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The Iron Wall

Lenni Brenner

The Iron Wall

14. The Road to Sabra and Shatila

Menachem Begin’s stewardship of the Israeli state was, in every way, merely an extension of the prior history of Zionism and of the Revisionist movement. With hindsight, it is plain that his policies led, inexorably, to the monstrous denouement of Sabra and Shatila. His fanaticism is clear and it cost Israel irretrievable world support, treasure and, above all, human lives.

From the beginning, domestic questions were never his priority, but even on that level he was inutterably reactionary. Only in one regard was he, perforce, the moderate: the supra-union economic activities of the Histadrut and the Kibbutzim have not been disturbed, and only one state-owned company has been sold. The bureaucracies involved have proved impossible to shake. But his onslaught on the living-standards of the masses began almost immediately, in July 1977 and then in October of that year. Following the advice of Milton Friedman, the American economist, he sharply cut the subsidies that had kept down the price of essential commodities such as bread and petrol, raised taxes and permitted the free holding of foreign currency. Even the Histadrut bureaucrats, long used to acting as the government’s vehicle for imposing wage restraints on the workers, were forced to call a one-hour work stoppage. However, before mass discontent could develop, he was handed an amazing diplomatic coup that, for a time, made it impossible for any Zionist force to effectively challenge him: on 9 November, Anwar el-Sadat announced that he was willing to come to Israel in the name of peace.

Sadat and the Camp David Agreement

The story of Sadat’s journey to Jerusalem, the subsequent “Camp David” treaty, the Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai and, ultimately, Sadat’s assassination, are well known and need not be presented here in more than their barest outline. The Egyptian’s capitulation was, in a sense, long overdue. Sadat had broken with the Soviet Union in the early 1970s, before the 1973 war. He did not think that Egypt and Syria could win the war, his goal was to convince the US that the Arabs could create complications in the Middle East, and that, therefore, the US should compel Israel to make concessions to them. His going to Israel was merely an extension of his strategic orientation towards America as the decisive factor in the Middle Eastern equation. He knew that the State Department had concluded, after the 1967 war, that Israel was the only right wing regime in the region that could be militarily counted on in the struggle against “Soviet expansionism”, which is how the State Department describes the indigenous nationalist and socially radical currents. What he sought to do was convince the imperialists that they could, in fact, rely on the new Arab state bureaucracies as well, in tandem with their “loyal Jewish Ulster”. These elements, who live off their masses, have historically mobilized their people on occasion to wring independence from the imperialists, but their economic links to the West continue and, eventually, they have to choose: either they reintegrate themselves into the world capitalist economy and then seek to solve their immense internal development problems with the aid of the imperialists, or they move to the left. Sadat understood that the Americans had no intention of breaking with the Israelis and that a precondition for collaboration with Washington was a de facto halt to the struggle against Zionism. He decided on a strategy of outbidding the Israelis for American patronage, isolating the bellicose Begin, whom the Carter administration would see as an obstacle to its development of the deep opening into the Arab and African world suddenly provided by Sadat.

Television made Sadat’s 19 November speech to the Knesset a world event, but the audacity of his move could not overcome the realities of the situation. Although the entire treaty proceedings are known as “Camp David” from the conference there (5-17 September 1978), the final shape of the accords was fore-ordained by Jimmy Carter’s declaration of 28 December, when he ruled out an independent Palestinian state. Washington well understood that independence would have been seen as a victory for the Palestinians, and that it would have inspired revolutionaries elsewhere to redouble their efforts. However, while Begin had assured the Sinai settler-fanatics that he would retire to Ne’ot Sinai, two miles east of El-Arish, he had to yield – to Carter – on this, as no Egyptian leader could hope to sell peace with Israel to his people with the settlements still on their soil. Then the defender of Jewish traditions found fit to follow the rabbis, who told him that the Sinai was not part of the Promised Land. (Technically it does begin there, precisely at the “brook of Egypt”, Wadi El-Arish, but Begin knew that claiming the brook was out of the question. Neither Carter nor Sadat cared for such biblical concerns.)

Defects of the Treaty

The treaty’s defects are apparent on every line: the Palestinians had nothing to say about the pact; the Israelis agreed not to claim sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza for five years, but then could lay claim to the regions; Jerusalem was excluded from the treaties, leaving the status quo, that is to say Israeli control and sovereignty. The powers of the so-called autonomous council were not defined but would be settled by the Egyptians, Jordanians and the Israelis. The Israeli army would still be permitted to stay on at locations to be negotiated by the Egyptians and Jordanians and the Israelis. The existing settlements would remain and the question of new settlements was left unclear. The number of refugees permitted to return would be determined by the Israelis and the two states and the Palestinian authorities on the basis of economic feasibility rather than right. US troops, disguised as a “multi-national” force, were to be placed between the Israeli and Egyptian armies, but only on Egyptian soil. As a sweetener, Washington was to provide Cairo with massive economic and military aid. This gross violation of the Palestinians’ elementary right to self-determination was grotesquely capped, on 27 October, by the announcement that Begin and Sadat had won the Nobel Peace Prize.

After a heated debate in the Knesset, in which many of Begin’s closest associates in the Likud, including Moshe Arens (later to become Israel’s Defence Minister), voted against the pact because it meant giving up the Sinai, the accord became a fact on 26 March 1979, even if the so-called autonomy plan died in childbirth. Sadat was later to be assassinated, on 6 October 1981, at the hands of Islamic fundamentalists. That it was they who killed him and not the left was chance: agreeing to the abandonment of the rights of members of your nationality is universally understood to be treason.

