Global Policy Forum

The Accused


Fergal Keane

Transript* of the Original BBC Television Program

June 17, 2001

Link to Video of Program

FERGAL KEANE: On a Autumn morning in 1982 an Israeli soldier walked into a refugee camp and was confronted with a scene of desolation.

Journalist for Israeli Defence Force, 1982
It was very quiet, no one screamed, no one yelled inside the camp. I remember the smell. I remember the picture that people were lying one on another and some of them were already dead, some of them were still breathing.

KEANE: At least 800 civilians were massacred after Israel's Minister of Defence, Ariel Sharon, allowed Lebanese Phalangist militiamen into the camps of Sabra and Shatila.

Ariel Sharon speaking in 1985
Not one of us, no one of our soldiers, no one of our commanders, not myself, no one of our political leaders in Israel was involved in that tragic event.

KEANE: When Ariel Sharon says, and other senior Israeli officers, that they couldn't possibly have predicted what might have happened...

US Special Envoy to the Middle East, 1982
Complete and utter nonsense.

KEANE: Nobody has ever been prosecuted for the killings or for failing in their responsibilities to the murdered civilians. This is the story of those who stand accused. In June 1982 Israel's army stormed across an international border and invaded Lebanon. The Israelis said they wanted to protect their borders from Palestinian guerrilla attack and Ariel Sharon's army was soon laying siege to the capital Beirut with its Palestinian camps.

MOUNAIR AHMED It was very scary because you always hear the close bombs by and you always hear someone just died or someone just got injured.

KEANE: An estimated 300 people were killed in a single day's bombing.


Israeli Prime Minister's spokesman

The threat emanating from Lebanon as far as the terrorism that was launched by the PLO was such that if we didn't go to that war, the whole northern part of Israel would have been depopulated.

KEANE: After two months of war the PLO gave in to the Israeli demand that they leave Lebanon. For the civilians in Sabra and Shatila it meant peace. Children swam in the craters left by bombs. Tens of thousands of people were crammed into the ghettos of Sabra and Shatila. For families like the Ahmeds peace gave them a chance to start work on reconstruction.

Many of the homes that we lived in had no doors, no windows. The ceiling half messed up is shaky. No water, no electricity. It was very, very difficult.

KEANE: An estimated 14,000 PLO and Syrian fighters were evacuated from Beirut. With the fighters forced out, many left behind in the camps felt afraid.

It was natural to feel afraid after the Palestinian resistance had left, there was an inevitable feeling of fear as if we sensed that something even more terrible was going to happen, even though we had no idea what it was going to be.

KEANE: The people left behind in the camps had one enemy to fear above all others. They were a Lebanese Christian militia who had been at war with the PLO for seven years - the Phalange.

NABIL AHMED: The impression of Phalange was like they're basically killers. The minute they would get hold of a Palestinian they would kill.

KEANE: The Phalange were led by the charismatic and ruthless Bashir Gemayel. He was Israel's main ally in Lebanon. Israel's Mossad knew from meetings with him that he wanted to 'eliminate' the Palestinian problem, and now he was about to become President of Lebanon. Bashir's election worried the people of the camps but they'd been promised security. It was a deal brokered by America with the Israeli's and the beleaguered Lebanese government.

US Special Envoy to the Middle East, 1982
America said that the women and children and others left behind would be able to live in peace, as long as they obeyed the law and Lebanese jurisdiction. It was as simple as that - a very simple document. I wrote it.

KEANE: They needed that document because in Lebanon's civil war civilians were routinely murdered as witnessed by a British photographer several years earlier.

I remember listening to an old lady protesting to a Phalange and I looked at him and I looked at her and I thought well what's it mean to him, this old lady, why is he bothering? Why doesn't he just let her go? And what he did, he saved himself the trouble and he emptied a magazine into this old lady's chest and abdomen and she just dropped down sighing.

KEANE: On all sides Lebanon's civil war embraced a culture of murder.

McCULLIN: People who committed the acts of murder that I saw that day were wearing crucifixions and were calling themselves Christians.

KEANE: But the people in Sabra and Shatila had been promised they'd be protected from their enemies, and then everything exploded.

BBC Radio News
15th Sept 1982
The fragile peace in Lebanon is threatened by renewed tension following the disclosure overnight that the President Elect, Mr Bashir Gemayel, died in yesterday's bomb attack on the headquarters of his.....

