I will begin at the end; I am not satisfied by the report of the commission of inquiry….

I have great respect for the three members of the commission. They did an excellent job. The conclusions were reached according to their conscience and understanding. They added honor to Israeli democracy and to the rule of the law. I say this without reservation.

However, the three could not be and perhaps did not want to be free of certain preconceptions, which guided them. All three are members of the establishment—two supreme court justices and one general in the IDF—and they judged as members of the establishment. When two alternatives lay before them, it appears that more than once they discarded in advance the more severe one.

Current opinion in the country is that the report was very harsh, that “the harsh conclusions are not appropriate to the findings” and that injustice was done to persons of authority.

This is not only a lie, it is complete nonsense.

The opposite is the case.

The conclusions of the commission are the minimum of what it could have concluded from the findings….

If the commission erred—as I think it did—it was too lenient rather than too harsh. The commission actually ‘bent over backwards’ to have mercy on the accused, to give lenient interpretations, and to make assumptions which put the facts in the most positive light possible.

They acted as jurists who did not determine guilt unless it was proven with concrete evidence, rather than as commission members who could point out the most logical and probable explanations.

They acted as Israeli patriots, who refused to assign greater responsibility to the nation and its representatives than the minimum responsibility, which they could not possibly have avoided….

To understand the report, one should distinguish three levels.

There is the level of the findings, which deals with revealing and relating proven acts. At this level the commission did an excellent job, and their report includes a very clear and reliable description.

It is true that it includes only facts which were totally proved, and it does not include many other facts which were not proved (and also a few which were proved). I do not criticize this method. The commission should take into account only proven facts, and my article will be based on the findings which the commission itself accepted.

The second level is the level of the conclusion, in other words: the explanation given to the findings.

Whereas the definition of the findings is a matter of objective determination (as far as possible), here a subjective element enters. As we will soon discover, it is possible to draw more than one conclusion from a given series of facts. My criticism of the report is primarily related to this level. I will claim that the conclusion of the commission is not the most probable one, and that a more probable one was discarded by the commission without explanation and without serious discussion.

The third level is the level of recommendations. In other words, after the verdict, comes the sentence. From my point of view the sentence is too lenient in relation to the conclusions of the commission (and even more so in relation to the conclusions which seem more probable to me), and this concerns all of the accused….

At the level of the findings, the commission determined that it was decided to let the Phalangists enter the camps, without taking into account the likely possibility of a massacre, even though the decision-makers knew that this possibility existed. After the first news of the massacre was received, nothing was done to stop it, despite the fact that the massacre continued for 36 consecutive hours, at a distance of a few dozen meters from the command units of the IDF. From the first hours of the massacre, information was received by various ranks, and the reports on it were not transmitted to superiors. If the reports did arrive they were dismissed with words like “rumors,” “gossip” and so on, things which would not have been said had the victims been Jewish, for example.

From this the commission concludes that the system did not function as it should have. The commission adopted the definition which was first given by the commander of the brigade, Amos Yaron: “dulled sensitivity.”

This is a possible conclusion, but it is tenuous. It assumes that dozens of people, at all levels of the military and government, acted in an unreasonable way, with a lack of efficiency, with criminal negligence, out of “dulled sensitivity.” (If such dulled senses existed in other actions of the Defense Ministry and the IDF, there would have been more serious failures in this war than the serious military failures which did occur, on both fronts).

This is the probable explanation for the findings of the commission: Certain people (probably Sharon and Eitan) meant it, and the others knew about their intention, and that is why they behaved as they did—they concealed information and facts, helped those who carried out the operation, destroyed evidence, avoided recording calls, closed their eyes and ears, and failed to pass along information. All of that to enable the highest levels, up to the prime minister, to swear when the time came that they didn’t know.

I claim that this theory is by far more probable than the theory of “dulled sensitivity,” and is far more appropriate to the behavior of the pathetic heroes of this episode, from Menachem Begin to the anonymous regiment commander who radioed his soldiers: “We know, we don’t like it, but don’t interfere.”

Furthermore, I claim that in the report there are findings for which a different explanation cannot be found.

