO group with no base in Lebanon to assassinate Ambassador Argov. On June 12, four bombs fell on a hospital in Aley, severely damaging it. “There is nothing unusual” in the story told by an operating room assistant who had lost two hands in the attack; “That the target of the air strike was a hospital, whether by design or accident, is not unique either,” William Branigan reports, noting that other hospitals were even more badly damaged. Fragments of cluster bombs were found on the grounds of an Armenian sanitarium south of Beirut that was also “heavily damaged during the Israeli drive.”118 A neurosurgeon at the Gaza hospital in Beirut “insists that Israeli gunners deliberately shelled his hospital,” it was reported at the same ~ A few days later, Richard Ben Cramer reported that the Acre Hospital in Beirut was hit by Israeli shells, and that the hospitals in the camps had again been hit. “Israeli guns never seem to stop here,” he reported from the Sabra camp, later to be the scene of a major massacre:
“After two weeks of this random thunder, Sabra is only a place to run through.” 120
* The International Red Cross, World Vision International, UNICEF and other relief agencies report long delays in supply of food and medicines caused by Israeli interference.”115 This is confirmed by Israeli officials responsible for relief, as we will see directly.
The Acre hospital was again hit on June 24, along with the Gaza hospital and the Islamic Rome for Invalids, where “the corridors were streaked with blood.” The hospitals were short of supplies because Israel was blocking tons of medical supplies ready for shipment in Cyprus, ~ccording to the International Red Cross.’121 By mid-August, the Islamic Home had been repeatedly shelled, only 15 of 200 staff members remained, and “several of the retarded children have died of starvation for lack of someone who has the time to feed them properly.” At the Palestinian Hospital for the Disabled (perhaps the same institution), “a visitor walking the gloomy corridors is approached by stumbling figures crying ‘Food, food’ in Arabic”; 800 patients remained, all mentally ill, half of them children, cared for by a dozen nurses.’122
A French doctor reported witnessing “an intense Israeli bombing raid around and against the [Gaza) hospital, which forced the evacuation of the hospital at the time.”123 When the Beirut mental hospital was hit shortly after, “800 patients varying in condition from senile dementia to violent schizophrenia were released into the streets of Beirut.” The hospital, clearly marked by Red Cross flags, was hit by artillery and naval gunfire, including four phosphorus shells. Medical personnel reported that the patients, including children with mental problems whose nursery was hit by rockets that set beds on fire, were 90% Lebanese. No military target was found within a half-mile. The hospital was, however, “precariously located near the Palestinian ghettoes of Sabra and Shatila, frequent targets of Israeli bombardment,” though the “immediate surroundings are residentiar’ (i.e., not Palestinian slums).124
Most of this was before the bombing escalated to new levels of violence in August. By August 4, 8 of the 9 Homes for Orphans in Beirut had been destroyed, attacked by cluster and phosphorus bombs. The last was hit by phosphorus and other rockets, though clearly marked by a red cross on the root after assurances by the International Red Cross that it would be spared.125 On August 4, the American University hospital was hit by shrapnel and mortar fire. A doctor “standing in bloodstained rags” said: “We have no more room.” The director reported: “It’s a carnage. There is nothing military anywhere near this hospital.”126 The hospital was the only one in Beirut to escape direct shelling, and even there, sanitary conditions had deteriorated to the point where half the intensive-care patients were lost and with 99% of the cases being trauma victims, there was no room for ordinary illnesses. “Drive down any street and you will almost always see a man or woman with a missing limb.”127
The Red Cross reported that by August 6, “there were 130 beds available in west Beirut out of a total of about 1,400.” The American University Hospital was admitting only “those who look salvageable” on bad days, the staff reported. The Berbir hospital was ‘lust an underground dormitory with generators churning away to give the few patients air.” At the Hotel Bristol, hit by an Israeli phosphorus shell, the Red Cross had set up an underground hospital. “The majority of the doctors and nurses working in the city have fled.”128 “Even the Red Cross delegation has been shelled twice. In an Israeli naval bombardment on July 30, six shells struck the building and on Aug. 5 it was again hit by two artillery shells.” The Berbir hospital was already seriously damaged by mid-July, with trails of blood in the corridors, many of the patients removed from the wreckage, and the mortuary full of corpses until the remaining doctors were able to leave the building to bury the unidentified bodies in a communal grave when the shelling and air attacks temporarily stopped.129
One of the true heroes of the war is Dr. Amal Shamma, an American-trained Lebanese-American pediatrician who remained at work in Beirut’s Berbir hospital through the worst horrors. In November, she spent several weeks touring the U.S., receiving little notice, as expected. She was, however, interviewed in the Village Voice, where she described the extensive medical and social services for Palestinians and poor Lebanese that were destroyed by the Israeli invasion. For them, nothing is left apart from private hospitals that they cannot afford, some taken over by the Israeli army. No medical teams came from the U.S., although several came to help from Europe; the U.S. was preoccupied with supplying weapons to destroy. She reports that the hospitals were clearly marked with red crosses and that there were no guns nearby, though outside her hospital there was one disabled tank, which was never hit in the shellings that reduced the hospital to a first-aid station. On one day, 17 hospitals were shelled. Hers “was shelled repeatedly from August 1 to 12 until everything in it was destroyed.” It had been heavily damaged by mid-July, as already noted. Hospital employees stopped at Israeli barricades were told: “We shelled your hospital good enough, didn’t we? You treat terrorists there.”130 Recall that this is the testimony of a doctor at a Lebanese hospital, one of those liberated by the Israeli forces, according to official doctrine.