KEANE: The Phalangists were distraught and enraged by the assassination.

NEWS: The Phalangist militia that Mr Gemayel once headed and the Israeli forces are said to be on high alert.

KEANE: A Syrian agent would confess to the killing but many in the camps feared the Palestinians would be blamed.

NABIL AHMED: People were scared, people get worried, and I remember my mother's words that day in Arabic she said "God protect us from what's coming".

KEANE: Israeli forces were now close by the camps. There was crossfire. Nabil's mother urged him, as a fit 16 year old, to try and escape.

NABIL AHMED: When my mother agreed with my uncle to let me go and run away, everybody in that shelter... I went down to the shelter, everybody, including my younger brothers and sisters, started crying and screaming. They wanted to go with me. Those moments were the most painful. I'll never forget those moments.

Wednesday / 15TH SEPTEMBER

KEANE: Ariel Sharon now decided to send his army into West Beirut, breaking a promise to the Americans that they would stay out of that part of the city. Israeli military intelligence claimed there were 2000 PLO and other Muslim fighters in West Beirut. But in the event, the battle was small.

Commander, Paratroop Brigade, 1982
There was not fighting. I have seen enough fighting in my life to tell you this was not similar. It was relatively very easy, very secure.

KEANE: For the Phalange, convulsed by grief and anger, it was a moment of crisis. The director of operations toured the front line.

Phalange Head of Operations, 1982
I decided to go and visit every one on the front, every soldier, every barrack, just to boost the morale and to tell them that even if Bashir is dead, we can go on, you know.. we have the legacy, we have friends, we are still very strong you know.

KEANE: Ariel Sharon arrived in Beirut on Wednesday morning insisting there were PLO forces in the camps. He'd later testify he didn't want his troops fighting and dying in Sabra and Shatila. And so after conferring with his senior officers, including Amos Yuron, the Commander for Beirut and the refugee camps, Ariel Sharon agreed a fateful order.

"Only one element, and that is the Israeli Defence Force, shall command the forces in the area. For the operation in the camps the Phalangist should be sent in."

KEANE: Ariel Sharon went to see the Phalange at their headquarters to discuss the Beirut operation. Among the commanders was a close friend of the murdered Bashir Gemayel, a man called Elie Hobeika. His name will appear many times in this story. Now, a day after their leader's murder, the Israelis were asking the Phalange to fight in Palestinian camps.

Could Ariel Sharon have been in any doubt about what would have happened if you sent the Phalangists into a Palestinian refugee camp, an undefended camp?

US Special Envoy to the Middle East, 1982
Well you'd have to be appallingly ignorant. I mean I suppose if you came down from the moon that day you might not predict it.

Israeli Prime Minister's Spokesman All the evidence shows, and that was clearly also in the Kahan Commission report, that first of all we did not know. None of our officers ever could conceive of that.

KEANE: But you should have expected it surely. These people had been killing since 1975 between them. They'd suffered massacres at the hands of the Palestinians. What else did you think they were going to do?

GISSEN: But under the guidance and control of our forces, we never expected that that would happen. We never thought that these kind of forces which trained with us, which were supposed to take part in the fighting, would actually go into that area. And under the guidance of their leader, you know.. conduct a massacre.

Thursday / 16TH SEPTEMBER

As Thursday, September 16th dawned the Israelis had moved into Beirut in force.

We saw tanks.. we saw Israeli tanks, we saw soldiers. We did not come close to them, just from a distance because we would be arrested, taken away.

For the first time in history the Israelis had occupied an Arab capital. By Thursday morning Israel's chief of staff was able to tell Ariel Sharon the whole city is in our hands. There is complete quiet now. The camps are closed. Now that's a crucial moment because at that point Ariel Sharon and his army became legally responsible for the safety of the civilians in Beirut, and that included the people of Sabra and Shatila. Under the long established humanitarian laws which govern the behaviour of an occupying army in an international armed conflict, political and military commanders are responsible for protecting civilians from harm. Judge Richard Goldstone is the man who led the prosecution of suspected war criminals in the UN tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Judge Goldstone is one of the leading figures helping to develop war crimes law. He's well acquainted with the concept of what is called 'command responsibility'.