The commission members did not seriously consider this possibility. They hardly mentioned it, and they dismissed it with a few vague words:

Contentions and accusations were advanced than even if IDF personnel had not shed the blood of the massacred, the entry of the Phalangists into the camps had been carried out with the prior knowledge that a massacre would be perpetrated there and with the intention that this should indeed take place; and therefore all those who had enabled the entry of the Phalangists into the camps should be regarded as accomplices to the acts of slaughter and sharing in direct responsibility. These accusations too are unfounded. We have no doubt that no conspiracy or plot was entered into between anyone from the Israeli political echelon or from the military echelon in the IDF and the Phalangists, with the aim of perpetrating atrocities in the camps.

Why did the commission decide this?

I claim that the burden of proof in this case is on the one who tries to refute the probable explanation, and to replace it with a less probable one.

When you put a poisonous snake into a cradle and the baby dies of snake bites, there is no need to prove that the person who let the snake in wanted the baby to die. He who denies that intention bears the burden of proof.

The commission clearly stated that the leaders of Israel knew that the Phalangist leaders intended to kick the Palestinians out of Lebanon by perpetrating an atrocity. This was clearly stated in the report:

Therefore, the Phalangist leaders proposed removing a large portion of the Palestinian refugees from Lebanese soil, whether by methods of persuasion or other means of pressure. They did not conceal their opinion that it would be necessary to resort to acts of violence in order to cause the exodus of many Palestinian refugees from Lebanon.

What is said here? Every child understands that it is impossible to bring about, by means of persuasion, the exodus of hundreds of thousands of human beings, men, women and children, who live in houses and who earn a living, and who don’t have anywhere to go. The “acts of violence” mentioned here are, no doubt, acts of mass murder. The commission itself mentioned in several places in the report that the Phalangists had in the past perpetrated massacres on a large scale, as had other forces which fought in this accursed country….

The commission does not give a reasonable explanation for the question of questions: Why was it decided in the first place to allow the Phalangists to enter the camps?

The only reasons it could come up with were these: There was pressure within Israel to involve the Phalangists in the war, and to save IDF soldiers’ lives. These two rationales do not stand the test of criticism and reality.

The war was already over at that stage. The “terrorists” were out of Beirut, and there were only remnants of a few militias, whose only aim was to protect the parts of the population to which they belonged.

The Phalangists had already missed (and not coincidentally) the opportunity to participate in the fighting during the 81 days of the war, up to the removal of Palestinian and Syrian forces from Beirut.

The IDF entry into West Beirut following the murder of Bashir Gemayel was a military picnic. IDF losses were small. There was no reason to fear that the situation would be any different in the camps.

One of the mysteries of the report is the legend of 2,000 terrorists who were purportedly left behind by the PLO in West Beirut. This mystery appeared and vanished both in reality and in the commission report….

The commission says:

According to information from various sources, the terrorists did not fulfill their obligation to evacuate all their forces from West Beirut and hand their weapons over to the Lebanese army, but left in West Beirut, according to various estimates, approximately 2,000 fighters, as well as many arms caches….

What is meant by “various estimates”? Were these checked by the commission? How do they know it is not an utter lie, like all the other lies which the commission found?

In the discussion held in Sharon’s office on Thursday, a few hours before the beginning of the tragedy, the chief of staff said, according to the commission report: “The whole city is in our hands, complete quiet prevails now, the camps are closed and surrounded; the Phalangists are to go in at 11:00-12:00… the situation now is that the entire city is in our hands, the camps are all closed.”

Even stronger proof can be found in the report of the intelligence officer of the brigade at a meeting which was held by Amos Yaron a few hours later, during the first night of the massacre at 20:40. The intelligence officer, who was, no doubt, the most authorized, said, according to the protocol: “Terrorists don’t exist in the camp. The Sabra camp is empty.”