An American nurse working in Beirut, who was appalled by the “watered-down descriptions in American newspapers,” reported that Israel “dropped bombs on everything, including hospitals, orphanages and, in one case, a school bus carrying 35 young schoolgirls who were traveling on an open road”; she cared for the survivors.131 The U.S. Navy Lieut. Commander in charge of removing unexploded ordnance in Beirut reports that “we found five bombs in an orphanage with about 45 cluster bombs in the front yard. We were called there after five children were injured and four killed.” About 3-5% of the shells and bombs failed to go off and are considered highly dangerous, he said.132 This particular orphanage, then, must have been heavily bombed.
One of the most devastating critiques of Israeli military practices was provided inadvertently by an Israeli pilot who took part in the bombing,
an Air Force major, who described the careful selection of targets and the precision bombing that made error almost impossible. Observing the effects, one can draw one’s own conclusions. He also expressed his own personal philosophy, saying “if you want to achieve peace, you should fight.” “Look at the American-Japanese war,” he added. “In order to achieve an end, they bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”133
The precedents this pilot cited can be placed alongside of others offered by Prime Minister Begin in justification of the war: Dresden and Coventry, for example. The reference to Coventry particularly amazed Israeli listeners; “We know who carried out the bombardment of Coventry,” Abba Eban wrote-commenting also on the “delegations of diaspora Jews [who] came to Israel, or rather to Lebanon, and applauded the decision to make war as enthusiastically as they would have applauded a decision not to make it,” and the “embarrassing vulgarity in holding [United Jewish Appeal] fundraising appeals” in occupied Lebarion. These precedents give some insight into the mentality of the Israeli political leadership and segments of the officer corps, and also of American supporters who appeal to the same precedents, for example, former Supreme Court Justice and UN Ambassador Arthur Goldberg. In his interesting comments in support of the invasion, to which we return, he cites the precedent of the bombing of Dresden and more generally, the war “against the demented barbarian who sought to enslave the world.” “Is not the government of Israel faced with the same terrible dilemma in view of repeated PLO acts of terrorism against Israeli civilians and the bombing of its northern settlementsr”134 Recall the actual scale of PLO terrorism and the comparison to Israeli terrorism, already discussed, and the fact that there had been no unprovoked bombardment of northern settlements for a year, none at all for 10 months despite extensive Israeli provocation, including bombing in April.
Goldberg’s notion that Israel’s invasion of Lebanon is comparable to the war against Hitler was also invoked by Prime Minister Begin in a letter to President Reagan in which he portrayed himself as marching to “Berlin” to liquidate “Hitler.” To the Labor Party spokesman on foreign affairs, Abba Eban, this seemed “a dark and macabre fantasy,” “one of the most bizarre documents in recent diplomatic history,” an example of “losing touch with reality.”* Other Israeli commentators also ridiculed this comparison, suggesting that it raised questions about Begin’s sanity. I noticed no comment here on Goldberg’s sanity. It is, perhaps, not too surprising that a liberal American hero should surpass the “macabre fantasiest‘ of Israel’s Nobel Peace Prize winner in his own ruminations on the topic.
* Eban remarks that “Arafat’s ideology and rhetoric, repulsive as they are, are identical with those of Anwar Sadat until a few months before Begin embraced him in the Knesset.”135 There is some truth to what he says, though not in the sense that he intended his audience to understand, as we see when we recall Sadat’s rebuffed efforts to make peace with Israel for over six years before his visit to Jerusalem, and Arafat’s moves towards the accommodationist international consensus, also regularly rebuffed, from the mid-1970s. See chapter 3. Eban surely knows all of this, and more, very well. He is able to exploit his reputation as a dove to conceal the historical record with considerable effectiveness.
5.3 Caring for the Victims: Prisoners, Patients, Refugees
Not only hospitals, but also medical personnel seemed to evoke particular fury. One eyewitness saw a Palestinian doctor, unconscious, “his hands and neck tied to a post, his face bloodied and covered with flies.”‘36 Palestinian hospitals were closed down, their staffs arrested, removed to prison camps, and brutalized.
In Sidon, the Israeli army closed down the Palestinian Red Crescent Hospital. A Dutch nurse working there told a reporter: “I was in Holland during World War II. I know what fascists are like. It’s terrible that all these women and children are being killed. Tell that to the world.”‘37 On the same day, the New York Times reported a Jerusalem news conference in which Imri Ron, a Mapam Knesset member (from Kibbutz Mishmar Haemek) and paratroop major, “spoke from a combination of political and military authority” about the “clean fight” the Israeli army had fought, “taking extraordinary precautions to save civilians.”‘38 Apart from the U.S. military itself, only an Israeli officer would be accorded such “authority” in the U.S. press. Ron’s authority is undiminished by the fact that he was such an enthusiast for the war that he volunteered to take part in it, though as a Knesset member he was not called up.’39 We return to some of his further “authoritative” observations, comparing them to those of a different breed of Israeli military officers.