Former Chief Prosecutor
UN War Crime Tribunals, 1994-96
A military commander and a political leader who was involved in giving instructions would clearly have an obligation under the law of war, and under the Geneva Convention, to ensure that innocent civilians were not murdered or raped or injured in any way. Command responsibility goes fairly far, it requires obviously knowledge of the danger to innocent civilians if there's that knowledge then there's an obligation to take reasonable steps to protect them.

KEANE: In Tel Aviv Ariel Sharon and his Chief of Staff met with American diplomats at the Defence Ministry. The Americans wanted to know why the Israelis had broken their promise and gone into West Beirut. The Chief of Staff said it was to prevent a Phalangist frenzy of revenge.

DRAPER: The whole group of maybe twenty of us altogether fell silent. It was a dramatic moment.

KEANE: But the Israelis also mentioned the possibility of deploying the Phalange in West Beirut. Morris Draper says the Americans were horrified at the suggestion.

DRAPER: We made it very clear, under no circumstances could the United States tolerate this.


DRAPER: Because it would be a massacre, we knew. Couldn't let those people in.


KEANE: But at around 7 o'clock the Phalange - about 150 of them - were let in to Sabra and Shatila. It was a small force. The Phalange knew there was no big PLO army waiting for them. In groups they went to people's homes.

SUAD SURUR There were thirteen of them. They knocked on the door. My father said "Who is it?" My younger brothers were sleeping. The men replied they were Israelis. I whispered to my father that they weren't Israelis.

Summer 1982

KEANE: The Phalange asked the Israelis to fire flares into the sky to light their way. The Israelis agreed to their ally's request.

The sky was completely lighted all night long and after certain time and at night we could hear noise heavy coming from the camp.

KEANE: Groups of civilians were herded into the streets, 12 year old Mounair among them.

They said the men and the older guys to go to the right and the women and children go to the left. They kept on telling us "Don't worry, you're going to be okay, you're going to be okay, nothing going to happen".

KEANE: The Israelis had a forward command post about 200 metres away which overlooked the camps. There were Phalangists stationed on the roof with the Israelis. It was around this time, 7 o'clock on Thursday evening that an Israeli officer stationed on the roof overheard a deeply troubling conversation. He was standing close to Elie Hobeika, the Leader of the Phalange operation. A soldier inside the camps came on the radio. He told Hobeika he was holding 50 women and children. What should he do with them? Hobeika replied "That's the last time you're going to ask me a question like that. You know exactly what to do". There was raucous laughter from the other Phalangists. The Israeli officer reported this to his superior, General Amos Yuron. There would be more worrying reports to the Yuron, but beyond warning Elie Hobeika not to harm civilians the General took no further action that night. Ariel Sharon was now at a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. Ministers heard the Phalange were now in the camps. Deputy Prime Minister David Levy was deeply troubled.

"When I hear that the Phalangists are already entering a certain neighbourhood and I know what the meaning of revenge is for them, what kind of slaughter, then no one will believe we went in to create order there and we will bear the blame."


KEANE: But the operation was not stopped. The Phalange were now attacking people in their homes.

SUAD SURUR: Nobody dared look at anyone else. Even the little ones wouldn't look at the older ones, except for my little sister. While she was looking at us, a bullet shot her in the head. She fell from my mother's arms like a slaughtered bird. My brother Shardie was looking around and calling out "Father" calling for his father when he was shot in the head.

KEANE: Suad fell wounded among the bodies of her family. On the streets groups of terrified civilians were being shot at point blank range.

MOUNAIR AHMED: I was next to my mother. She was hit first and a lot of people were crying loud and little kids screaming, and I remember my sister was still alive and they told her give us the ring and this.. which she did, and they shot her. There were also other things happening was the woman telling them like they would tell each other tell her take her clothes off and that, and that, and they were hurting them other ways before they killed them.

KEANE: An American nurse working in a camp hospital saw civilians fleeing.

I became aware that people were being killed in the camp when people started screaming and then running to the hospital in large numbers and the people were screaming "Phalange" and they had their fingers and they were making a gesture across their throat like somebody was slitting throats.


SUAD: The men returned for a third time. They spoke to me nicely. "You're still alive" they said. I shook my head and smiled at them mockingly. They said "We're going to finish you off right now." I said "As you wish, do as you please." They shot me in the arm and they hit my head with the butt of a rifle. One of them shot me, the other one hit me. I lost consciousness.