One cannot avoid concluding that the commission fell into the trap of a lie which was set in advance as an excuse for this act. The 2,000 terrorists did not exist, and no authorized person believed in their existence. In the camps there were only local militias—the men who lived there—who had arms to protect the civilian population from potential massacres. Every ethnic group in Lebanon had to protect itself. It is possible that these militias also fired a few shots at the IDF force which was advancing (by the way, contrary to prior agreement) into West Beirut.

The commission confirms:

It is possible to determine that this armed terrorist force had not been evacuated during the general evacuation, but had stayed in the camps for two purposes which were: renewal of underground terrorist activity at a later period, and to protect the civilian population which had remained in the camps, keeping in mind that given the hostility prevailing between the various sects and organizations, a population without armed protection was in danger of massacre….

The first possibility was theoretical and definitely far into the future. There was no need for any immediate and hasty action, as the commission itself indicates in a different place. The second aim was very real, as was immediately proven.

If so, how could the commission in any way justify the decision to let the Phalangists enter the camps, relying on official arguments which were offered?

An indirect yet very significant proof of the fallacy of these official arguments is found in a different place in the report. It is written that the Phalange commanders arrived on the same Thursday morning, a few hours prior to the beginning of the massacre, at Amos Yaron’s office, where they met Gen. Amir Drori to discuss the final details. “It was agreed at that meeting that a company of Phalangist forces of 150 fighters would enter the two camps.”

These 150 Phalangists, known as a weak fighting force and not having participated in serious fighting, let alone against 2,000 experienced terrorists from the force which stopped the IDF for two and a half months? And all that without aerial and artillery support from the IDF?

This is a complete absurdity, and the commission did not note it…. If Yaron and Drori believed for a moment that there would be fighting, they would not have agreed to that.

Furthermore, it was not a regular Phalangist company. It was “the intelligence unit headed by Eli Hobeika.” This was a unit which was already famous throughout Lebanon and also among the IDF for its perpetration of massacres in the past.

Why was this particular unit allowed to enter? The report says on the same page: “Primarily since the Phalangists were having difficulty recruiting a suitable force…”

Is that reasonable?

I am afraid that this evidence is unambiguous. It points out the direction of the commission’s retreat again and again. The Phalangists were let into the camps in order to do what they did.

There is no other reasonable explanation for a number of findings of the commission which indicate that all of the people involved in the affair on the Israeli side knew well that there was a very real danger of a massacre. Yaron knew that the “behavioral norms of the Phalangists are not the norms of the IDF.”

Amir Drori knew that. The commission report indicates: “Gen. Drori, whose mind was not at rest with the plan of letting the Phalangists enter the camps, made an effort to persuade the leaders of the Lebanese army to let the army forces into the camps.

Why wasn’t “his mind at rest”? What was he afraid of?

(By the way: why did the Lebanese army refuse? A reasonable explanation: because the army was, in fact, loyal to the Maronite leaders, the assassinated Bashir’s people, and they knew that these people had an interest in the massacre as a means of expelling the Palestinians. The Christian leaders of the Lebanese army were, in fact, party to that desire, and wanted the Phalangists, and not themselves, to do the dirty work. If there was a plot, they were definitely full partners.)

The heads of the Mossad knew it. The report says:

During the meetings that the heads of the Mossad held with Bashir Gemayel, they heard things from him that left no room for doubt that the intention of this Phalangist leader was to eliminate the Palestinian problem in Lebanon when he came to power—even if that meant resorting to aberrant methods against the Palestinians in Lebanon.

Which means, massacre.

And it continues:

Similar remarks were heard from other Phalangist leaders…. There were (during the war) reports of Phalangist massacres of women and children in Druze villages, as well as the liquidation of Palestinians carried out by the intelligence unit of Eli Hobeika…. These reports reinforced the feeling among certain people—and especially among experienced intelligence officers—that in the event that the Phalangists had an opportunity to massacre Palestinians, they would take advantage of it.

Deputy Chief of Staff Moshe Levy said that letting the Phalangists into West Beirut is something “that could arouse commotion.”

If this is the probable expected result, one has to assume that the decision to let the Phalangists enter is tied to this expectation, and is born out of it. That is, I think, a legal assumption.