A Belgian doctor at the closed Sidon hospital, who “struggled to cope with wounded men, women and children” (victims of this “clean fight”), stated that “We had a good operation here. We were doing surgery and everything” before almost the entire staff was arrested by the Israeli army. 140 Shipler reported the same events in the New York Times. He quotes the Israeli Major who is military governor of Sid on and who closed the hospital because, he said, “It’s obvious it’s not a good hospital.” Therefore, “At 11A.M. today I had all the patients moved out to a good private hospital, the Labib Medical Center,” not tainted by a Palestinian connection. He added that he had not ordered the arrest of a Norwegian nurse, though “she is a member of the P.L.O.,” because “we are democratic” and therefore “we are not taking women”-whether or not this was true at the time, it is false for the subsequent period, as we shall see. A Canadian and Norwegian doctor, along with Palestinian doctors, will be taken to Israel for interrogation and possible imprisonment, the Major added. Shipler visited the “good private hospital,” where no one seemed “pressed for time” and the director angrily refused to take patients from
the closed hospital, explaining to his guests that “The first case I got from there, she had gangrene all over her body.” He will take only “good cases.” Meanwhile one Belgian doctor remained in the closed Palestinian hospital to take care of 58 patients, some badly wounded, amidst “a stench of filth and rotting flesh.” The director of the “good private hospital” is, incidentally, the son of a millionaire orange grove owner, who was quite pleased to be liberated by the Israeli army.141
None of this merited any editorial comment, apart from the regular tributes to Israel’s sublime moral standards, which are a wonder to behold. One may recall, perhaps, the reaction in the Times and elsewhere when the peasant army of Pol Pot evacuated the hospitals of Phnom Penh-without first reducing them to ruins, however.
The Canadian and Norwegian doctor, along with a Norwegian social worker, were indeed arrested and taken to Israel, then released after protests from their governments. Their testimony received a brief notice in the New York Times, divided between Canadian surgeon Chris Giannou’s testimony before Congress that he had seen prisoners beaten to death by Israeli soldiers and other atrocities, and the Israeli government denials and allegations that Giannou was a liar suspected of working for the PLO, that the hospital he reported being bombed “was hit only because the P.L.O. used it for fighting,” etc. 142 This admirable show of balance in reports of atrocities is not familiar from other cases.*
In his congressional testimony, Giannou reported that he was “a witness to four prisoners who were beaten to death” (reduced to two by the Timesj He also witnessed “the total, utter devastation of residential areas, and the blind, savage, indiscriminate destruction of refugee camps by simultaneous shelling and carpet bombing from aircraft, gunboats, tanks and artillery,” leaving only “large blackened craters filled with rubble and debris, broken concrete slabs and twisted iron bars, and corpses”; “hospitals being shelled,” one shell killing 40-50 people; the shelling of the camp after Israeli soldiers had permitted women and children to return to it; the use of cluster bombs in settled areas; “the calcinated, carbonized bodies of the victims of phosphorus bombs”; 300 cadavers in one area while he was evacuating the Government Hospital; and much more. He saw “the entire male staff’ of the hospitals being taken into custody, leaving patients unattended, and “savage and indiscriminate beatings” of prisoners with fists, sticks, ropes with nuts and bolts tied to them. He saw a Palestinian doctor hung by his hands from a tree and beaten and an Iraqi surgeon “beaten by several guards viciously, and left to lie in the sun with his face buried in the sand,” all in the presence of an Israeli Colonel who did nothing about it. He watched prisoners “being rehearsed by an Israeli officer to shout ‘Long Live Begin’,” others sitting bound in “stifling heat” with “food and water in short supply.” He was forced to evacuate his hospital and bring the patients down to the seafront. The Norwegians confirmed his story and said that they had seen at least 10 people beaten to death, including an old man who was crazed by the lack of water and intense heat as the prisoners were forced to sit for hours in the sun; he was beaten by four or five soldiers who then tied him with his wrists to his ankles and let him lie in the sun until he died. 143 Another demonstration of courage and purity of arms.
* Not surprisingly, Giannou merits an entry in the Anti-Defamation League Enemies List of people dedicated “to undermine American support for Israel” (see chapter 4, note 145), The Handbook of “pro-Arab propagandists” repeats Israel’s charges that Giannou “was detained because of his close connection to the PLO and his apparent sympathy for the terrorist organization,” sufficient reason by ADL standards, and states that his “public accusations against the Israelis” are “not authenticated.”
Little of this was reported here in the mainstream media, but Giannou 5 testimony obviously did impress Congress, as we can see from its decision, shortly after, to improve the terms of Reagan’s proposed increase of military and economic aid to Israel.
The Norwegian doctor and social worker told the story of their captivity in a report issued by the Norwegian Department of Foreign Affairs. ’44 Under Israeli captivity, they were forced to sit, hands tied, for 36 hours without permission to move, while they heard “screams of pain” from nearby. In an Israeli prison, they were forced to lie for 48 hours, blindfolded and handcuffed, on the interrogation ground. They report “extensive violence” against prisoners, including beatings by thick table legs, batons, plastic tubes “often with big knots in the ends” and clubs with nails. Officers were present during severe beatings, but did nothing. One of the most sadistic Israeli guards told them he was from a kibbutz where an Austrian girl had been killed by rocket fire. Prisoners were tied with tight plastic straps with sharp edges, “causing pain.” The Norwegians were given “preferential treatment.” Arab prisoners were subjected to constant brutality and degradation.
Dr. Shafiqul-Islam from Bangladesh, who was on the staff of the Palestinian hospital in Sidon, reports that he was arrested by the IDF while operating on a 12-year-old Palestinian boy with severe internal shrapnel injuries. He was not permitted to complete the operation, but was arrested, beaten mercilessly, forbidden to ask for food or water for 4 days, denied drugs or dressings for other prisoners on the grounds that they were “all terrorists,” and so on. 145
The treatment of prisoners gives a certain insight into the nature of the conquering army and the political leadership that guides it, as does the very fact that it was considered legitimate to round up all teen-age and adult males and to ship them off to concentration camps after they were identified as “terrorists” by hooded informants. Similarly, the fact that all of this was generally regarded as quite unremarkable here-search New York Times editorials, for example, for a protest-gives a certain insight into the society that was funding this operation, the paymasters and coterie of apologists.