KEANE: Sixteen year old Suad was also raped.

MOUNAIR AHMED: The hardest memories is hearing my mum praying and hear a shot next to me and all her blood was dripping on me, and that's the hardest one.



KEANE: Friday morning the Israeli Command in Beirut told the Chief of Staff the Phalange had gone too far. At 9am an Israeli tank commander saw the bodies of five women and children. That morning the Israelis briefed the press in Beirut.

"Yesterday night we had full control of all the important keys of the city including the Palestinian camps of Bourj Al-Barajneh, Sabra and Shatila."

KEANE: A Danish cameraman was one of the few outsiders to briefly capture the Phalangist terror. The women and children are being loaded onto a truck. They're terrified. Shooting continues in the camp. The Phalangist warns the cameraman. It's not known what happened to this group. On Friday afternoon a group of terrified women had escaped the Phalange and made their way to an Israeli guard post outside the camps.

WOMEN: They shot and buried four families.

GUARD: I swear by God, I didn't see them.

WOMEN: We'll show you where they buried the people they killed. Come with us to Shatila.

GUARD: I can't leave here.

WOMEN: We'll show you the bodies. Isn't it a sin? A nine-month old baby?

KEANE: The women asked the Israelis to seek the release of their sons and husbands.

GUARD: When the Phalangists are finished with them, they will release them.

WOMEN: If they've been killing women and children how are they going to release the young men? They shot an old man and an old lady. They shot them in front of us.

KEANE: The people who went up to the Israeli soldier begging for help, what did you feel when you were watching those images?

Former Chief Prosecutor
UN War Crime Tribunals, 1994-96
Well, you know I had the same feelings I had unfortunately too frequently in my life and in my own country in South Africa seeing women and children in those sort of extreme situations. I came across those sorts of images obviously coming out of the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. More recently in Kosovo where there was similar ethnic cleansing, and needless to say, in the horror of the terrible genocide in Rwanda.

KEANE: That Friday morning, concerned about reports of killing, the Israelis surrounding the camps ordered the Phalange operation halted. But the Israelis allowed the Phalange to stay in the camps, and the killing continued. An Israeli officer encountered a group of fleeing civilians on Friday afternoon in West Beirut.

Commander, Paratroop Brigade, 1982
I saw suddenly about 20 or 30 Palestinian trying to cross this road and they are very hysterical and we didn't allow them to pass. There was a young Israeli officer he got his order not to let any Palestinian to cross into the northern part of Beirut, and they were hysterical. I asked "What happened, what happened?" They say "They kill us." I say "Okay, go, pass."

KEANE: The colonel reported this over the radio to his superior, General Yuron. Earlier General Yuron and the Chief of Staff met the Phalange leadership. Though the Israeli command in Beirut were now aware of serious questions about the abuse of civilians they didn't raise the issue with the Phalange. In fact it was agreed the Phalange could remain in the camps for another 12 hours, and the Israelis agreed to provide a bulldozer for the demolition of illegal houses.

Throughout the night I stared at my dead brother, sister and father. I was in a terrible state of madness. I even lost my memory. But what could I do? I'd lost the ability to speak and couldn't shout out.

KEANE: Back in Israel between 8 and 9 Ariel Sharon was told the Phalangists had harmed the civilian population more than was expected. They had gone too far. The operation had been stopped his Chief of Staff told him and the Phalange would be out of the camps by 5am. Then, at around half past eleven he received another phone call.

I found him at home sleeping. He woke up and I told him "Listen, there are stories about killings and massacres in the camps. A lot of our officers know about it and tell me about it, and if they know it, the whole world will know about it. You can still stop it." I didn't know that the massacre actually started 24 hours earlier. I thought it started only then and I said to him "Look, we still have time to stop it. Do something about it." He didn't react.

Saturday / 18TH SEPTEMBER

KEANE: An Israeli inquiry found that having heard the Chief of Staff's assurance, it wasn't Ariel Sharon's duty to order any additional steps. The Phalange did not leave when they'd promised. There was another three hours of killing and burying the evidence before they departed. In the early hours of Saturday morning, they arrived at Gaza hospital in Sabra. A panic-stricken Palestinian medical helper begged the foreign doctors working there to help him.