First and foremost, the chief of staff knew about it. In the evening on which the massacre began, after he himself decided to let the Phalangists enter the camps, the chief of staff said at the cabinet meeting:

A second thing that will happen—and it makes no difference whether we are there or not—is an outbreak of revenge, which I do not know, I can imagine how it will begin, but I do not know how it will end … I can already see in their eyes what they are waiting for . . . And now they have just one thing left to do, and that is revenge; and it will be terrible… It was enough that during Bashir’s funeral, Amin Gemayel, the brother, said “Revenge,” that is already enough … It is enough that he uttered the word “revenge” and the whole establishment is already sharpening knives….

All this was said by Rafael Eitan. But it was said a few hours after the Phalangists had already entered the camps, according to his order.

Everyone knew. And most of all, of course, Ariel Sharon knew. He knew the Phalangist leaders intimately, since he kept continuous contact with them.

Did the prime minister know?

The commission members avoid answering a simple question: Why did Sharon and Eitan make such a fatal decision, the meaning of which they well understood (this also in the opinion of the commission) and fail to inform the prime minister for two days, and then finally inform him only after the massacre had already begun?

We shall discuss this crucial point. But here it will suffice to point out a probable argument which increases the likelihood of the theory of “premeditation”: they knew what could happen, and they knew that the prime minister would agree to it with all his heart—but they wanted the prime minister to be able to claim at every stage, “I didn’t know.” And this is, in fact, the result they achieved….

Regarding another important point, the commission removes all doubt: the Phalangists were, at all stages of the affair, under order of the IDF, in contrast to the false announcements which were spread afterwards.

The chief of staff explained, at the cabinet meeting, that the Phalangists, and not the Lebanese army, were let into the camps because “to them we can give orders.”

One day before the massacre, an arrangement was made which was recorded by Sharon’s assistant: “Only one element, the IDF, will command the forces in the area.” The head of intelligence said about it: “The meaning is that all the forces operating in the area, including the Phalangists, will be under the orders of the IDF, and will act according to its instructions.”

The forward command post was located on the roof of a five-story building, 200 meters from the Shatila refugee camp. From the roof, you could see the camp closely and very well, but because of the narrow alleys of the camp—which is a very poor and crowded residential neighborhood of low houses and narrow streets—it was not possible to see what was going on in the alleys and the houses.

On this roof it was decided to let the Phalangists enter the camps, and the preparatory conversation between the heads of the IDF and the heads of the Phalangists was held there.

On Thursday evening at 18:00 at nightfall, 150 of Eli Hobeika’s men—“an intelligence unit” which specialized in Palestinian massacre—entered the Shatila and Sabra camps. The IDF lit the way with flares.

The report reveals a shocking fact which was not known publicly beforehand: not only was Amos Yaron’s group headquarters located on this roof but also the headquarters of Eli Hobeika, the commander of the massacre.

So this is the scene: In the dark, lighted by IDF flares, the chief commanders of the IDF and the commander of the massacre and his people gathered on one roof, both equipped with walkie-talkies. Every once in a while they approached each other, exchanged a few sentences, chatted, ate and drank together.

At the same time, 200 meters away, a massacre of men, women and children was taking place.

The Northern Command Maj. Gen. Amir Drori arrived at the roof at 19:30, and left the place at 20:00. Brig. Gen. Amos Yaron, the group commander, was on the roof the entire time.

What was going on there between light and darkness in that surrealistic place during the first evening of the massacre? The intelligence officer of the brigade was apparently frightened from the first moment. He took a few ineffective steps to get information. First, he followed the Phalangist people through binoculars, moving from place to place on the roof, trying to find a good angle. According to his report, he saw nothing. He took steps as well. Apparently he posted a man to listen to the conversations of Hobeika and his communications person (Hobeika had a communications man on the roof with the IDF and within the headquarters of the Phalangists there was a communications officer from the Mossad who didn’t see or hear anything). It also seems that he told his people to listen in on the communications network of the Phalangists.