Little is known about the fate of those who were imprisoned, in part, because Israel has blocked access to the camps. For over a month, Israel refused even to permit the Red Cross to visit the camps, prompting unaccustomed protest by the ICRC, which later suspended its visits in apparent protest against what it had found within (as a matter of policy, the ICRC refrains from public criticisms). Five months after the war’s end, Israel was still refusing to permit reporters to visit the Ansar camp in Lebanon, as was discovered by one of the rare journalists (William Farrell) who tried to do so on the strength of the statement in an official IDF publication that “the camp is open to visitingjournalists throughout the day and newsmen may interview detainees on camp grounds.”l46 He was told (“politely”): “You may not enter.”* More than half of the estimated 15,000 prisoners were reported to be in prisons or camps in Israel, where the Red Cross stated that it was still denied any access to them, many months after the war ended (see p.221 and chapter 6, section 6.5).
Some information has come from released prisoners, and more from Israeli sources to which we turn directly. The few released prisoners interviewed by the press report “sardine-like” overcrowding, with prisoners required to lie on the ground day and night. Some report that they were required to hold their hands over their heads and forced to “bark like the dogs you are” and shout “Long live Begin, long live Sharon.” Jonathan Randal, who reports these facts, states that “there appear to be virtually no Palestinian men between the ages of 16 to 60 free in southern Lebanon,” an observation confirmed by other reporters and visitors. Released prisoners allege that many prisoners died of torture. One, who was in Ansar for 155 days, reported in an interview with Liberation (Paris) that prisoners were laid “on special tables that have holds for legs and arms,” then beaten with sticks and iron rods. He claims to have seen deaths as the result of torture. A London Times inquiry reported in Yediot Ahronot led to the discovery of7 young men apparently killed in an Israeli detention camp near Sid on in the early weeks of the invasion, their bodies found with hands tied and signs of severe beatings. Independent Lebanese Witnesses gave similar accounts; one claimed to have seen one prisoner beaten to death by an Israeli guard. Israeli authorities first denied the allegations, then confirmed that the bodies had been found and that an investigation was proceeding. One died from a heart attack, they claimed. The Times reports that five were Lebanese citizens of Palestinian origin, one was a Palestinian refugee, and one an Egyptian.
* Possibly in response to Farrell’s article, Israel then allowed two reporters to enter the Camps. Edward Walsh reports that prisoners conntinue? be brought to Ansar, sometimes as many as 20 a week. The head of the prisoners committee says: “At first this place was hell. Then there were improvements~ . I will not say that this is Auschwitz, but it is a concentration camp.” He also says that “There Is no torture now in Ansar.” See also Un Avneri’s report on the Ansar “concentration camp,” including interviews with guards who regard the prisoners as “subhuman,” etc.; and Mary Arias, reporting degrading conditions electric torture, efforts to induce psychological disorientation by various measures, etc. 144;
A lengthy account of the experiences of one prisoner in Israel and in Ansar appears in the German periodical Der Spiegel.This man, a Lebanese Shute Muslim (the largest religious group in Lebanon), was taken prisoner on July 2, when his village was officially “liberated” by the IDF. At 4:30 AM the village was awakened by loudspeakers announcing that all inhabitants from ages 15 to 75 were to gather in the village center at 5 AM. IDF troops with tanks and armored personnel carriers surrounded the village while, to the amazement of the villagers, a network ofcollaborators within the village, clearly established in advance, appeared with IDF uniforms and weapons, prepared for their task, which was to select the victims. Each person received a notice, ”guilty” or ”innocent”; this man was “guilty,” with a written statement describing his “crime”-in Hebrew, so he never did find out what it was. The guilty were blindfolded and taken to a camp in southern Lebanon. There they were interrogated while being beaten with heavy clubs. Teachers, businessmen, students and journalists received special treatment: more severe beatings. The interrogation-beating sessions lasted from 10 minutes to half a day, depending on the whims of the liberators. Prisoners slept on the ground, without blankets in the cold nights. Many were ill. They were forced to pass before Lebanese informants, and if selected, were sent to Israel.
For no reason that he could discern, this man was one of those selected. Their first stop in Israel was Nahariya, where Israeli women entered their buses, screaming hysterically at the bound prisoners, hitting them and spitting at them while the guards stood by and laughed. They were then driven to an Israeli camp where they were greeted by soldiers who again beat them with clubs. They were given dinner-a piece of bread and a tomato. Then soldiers came with four large shepherd dogs on chains, who were set upon the prisoners, biting them, while those who tried to defend themselves were beaten by soldiers. “Particularly the young boys, aged 15 and 16, began to cry from fear,” leading to further beatings.
“Each day brought with it new torture.” Many were beaten with iron bars, on the genitals, on the hands, on the soles of the feet. One had four fingers broken. This man was hung by his feet “and they used me as a punching bag.” When prisoners begged for water they were given urine, provided by the liberators. One day they were taken to the sports stadiurn of a nearby village where the inhabitants came to throw bottles and other objects at them. Prisoners were forced to run like cattle, beaten with clubs. Once they were made to sit for a solid week, most of the time with hands on their heads. The worst times were Friday night and Saturday, when the guards celebrated the Sabbath by getting drunk, selecting some prisoners for special punishment “to the accompaniment of laughter, full of hate.”
After the war ended this man was taken back to Lebanon, to the Ansar concentration camp, where there were then about 10,000 prisoners. There the terror continued. One day they saw many Lebanese women outside the camp. They waved to them and shouted. To stop the turmoil, the guards shot in the direction of the women, and the prisoners, angered, threw stones, and were fired on directly with 28 wounded, eight seriously. One night, at 1 AM, he was told that he was free; 225 men were freed, all Lebanese. He was sent to Nabatiye, where an officer told him: “We wish you all the best. We had to mete out justice. It was a long time indeed, but justice triumphed anyway.” “I do not know what he meant,” this man adds, concluding his story 148
The story was translated into Hebrew and appeared in Ha’aretz but curiously, it was missed by the New York Times, New Republic, and other journals that were lauding the “purity of arms” and magnificent moral standards of the liberators. Apparently, it was not deemed of sufficient importance to be communicated to those paying the bills.