He started begging, "Somebody give me a coat, please give me a coat. Somebody help me." And so somebody gave him a white coat and so of course he was the only person in the group that was of Semitic looking dark skin, and he was picked out immediately as we started to walk. We didn't get very far. We walked for about a minute and he was stopped. I saw him on his knees begging and I turned around - we were told to keep walking - and the next thing I heard was a shot from behind me and I didn't turn around and look back.

KEANE: At around 8 o'clock, 38 hours after they'd first entered, the Phalangists left Sabra and Shatila. The first Israeli soldiers to enter the camps were confronted with a scene of horror.

EMMANUEL ROSEN Journalist for Israeli Defence Force, 1982
In the camps when we entered, people were dead or dying. No one was screaming, no one was talking. They were all dead or about to be dead. It was very clear to see that they were not shot to death, that they were tortured. When I understood that these were the Phalange, the first reaction were these people are killers. They're really the worst people I've ever met. For me immediately you know you go back to pictures from the holocaust.

KEANE: In the rubble were children who'd been scalped, young men who'd been castrated.

I was hoping to find my family alive. Then, when I start seeing the bodies in the streets, I accepted the fact then that I'll be grateful to find their bodies. You see what happened, they put them in a house, they killed them and they bulldozed the houses on them, so we were digging the rubble to identify. So we pulled the hair of my relative and that's when we realised that this is the spot where they are there.

KEANE: This was the house where Suad Surur had lain among the bodies of her family.

ROSEN: Most of the soldiers that I knew they felt terrible about it, and they felt that this is the time to disconnect all the connections with this Phalange, just go out of this country, this Lebanon, and go back to being Israel defence forces.

KEANE: An American diplomat at the scene broke news of the slaughter to his country's special ambassador. Ambassador Draper sent a furious message to Ariel Sharon saying he was responsible for the area.

US Special Envoy to the Middle East, 1982 "You must stop the acts of slaughter, they are horrifying. I have a representative in the camp counting the bodies. You should be ashamed. The situation is absolutely appalling. They're killing children! You have the field completely under your control and are therefore responsible for that area."

KEANE: And you've had no doubt since then or at that time that Ariel Sharon was responsible?

DRAPER: No doubt whatsoever. Well of course more Israelis have to share in that responsibility but absolutely.

KEANE: The Israeli government had first denied there had been any Israeli army position in the area and rejected any blame for what had happened at the camps. But in Israel and throughout the world there was public and political condemnation. Ariel Sharon was the target of bitter criticism in Israel's own parliament. He vigorously defended himself against any suggestion of responsibility for the massacre.

Ariel Sharon speaking in 1982
Not for a moment did we imagine that they would do what they did. They had received harsh and clear warnings. Had we for one moment imagined that something like this would happen we would never have let them into the camp.

KEANE: But the pressure inside Israel did not let up. Four hundred thousand people took to the streets to demand a public inquiry, the biggest demonstration in the history of the state. There was unease too in the army.

Commander, Paratroop Brigade, 1982
Like always happened, all the politicians are throwing the responsibility as fast and as far as they can, and it happened so that suddenly we, the troops in West Beirut, were blamed for what happened.

KEANE: Eventually and against the wishes of Ariel Sharon, the government set up a judicial commission of inquiry. It was for the Middle East a unique inquiry.

Israeli Prime Minister's Spokesman
Show me another nation that when two people.. you know.. Arabs kill Arabs or let's say two different people, it wasn't that the Jews were involved in, then the country, because we were there, we conducted.. no one forced us, we conducted our own investigation.

KEANE: Ariel Sharon faced detailed questioning by the Commission. His lawyers argued he hadn't been negligent in failing to stop the massacre, and no reasonable man could have foreseen the danger. So how well did Ariel Sharon know Lebanon's culture of murder? After one visit in February 1982 he said of the Lebanese "They're the kind of people who kiss ladies' hands and they murder." Ariel Sharon knew of the history of hatred between the Phalange and the Palestinians, and he knew that Christian civilians had suffered savage slaughter at the hands of the PLO.

NADER: Of course they burnt all the houses, destroyed everything, whatever they can kill, they can rob, they can rape, they have done this.

KEANE: Who was the enemy? Let's be specific about that.