So he heard that the communications officer of the Phalangists heard over the walkie-talkie from one of the Phalangist people in the camp that he has 45 people. The man asked what to do with them. The answer of the communications officer was: “Do as Allah commands.” Or according to a different version; “Do what your heart tells you, because everything is from Allah.”

There is no doubt that the intention was to murder them. That is how the brigade intelligence officer, who received the information at 20:00, understood it.

The intelligence officer didn’t run to the brigade commander or to the commander (if he was still there), to tell them that 200 meters away a massacre was taking place. He waited, as he said, because he knew that in 40 minutes a consultation would be held at the headquarters. Even earlier, around 19:00, Lt. Elul, the bureau chief for Amos Yaron, overheard another conversation over the Phalangist walkie-talkie. He stood next to Elie Hobeika’s walkie-talkie. He heard another Phalangist officer from within the camp informing Hobeika that he had in his hands 50 women and children, and asking what to do.

Elie Hobeika’s answer was: “This is the last time you are to ask me such a question. You know exactly what to do!” Then there was loud laughter among the Phalangists on the roof.

Elul understood that it meant murdering women and children. Yaron asked him what he had overheard and Elul told him. Amir Drori, who claimed before the commission that he’d heard none of it, was on the roof at that time….

Yaron approached Hobeika and spoke with him briefly. It seems that he asked him to stop the murder.

And again: 200 meters from the massacre on the roof of the headquarters, the senior commander of the place hears that a massacre is taking place within the area under his responsibility, perpetrated by a force which is under IDF command. And all he does is ask the perpetrator of the slaughter to stop it. Dulled sensitivity….

A short time later, at 20:00, a Phalangist communications officer entered the dining room of the headquarters and told a large group of IDF officers that the Phalangists had already killed 300 people, including civilians. Among the group of officers was Amos Yaron.

It is unclear how any of the officers reacted to this information. But a few minutes later, the Phalangist man came back and “corrected” the story: not 300 were killed, but only 120….

It is clear from the way things were formulated that the Phalangists who entered the camps came to perpetrate a massacre. Hobeika’s answer that “this is the last time you are to ask me” shows that the order had been given in advance, and that’s why there was nothing else to ask.

The commission does not dispute that. But it does not accept the logical continuation; that this was also the intention of Sharon and Eitan when they decided to let the Phalangists enter.

This basic fact, which sheds a terrible light on everything that happened later, bears repeating again and again: the brigade commander had clear information about the massacre two hours after the Phalangists entered the camps and 36 hours before they went out.

During the 36 hours in which the massacre was taking place, the IDF surrounds the camp, lights the area at night, and converses with the heads of the Phalangists.

In another surrealistic scene, in the same building, Brig. Gen. Yaron held a “consultation” with the other officers at his headquarters. The intelligence officer reviewed the events of the day in a dry, military way. He mentioned that there are no terrorists in the camp. The officer warned of the massacre which was taking place at the time nearby. Yaron stopped him forcibly and removed the item from the agenda.

Since every person at the head of the IDF knew who Hobeika and his people were, the commission could choose between two possibilities: either Amos Yaron’s “sensitivity was dulled” to an inconceivable degree or Amos Yaron knew that that was the intention of his superiors and didn’t want to be involved in a horrible war crime.

The commission chose the first alternative; I lean toward the second version….

At 19:30 that evening, when the information was received by the brigade commander, the cabinet convened. For the first time, the cabinet and the prime minister were informed that Sharon and Raful had decided to let the Phalangists enter the camps. At that meeting, the chief of staff talked about “revenge.”

No one listened to the wise warning of David Levy, and the meeting ended with an announcement composed by the prime minister himself: “In order to prevent the danger of violence, bloodshed and chaos, while 2,000 terrorists equipped with new and heavy arms were left in West Beirut in flagrant violation of the evacuation agreement.”

Every word in this announcement was a complete lie.

At that moment hundreds of bodies of men, women and children were lying in Shatila and Sabra.

Ha’olam Hazeh, February 16, 1983 (Translated by Israleft)

How to cite this article:

Uri Avnery "The Kahan Report: The Commission and the Evidence," Middle East Report 115 (June 1983).

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