According to other reports, prisoners were held blindfolded and bound in barbed wire compounds; while Lebanese prisoners were kept with arms tied, Palestinians were kept naked, blindfolded, with arms tied. Despite daily appeals from June 6, the ICRC was permitted to see only 18 injured Palestinians in a hospital in Israel until July 18. Wealthy Lebanese detainees who say that they had “fought the PLO” describe beatings and humiliation, confirming the reports of others.’49 One reads an occasional description, usually in the foreign press, of “the agitated crowd of Arab women gathered in the shade of a neighbouring wall to see whether any of their relatives could be spotted,”‘50 but the torment of the families is of as little interest to the paymasters as is the fate of the prisoners themselves.
The Greek Orthodox Archbishop of “demolished Tyre,” Monsignor Haddad, described “the arbitrary arrests” as “an insuperable barrier to the establishment of a just peace,” expressing his certainty “that 95 percent-if not 99 percent-of the people arrested are innocent.”‘151 It might be added that some questions also arise about the concept “guilt,” as applied by a conquering army.
Correspondents in Lebanon provide more information. One Reuters reporter gives this eyewitness account after seeing prisoners under guard:
Flicking a two-thonged leather whip, an Israeli soldier moved through the lines of suspected guerillas squatting on a lawn outside the Safa Citrus Corporation. Nearby, a row of eight men stood with their hands in the air as a green-bereted Israeli border guard, an Uzi sub-machinegun slung over his shoulder, inspected them. “This is where they bring our men. It is the Israelis’ interrogation center,” said a sobbing woman in a small crowd on the pavement opposite. The border guards, a force renowned for their toughness, barked out orders in Arabic and refused to let journalists linger at the gates of the corporation, a depot on the southern outskirts of Sidon. Through the bars, about 100 prisoners could be seen on the lawn while a queue waited to enter the depot, apparently for questioning. Those able to satisfy the Israelis that they were not PLO guerillas were put onto a bus and driven to an open space in the town for release. As the men left the bus, soldiers stamped a Star of David on their identity cards to show they had been cleared. Those who had no card were stamped on their wrists.
A picture above the story shows the top half of the body of an unidentified man, killed during the bombing of a school building in Sidon a week earlier, lying in the ruins where residents say that more than 300 died. A woman who was personally acquainted with several men who were released says she was told that “they had to stand or sit in the sun all day. The only water they got was poured on the ground, and they had to lap it up like animals.” “Other Lebanese residents of Sidon told the same story.” Adult males had been rounded up after the occupation, taken to the beaches, and passed before men wearing hoods who pointed some of them out, “and then the Israelis took them away.” 152
Again, it is useful to ask ourselves what the reaction would be in the United States if an Arab army had conquered half of Israel, leaving a trail of destruction in its path, sending all males to prison camps where they were beaten, murdered, humiliated, while their families were left to starve or be harassed or killed by terrorist bands armed by the conqueror.
William Farrell visited the same school 7 months later, reporting again that “several hundred refugees were killed” when the school’s shelter was. hit. This one shelter, then, contained more corpses than the total number killed in all of Sidon, according to the Israeli official responsible for the population in the territories that were “liberated,” Minister of Economic Coordination Ya’akov Meridor, who reported to the Israeli Knesset that 250 people were killed in Sidon,* “including terrorists and their hostages”-which presumably translates as “Palestinians and Lebanese.”‘53 Farrell interviewed the assistant principal of this French-language elementary school: “there are problems with some of the students, he said, who still shudder when they hear planes overhead. ‘It will take a long time to take this impression from them,’ he added.” 154
* For the accounting by those who were celebrating their liberation, see note 103. Recall that the actual numbers are unknown, and that months after the battle ended corpses were still being found and the IDF feared that epidemics might break out because of those still buried under the rubble. See pp.221, 222.
More information about the prisons comes from Israeli sources. Dr. Haim Gordon, an IDF educational officer, describes his visit to what he calls the Ansar “concentration camp.” Prisoners are not permitted to leave their tents, but must lie on the ground. There are no showers, in the burning July sun. “The terrible stink ‘maddens’ the Israeli guards.” One prisoner is an 83-year-old man who “collaborated” with the PLO, renting a field to Palestinians who allegedly used it for an ammunition dump. He is therefore “a terrorist,” and “we must frighten him so that in the future he will not collaborate,” Gordon was informed by a guard.
Amnon Dankner reports testimony by an Israeli soldier who served as a prison guard. He too describes the terrible smell, intolerable to the Israeli guards; and “the cries of pain of those under interrogation.” He describes the pleading women who kiss your hands and show you a picture, begging you to tell them whether you have seen their husband or child, whom they have not seen or heard from for three months. And the military police officer who shoots into a crowd of prisoners (see p.233), the blood streaming from the wounds of those who are hit, the roadblocks where you must stop and send back a woman about to give birth or an old man in terrible pain, trying to reach a hospital. And finally, the suicide of an Israeli soldier, who, it seems, could bear no more. 155
Within Israel, the matter has elicited some concern. Knesset Member Amnon Rubinstein brought up in the Knesset the issue of “terrifying incidents in Ansar,” alleging that “intolerable conditions that are a stain on Israel’s reputation” prevail in the camp: “Prisoners walk about barefoot in the severe cold and there have been many incidents of assaults against them.”‘56 In the United States, little has been said about the topic. We return to the Israeli response to an Amnesty International appeal on the matter.