Phalange Head of Operations, 1982 The Palestinians were the enemy at the time, definitely the Palestinians and all the people who were coming to help the Palestinians to fight back.

KEANE: Many in the Israeli ranks in Lebanon knew exactly what the Phalange felt about the Palestinians.

Journalist for Israeli Defence Force, 1982 Hatred is not enough to say how they treated the Muslims and the Palestinians in Lebanon. The way they described what they're going to do to them when they are going to control Lebanon, they use the terminology that I never heard before. Terminology that maybe was common in Lebanon but not in Israel, even in the most bitter days of terror attacks and everything that we had to go through all these years.

KEANE: In Beirut one Israeli officer had a shocking request from a Phalangist.

Commander, Paratroop Brigade, 1982
He say "Do me a favour, make sure to bring me that much." I say what is it? He say "Listen, I know that you will sooner or later go inside West Beirut. Promise me that you will bring me that much Palestinian blood, I want to drink it."

KEANE: Just six weeks before Sabra and Shatila, Ariel Sharon ordered his troops to take all steps to stop the Phalange abusing another group, the Druse. But why, when he talked of the Lebanese as 'murderers', did he allow the Phalange into the camps?

Israeli Prime Minister's spokesman
Well you know we live in the Middle East so we do not always have the choice of choosing our allies or our enemies. We have to take them as they come.

KEANE: Even if they're butchers?

GISSEN: No, I'm saying we had the belief, and I think perhaps a misguided belief, we thought that after training them and after going, that they will follow orders, and this is a disciplined army.

KEANE: But the Kahan Commission, the inquiry headed by the most senior judge in Israel, said Ariel Sharon had "disregarded the danger of acts of vengeance and bloodshed by the Phalangists against the population of the refugee camps. He failed to take this danger into account when he decided to have the Phalangists enter the camps." And he'd failed to order "..appropriate measures for preventing or reducing the danger of massacre as a condition for the Phalangist entry into the camps."

Lawyer for Ariel Sharon at Kahan Commission
I don't think that anyone disputes that the Commission has done a good faced, honest and straight work of the collection of the facts. As much as the conclusion which were drawn out of these facts, not all of them are accepted by him. The conclusion that himself and the others had to foresee this possibility is denied.

KEANE: Ariel Sharon lost his job as Defence Minister but stayed in the cabinet. He's never accepted the finding of indirect responsibility. But Sabra and Shatila was a war crime. The question never asked by the Kahan Commission was whether there should be indictments. Let us ask that question first of the Phalange. None has ever been arrested or charged in relation to what happened in the camps. Some are now successful businessmen living in Beirut. Fouad Abou Nader told us he was aware of Israeli accounts which implicate him and other commanders in the plan to send men into camps. He denies any part in the massacre.

KEANE: Who did do the killing?

Phalange Head of Operations, 1982
I don't want to comment about that. I told you there is a lot of question marks on this issue and I'm not sure I can.. I have myself the real answers to this.

KEANE: Are you worried that this might ever become an issue for war crimes, that somebody might pursue people in the Lebanese forces, pursue you for example on the basis of what's been said by the Israelis for war crimes?

NADER: I have peace of mind on this issue. I don't think I am concerned at all in this. I am not afraid at all of any such kind of inquiry.

KEANE: Do you feel angry then when you hear yourself effectively being accused of war crimes?

NADER: Oh yes, oh yes I am very angry.

KEANE: Are you a little worried as well perhaps?

NADER: No, not at all. Not at all. Not at all.

KEANE: But the man accused of leading the slaughter is still living in East Beirut. His name is Elie Hobeika. Hobeika eventually switched sides, abandoning the Israelis, offering his services to the Syrians and becoming leader of the militia. Elie Hobeika's reputation as a ruthless killer makes him a man still feared in Beirut. We've asked him for an interview on a number of occasions and he's refused. But he has now agreed to a meeting and I'm hoping to be able to record some of our conversation. How did Elie Hobeika answer the charges against him?

Phalange commander, 1982
I'm not a war criminal. I don't regard myself as a war criminal.

KEANE: You're described as a ruthless, cold killer.


KEANE: Do you think that's all untrue, that description of you?

HOBEIKA: I did the war. I was a soldier. I fought at many fronts. I survived.

