Sharon opposed findings of Sabra, Shatilla probe

Declassified protocols show then-defense minister saying report finds Israel responsibile, makes massacre seem like genocide.

Sabra, Shatila (R370) (photo credit:  REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir)
Sabra, Shatila (R370)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir)
The National Archives released on Thursday previously classified protocols from 30-year-old cabinet meetings discussing whether to adopt the Kahan Commission findings on the Sabra and Shatilla massacres of the First Lebanon War.
In the protocols, among other statements made during a cabinet meeting on February 10, 1983, three days after the commission submitted its findings and recommendations, by then-defense minister Ariel Sharon, who opposed adopting the report’s recommendations wholesale, was, “If we accept it, then those who are against us will say that we are responsible for genocide.”
He added, “I cannot be responsible for an action that I did not know about.”
The Sabra and Shatilla massacres refer to the killing of 700 to 800 Palestinians on September 16-18, 1982, in refugee camps in Lebanon by Phalange-Lebanese allied with the IDF’s campaign against the PLO.
Despite Sharon’s objections, then-prime minister Menachem Begin and the government adopted the commission’s findings, including the recommendation to dismiss Sharon from his post.
Sharon was in the political wilderness for years following the government decision, and his dramatic return to power and his eventual rise to the office of prime minister took nearly 20 years.
Until then, Sharon had risen through the Likud ranks at a meteoric rate, after completing a storied military career, and was considered a possible successor to Begin.
According to the protocols, Sharon was late for the meeting, having told Begin that he had to check a situation regarding a demonstration in Jerusalem by the relatively new Peace Now at which a grenade had been thrown.
(Begin was told that one person was killed and numerous persons were wounded.) Minister Yosef Burg, also present, did not know that his son, future Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg, was one of the injured protesters.
Elaborating on his opposition to the commission’s findings, Sharon said, “The report itself, in my opinion, there are portions that for sure it is possible to accept them and it is proper to accept them. But I found that there are portions, that in my opinion, should not be accepted.”
He continued, “I arrived at grave conclusions regarding certain portions of the report, that in no circumstance... I am not ready to accept them and I suggest that the government reject them.”
Sharon added, “There are some things, that for us, as Jews, as citizens of the State of Israel, as ministers in the government of Israel, it is impossible to accept them.”
He especially slammed the commission’s conclusion that the leaders of the state and the army turned a blind eye to danger of a massacre, saying, “We are talking about an issue that goes far beyond the personal question, which preoccupies or which many are so preoccupied with: If Sharon should go or not go.”
Sharon emphasized that the commission found that “we ignored, implying we knew.
This includes all of us, those who sit here: you, Mr. Prime Minister, every one of us, each of us who appeared before the commission, with basically no exception.”
“The commission comes and says that the danger of a massacre, not only did it exist, but also that it was known to the elected persons and those filling the lead roles, and that they ignored it,” he said.
Begin then responded that the commission’s report did not include the phrase “they knowingly ignored,” to which Sharon responded sarcastically, “Forgive me, Mr. Attorney- General, I am not so exact on legal phrasing, albeit, not long ago, I was your student.”
Begin was apparently unconvinced, and he adopted the report over Sharon’s objections.