Israeli soldiers returning from duty in Lebanon in the reserves add more to the picture. One, a student at Tel Aviv University, reports what he saw in Koteret Rashit (a newjournal with Labor support, including many Labor doves). In 1978, he had been arrested in Argentina on suspicion of spying and had spent ten days in an Argentine prison, but had seen nothing there to compare with what he found in the IDF headquarters in Sidon in January 1983, where he spent a month. At least 10 people were arrested each day and forced to perform menial labor for the IDF and the Israeli Border Guards, cleaning latrines and private quarters, washing floors, etc. In a letter of complaint to the Defense Ministry, this man and two other reservists, reporting their experiences, state that the IDF is becoming “an army of masters.” Prisoners in this military base were held only on suspicion, and many were released after a brief stay. In the base they were brutalized by the Border Guards; “whoever is caught will be Punished,” these reservists were told by the commanding officer. They witnessed degradation and beating of prisoners who were bound and blindfolded, forced to crouch on the floor for long hours, then often released. Even worse than the behavior of the Border Guards (with the knowledge of their officers, who did nothing) was that of the Haddad forces who had free access to this IDF base. They beat prisoners brutally, again, with the knowledge of IDF officers. In one case a young woman, “completely bound. . . and crying from pain wherever they touched her,” was repeatedly raped by Haddad soldiers who also attempted to force her to copulate with a dog. Then “they returned her to imprisonment.” “Naturally there was no investigation” of what had happened within this IDF military base; the responsible IDF officers “explained to me that this is how they behave in Lebanon…” The soldiers had hoped to present their complaints to Chief of Staff Eitan, who arrived on a tour, but were unable to contact him. His visit had some good effects, however: the prisoners were given mattresses and blankets for the first time, after having been forced to work extra hours to clean the building in preparation for Eitan’s visit. This soldier, who seems completely apolitical and is certainly no dove, is unwilling to return to Lebanon but does not want to join the hundreds who have refused service there (many others have refused service at Ansar). He is thinking of emigrating, as several of his friends have done. 157
It might be noted, incidentally, that brutal treatment of helpless prisoners is an old Begin specialty. After the Deir Yassin massacre, survivors were paraded through the streets of Jerusalem by Irgun soldiers proud of their achievement. Colonel Meir Pail, who was communications officer for the Haganah in Deir Yassin and an eye-witness, describes how Begin’s heroes loaded 25 survivors into a truck and drove them through Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem, then taking them to a quarry where they were murdered, while others were driven off to be expelled beyond Israeli lines. And after Begin’s troops had finished with their “orgy” of looting and destruction in Jaffa in April 1948, they also paraded blindfolded prisoners through the streets of Tel Aviv, “to the disgust of a large section of the public.”‘58 Many of those driven from Jaffa in 1948 found their way to the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, where their families were subjected to the gentle ministrations of Israel’s local adjuncts in September 1982; see p.370.
In other respects too, the IDF did not break new ground in Lebanon; recall its massacre of defenseless civilians in the Gaza Strip in 1956 (see p. 102) and its behavior at the end of the 1967 war, when after the fighting “lsrael coldly blocked a Red Cross effort to rescue the human ruins staggering and dying in the desert under the pitiless midsummer sun. “‘ As already noted, the military doctrine of attacking defenseless civilians, described once again by Menachem Begin in connection with the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, derives from longstanding practice and was enunciated clearly by David Ben-Gurion in January 1948 (see p.182*).
Many Israeli soldiers were appalled by the nature of the war, a fact that may be reflected in the “psychiatric casualties,” particularly among reservists, which were twice as high as the norm (including the 1973 war) in comparison to physical casualties. 160 Many of these soldiers reported what they had seen on their return, giving a picture of the war that was rather different from what had passed through Israeli censorship, and contributing substantially to growing opposition to the war in certain circles.
One important case was Lieut. Col. Dov Yirmiah,* the oldest soldier to serve in Lebanon, whose military career goes back to the pre-state Haganah days.’61 Col. Yirmiah served with a unit that had responsibility for the captured population. After he returned from his first tour of duty, he made public some of the facts about its activities, or lack of activities. He was then dismissed from the army of which he was one of the founders, as punishment for this misdeed, on August 6.
Yirmiah reports that the care for the captured population was “not serious, to use an understatement.” The behavior of his unit was governed by “hatred of Arabs, particularly Palestinians, and a feeling of revenge,” and disregard for the needs of both Palestinians and Lebanese. He describes how tens of thousands of people (100,000, according to the estimate of the military commander, 50,000 according to others) were concentrated on the beaches near Sidon for two days or more, in “terrible heat,” without even water (the city’s water system had been destroyed and no plans had been made for a substitute). When he tried to arrange for assistance, he was told that there was “no hurry.” His unit was not permitted to care for the needs of Palestinians at all. Only after a week were supplies brought for the population, and then nothing for the Palestinians. Supplies gathered in Israel were not permitted entry. Christians were permitted to sit in the shade; Palestinians and Muslims forced to sit in the sun.
When the chief Israeli administrator, Cabinet Minister Ya’akov Meridor, came to inspect and was asked what they were to do with the Palestinians, his answer was:
“You must drive them East, towards Syria… and not let them return.”
* Yirmiah has compiled an honorable record over many years. It was he, incidentally, who exposed the story of Shmuel Lahis when this mass murderer was appointed to the highest executive position in the World Zionist Organization, a fact that merited no comment in the United States; after all, as the Israeli High Court had determined, his murdering several dozen old men, women and children under guard in a mosque was an act carrying “no stigma.” See p.165. Yirmiah had been his commanding officer at the time of the massacre.