KEANE: You say that you are now a man of peace. Can I just put to you the other scenario, that you are a mass murderer who is lying to avoid being brought to justice.

HOBEIKA: Which justice?

KEANE: International justice.

HOBEIKA: I am not afraid of international justice.

KEANE: But what about those whom the Kahan Commission said had indirect responsibility, those accused of disregarding the danger to civilians and of failing to ensure the proper protection of civilians in the areas under their control?

I understand that as a judge of a South African court you don't want to get into labelling people in other countries as war criminals, but in your assessment of command responsibility, isn't it reasonable to say that if responsibility goes all the way to the top, to the person who gave the orders, that potentially makes Ariel Sharon a war criminal.

Former Chief Prosecutor
UN War Crime Tribunals, 1994-96
Well it depends very much on the facts, but if the person who gave the command knows, or should know on the facts available to him or her, that is a situation where innocent civilians are going to be injured or killed, then that person is as responsible, in fact in my book more responsible even than the people who carry out the order.

KEANE: One lawyer who was part of an independent commission that investigated Sabra and Shatila argues that Israel's then Defence Minister had clear legal responsibilities.

International Law, Princeton University
Sharon's specific command responsibility arises from the fact that he was Minister of Defence in touch with the field commanders, that he actually was present there in Beirut, that he met with the Phalange leadership and it was he that gave the directions and orders that resulted in the Phalange entering the camps in September.

KEANE: Professor Falk argues that Ariel Sharon's failure to meet the responsibility to protect civilians from abuse and death should have legal consequences.

FALK: I think there is no question in my mind that he is indictable for the kind of knowledge that he either had or should have had.

KEANE: So let me be absolutely clear, you are in no doubt that Ariel Sharon is indictable as a war criminal.

FALK: No doubt whatsoever.

Lawyer for Ariel Sharon at Kahan Commission
Never ever I heard that anyone even suggested that this kind of.. let's call it a professional mistake, a professional military mistake or a professional political mistake even be mentioned in the same token with international crime or with war crime. In a way those people who do say, unfortunately, abuse, I think, a very important value of the international community which the intention and the need to punish war crimes. But when you take the word 'war crimes' or 'punishment of war crimes' or 'international trial' and you try to apply it into this case, you see it's an abuse of these important values and it's simply totally baseless.

KEANE: The legacy of Sabra and Shatila hasn't damaged the careers of the central characters. Elie Hobeika became a minister for refugees in post war Lebanon. General Amos Yuron, the Israeli Commander outside the camps, is now Director General of Israel's Defence Ministry, and earlier this year Ariel Sharon became Prime Minister of Israel. The massacre seemed long forgotten when Mr Sharon arrived at the White House.

GEORGE BUSH: Welcome Mr Prime Minister. Glad you're here.

SHARON: Thank you.

Dr RANAAN GISSEN Israeli Prime Minister's spokesman People who were there, just because they were there, paid the full price for that.

KEANE: Did they?

GISSEN: I think so.

KEANE: Ariel Sharon as Prime Minister, Amos Yuron who was Commander at Sabra and Shatila is now Director General of the Defence Ministry. What kind of price is that?

GISSEN: Well we paid for something that they were not directly responsible for, that they did not do.

KEANE: The question of legal justice is on the minds of some of those who survived the massacre. Suad Surur was crippled for life and she lost six members of her family including her father.

SUAD: He is dead. How can I claim justice for him when he is dead. I might be able to get justice for the people killed in their own homes, but the people who did this crime might also be dead by then.

KEANE: If a country launches it's own investigation, it's own commission, for example the Kahan Commission which is based really as a moral investigation, is that enough? Can it be said to have satisfied the requirements of justice?

Former Chief Prosecutor
UN War Crime Tribunals, 1994-96 Well clearly justice requires that criminals should be brought to book and if people, regardless of who they are, are shown by an investigation to have been in breach of the law, then clearly criminal prosecution should follow, and in the case of Sabra and Shatila, clearly the Kahan Commission found that very serious crimes had been committed and I have no doubt any decent person would regret the fact that not a single criminal prosecution followed.

KEANE: Ariel Sharon said recently he regretted the tragedy of Sabra and Shatila, but asked if he would apologise he replied "To apologise for what?"


Fergal Keane

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