Yirmiah subsequently spoke at a meeting in Tel Aviv with a number of soldiers and university professors who opposed the war, including soldiers who refused to return to Lebanon and also one of Israel’s most prominent military commanders, General (Res.) Avraham Adan, who participated, though he opposed the refusal to serve in Lebanon. Yirmiah explained that as soon as he entered Lebanon he realized that the purpose of the military operati9n was not “to kill terrorists-few terrorists were killed-but to destroy the [Palestinian] camps.” After 3 months, virtually nothing had been done for the tens of thousands of people whose camps (actually, towns) were destroyed, and Israel refused to take any responsibility for them. Even in his service in the European theatre during World War II, Yirmiah said, he saw nothing comparable to the destruction of the Am el-H ilweh camp. He also described his visit to one of the concentration camps for Palestinian men and boys. He saw prisoners with their hands tied beaten by soldiers, one struck repeatedly in the face with the heel of a shoe, others beaten with clubs all over their bodies-on orders, they claimed. Appeals to higher officers went unanswered. “Everything that is happening is the result of 15 years of conquest,” Yirmiah concluded plausibly, referring to the post-1967 occupation. 162
At the same time, Imri Ron, whose “authority” was so respected by the New York Times (see above, p.228), reported that there were “no signs of beating or ill-treatment” in a prison camp he visited near Sidon, where the prisoners were “smoking and conversing, on the grass… definitely a humane attitude”-rather like a college campus in the spring, by his account. 63
In his published diary and elsewhere, Yirmiah gave further details 164. He described how military authorities blocked shipments of food, blankets, medical supplies and tents requested by the Mayor of Sidon (the supplies were delayed for several weeks, arriving only on July 5, because of the insistence of the Israeli military that they be shipped through Israel or Christian East Beirut, and they had not been distributed as of early August). A ship arrived with 700 tons of supplies for the people of Sidon, who were in desperate need, sent by a Lebanese millionaire. The IDF command refused to allow it to land, pretending that there were mines in the harbor. The real reason was that it was sent by “foreign and hostile factors who would defame Israel”; and besides, the IDF command said, “they are all Arabs, and they all aided the terrorists in one way or another.” Furthermore the IDF command claimed that they had ample provisions in their houses, stored “according to the Arab custom” -in houses that were destroyed, or to which they could not gain access, Yirmiah adds. The IDF command refused to offer any help; “the ‘Araboushim’ can wait,” Yirmiah comments. There was reconstruction, carried out by local people, without IDF assistance. “We know how to destroy, let others build,” Yirmiah observes.
The commanding officer ordered that with regard to UNICEF, “we must disrupt all their activities.” As for the International Red Cross, it is “a hostile organization” and orders were given to “prevent all its activities in the region.” Relief gathered by Israelis was not distributed or was given to Lebanese army units. Milk collected in Haifa was not distributed in Tyre on the grounds that “they (the Arabs) ruin their stomachs with our milk.” The IDF command refused to permit huge army water carriers to be used for the tens of thousands of people suffering from thirst and hunger for days on the Sidon beaches. “I will not send one IDF vehicle or driver into that mob,” Yirmiah was told by the commanding officer, who also refused to allow him to enter Sidon to help because there might be danger: “It is better that 1000 Arabs should die and not one of our soldiers,” the commanding officer said.
Refugees from camps that were flattened were forbidden to pitch tents, though these were in plentiful supply (later, Israeli authorities were to place the blame on the Lebanese and international organizations for this), a decision that is “evil and inhuman, and it teaches us the meaning of the ‘humanitarianism’ that [the military commander) boasts of on television.” Travelling near Tyre, Yirmiah came across the refugees from Rashidiyeh who were camping in citrus groves near their destroyed town. A military commander ordered that they be driven away because “they are being filmed too much.” “It is important to preserve the beautiful face of Israel,” Yirmiah comments. He hears reports on the Israeli radio of the wonderful humanitarian efforts of the IDF and the Israeli population:
“evidently, we learned something from the fascist propagandists in Europe,” Yirmiah comments in despair, from the scene. He reports the fakery and invention of ridiculously low numbers of casualties and destroyed buildings, and the lies about humanitarianism and “purity of arms.” “The Jewish soldier, the lsraeli, who is crowned by hypocritical commanders and politicians as the must human in the world; the Israeli army that pretends to observe the purity of arms (a phrase that is sickening and false)-is changing its image” (Yirmiah is not above certain illusions about the past).
All of this refers to the treatment of the Lebanese, those who were liberated (Yirmiah accepts the official version that the IDF entered Lebanon to “liberate” the Lebanese and to fight “the terrorists”). As for the Palestinians, “the attitude towards the noncombatant Palestinian population recalls the attitude towards cockroaches that swarm on the ground.” Am el-Hilweh was savagely bombed though it was known that many women and children were cowering in the shelters. The women and children must be “punished,” because they belong to the families of terrorists; recall General Gur’s principles, cited by Prime Minister Begin (p.220), though he was ordering “punishment” of all inhabitants of southern Lebanon, not just Palestinians. Even the limited aid offered the Lebanese was denied the remnants of the Palestinians.
Some of Yirmiah’s most terrible stories concern the prisoners. Lebanese and Palestinians were taken over and over again for “identification” before hooded informers, many from the underworld “so that the\ should kno~ what awaits a terrorist, and will be careful in the future,” the official explanation ran. He tells story after story of prisoners savagel\ and endlessly beaten in captivity, of torture and humiliation of prisoners, and of the manv who died from beatings and thirst in Israeli prisons or concentration camps in Lebanon. On the bus trip to an Israeli prison, one 55-vear old man, a diabetic with heart disease, felt ill and asked for air; he was thrown out of the bus bv a soldier, fell and died. His son heard his cries and tried to help him, but he was stopped with “severe beatings.” The son was still in Ansar, as ofjanuary l9~3. The long and repeated interrogations were accompanied by constant beatings, or attacks by dogs on leashes, or the use of air rifles with bullets that cause intense pain but do not kill: “this gets all the secrets out of those under interrogation,” Yirmiah was told by an IDF officer who exhibited this useful device. Ne~ loads of clubs had to be brought into the camps to replace those broken during interrogation. The torturers were “experts in their work,” the prisoners report, and knew how to make the blows most painful, includmg blows to the genitals, until the prisoners confessed that they were “terrorists” although when the Red Cross was finally permitted entry to Ansar in August, things improved somewhat. Prisoners were placed in “the hole,” a tin box too small to permit them to sit or lie down, with gravel and pieces of iron on the floor; there they would be kept for hours until they fainted and were covered with wounds on the soles of their feet Prisoners were forced to sit with their heads between their legs, beaten if they moved, while guards shouted at them: “You are a nation of monkeys you are terrorists, and we will break your heads: You want a state’? Build it on the moon.” The stories closely resemble those told by other released prisoners, specifically, the death from beatings and harsh treatment of “at least seven prisoners” who were buried in the Muslim cemetery near Sidon; see pp.231-2.
Yirmiah served in the Allied forces in World War II. He compares the incredible brutality ofthe IDF with the behavior of Allied troops in Italy where German POWs were treated honorably and decently and if there were violations, they were stopped at once, while the IDF officers simply observe the atrocities and do not intervene.
Reporting his experiences in June~in the early stages of the warYirmiah describes the bombed hospitals, the shattered population wandering in the ruins of Tyre and Sidon and the camps, the terrorism of Phalange hoodlums brought in by the IDF, the cries of the bereaved, the massive weaponry so out of proportion to any military need. “It seems that there are many soldiers in the IDF to whom it matters and who are pained that we have become a nation of vicious thugs, whose second nature is fire, destruction, death and ruin.” He sees religious soldiers celebrating the Sabbath amidst the horrors: “I am ashamed to be part of this nation,” he says, “arrogant, boastful, becoming more cruel and singing on the ruins.” And he asks, finally: “What will become of us,” acting in such ways?
5.4 The Grand Finale
Israel’s attack continued with mounting fury through July and August, the prime target now being the besieged city of West Beirut. By late June, residential areas had been savagely attacked in the defenseless city. Robert Fisk writes that “The Israeli pilots presumably meant to drop their bombs on the scruffy militia office on Corniche Mazraa, but they missed. Instead, their handiwork spread fire and rubble half the length of Abu Chaker Street, and the people of this miserable little thoroughfare-those who survived, that is-cannot grasp what happened to them… Abu Chaker Street was in ruins, its collapsed apartment blocks still smoking and some of the dead still in their pancaked homes, sandwiched beneath hundreds of tons of concrete… The perspiring ambulance crews had so far counted 32 dead, most of them men and women who were hiding in their homes in a nine-storey block of flats, when an Israeli bomb exploded on its roof and tore down half the building.” One old man “described briefly, almost without emotion, how [his daughter’s] stomach had been torn out by shrapnel.” “This was a civilian area,” he said. “The planes are terrorizing us. This is no way for soldiers to fight.”‘65 This was before the massive air attacks of late July and August.
On one occasion, on August 4, the IDF attempted a ground attack, but withdrew after 19 Israeli soldiers were killed.’66 The IDF then returned to safer tactics, keeping to bombing and shelling from land and sea, against which there was no defense, in accordance with familiar military doctrine (see pp.220, 256, 312, 315). The population of the beleaguered city was deprived of food, water, medicines, electricity, fuel, as Israel tightened the noose. Since the city was defenseless, the IDF was able to display its light-hearted abandon, as on July 26, when bombing began precisely at 2:42 and 3:38 PM, “a touch of humor with a slight hint,” the Labor press reported cheerily, noting that the timing, referring to UN Resolutons 242 and 338, “was not accidental.”‘67
The bombings continued, reaching their peak of ferocity well after agreement had been reached on the evacuation of the PLO. Military correspondent Hirsh Goodman wrote that “the irrational, unprovoked and unauthorized bombing of Beirut after an agreement in principle regarding the PLO’s withdrawal had been concluded between all the parties concerned should have caused [Defense Minister Sharon’s] dismissal,” but did not. 168
The Il-hour bombing on August 12 evoked worldwide condemnation, even from the U.S.. and the direct attack was halted. The consensus of eye witnesses was expressed by Charles Powers:
To many people. in fact, the siege of Beirut seemed gratuitous brutality. . . The arsenal of weapons, unleashed in a way that has not been seen since the Vietnam war, clearly horrified those who saw the results firsthand and through film and news reports at a distance. The use of cluster bombs and white phosphorus shells, a vicious weapon. was widespread.
The Israeli government, which regarded news coverage from Lebanon as unfair, began to treat the war as a public-relations problem. Radio Israel spoke continually of the need to present the war in the “correct” light. particularly in the United States. In the end, however, Israel created in West Beirut a whole set of facts that no amount of packaging could disguise. In the last hours of the last air attack on Beirut, Israeli planes carpet-bombed Borj el Brajne [a Palestinian refugee camp]. There were no fighting men left there. only the damaged homes of Palestinian families, who once again would have to leave and find another place to live. All of West Beirut, finally, was living in wreckage and garbage and loss.
But the PLO was leaving. Somewhere, the taste of victory must be sweet.