The Israeli Economy under Begin

Economically, Israel under Begin became a disaster; although the treaty opened Egypt to Israeli goods, his policies, on the West Bank and subsequently in Lebanon, so alienated the Egyptian public that trade activity, after an initial spurt. sharply dropped. Unable to trade with its neighbours, due to the policies engendered by Zionism in general, and Begin in particular, the Israeli economy became completely political, totally dominated by militarism in its many aspects. Israel under Begin became the world record holder in a number of crucial economic indicators: the highest inflation rate; the highest per capita foreign debt; the highest taxes and, with approximately one-third of its manufactured exports being arms, it is the most weapons intensive export economy on earth. [1] Tiny Israel is now the seventh largest military exporter in the world and it may be said that without these sales, and without ever-increasing US aid, Israel would be bankrupt, that is to say, it could not possibly pay its short-term foreign debts or pay for more than two weeks’ further imports. [2] Its agriculture is the most technically advanced in the world, and it has the highest percentage of university-educated citizens (which accounts, in part, for its remarkable upsurge in military technology), but the undeniable talents of some of its citizens can never possibly overcome the weight of its military burden – it has to match Arab arms procurement and, because of that same built-in inability to come to peace with the Arabs it has no economic hinterland for its non-military exports. Increasingly it has turned to arms sales as the solution to its problems, acting as a proxy for the US in dealing with regimes that, for domestic American reasons, connected with these regimes unpopularity due to their wretched civil liberties records, Washington cannot fully arm. The sales have only served to generate world-wide antagonism toward Israel without nearly solving its fundamental economic difficulties. As an alternative, Israel must constantly lobby Washington for increased aid to meet its ever-increasing short-term debts. Again, this has caused an erosion of political support in the US as the American people can not understand why domestic programmes should be cut while Israel’s already bloated arsenal is ever increased.

Real wages began to drop immediately, going down 3% in 1977, and they have continued to fall, dropping 2.5% in 1982. [3] Naturally, Begin’s Israel being dominated by the capitalist ethic, the burdens of the economy have fallen on the poorest sectors of the population, Arab and Jewish, while the rich and much of the middle class temporarily gained ground, as many of them, paying no capital gains tax, pushed the value of the issues traded on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange from $66 million in 1976 to $20 billion by the end of 1982. [4] Working-class resistance to Begin’s economics was never effective. Subsequent to the 1977 strike, there has been a constant struggle by the individual unions for wage and cost-of-living increases and, on 19 March 1979, the Histadrut called another nation-wide, half-day strike, followed by a two-hour nation-wide strike on 13 August. But these half-hearted efforts plainly were not enough; under the Labour government the Histadrut had become little more than a company union and an enormous percentage of strikes then were either directly against the Histadrut’s own enterprises or wildcats against private firms. With the labourites out of office, the bureaucracy could show a little independence from the government but these were not the people who could ever lead a struggle against the status quo.

Intra-Jewish Antagonisms

While 70.5% of the local Workers Council secretaries were Oriental Jews, less than 25% of the Histadrut Executive were Orientals. [5] The old-guard Eastern European labourite bureaucrats remained exactly what they had become – a caste above the ranks – and any serious mass mobilization would inevitably have strengthened the demand for increased Sephardic representation at the national level. However, although Begin gained support among the Oriental communities in the 30 June 1981 election, in reality the Sephardim lost ground under his administration. The income gap between the Ashkenazim and the Sephardim actually increased. [6] By 1981, the average income of families of Afro-Asian workers had declined from 82.2% to 81.1% of that of Ashkenazi employees. [7] Households below the official poverty line – 40% of the median income – have jumped from 2.8% to 6.6% and, although families headed by African and Asian-born workers constituted only 32.4% of all Jewish families, they made up 52.1% of the poorest Jewish income decile. [8] In April 1983 the unemployment rate in some northern “development towns”, largely inhabited by Orientals, ran to 10%, twice the national average. [9]

There was a marked increase in intra-Jewish antagonism from the time Begin came to power and, for the most part, he was the beneficiary of that antagonism. During the 1981 election campaign, Alignment candidates were pelted with rubbish in Petah Tikva, two former prime ministers, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, were mobbed in Jerusalem and had to be escorted to their cars by police, the Labour Party branch in Tel Aviv was firebombed and cars bearing Alignment stickers frequently had their tyres slashed. Groups of Orientals would frequently fry to drown out speakers at rallies by shouting “Begin, king of Israel”. Ultimately Begin was compelled to disclaim the hoodlums: today Israel simply cannot afford to lose the support of its Diaspora Jewish supporters, most of whom are unprepared to back a dictatorship over Jews.

The majority of the Sephardic masses are just as strongly opposed to the Peace Now movement, a pro-Alignment peace front, because they see it as an Ashkenazi grouping. On rare occasions the intra-Jewish hostility has broken out from the narrow confines of Likud demagoguery. When an Oriental Jew was killed by police in the Kfar Shalem quarter in December 1982, while defending an illegally-built annex to his house, swastikas were painted in the rich “Ashke Nazim” neighbourhoods, and hundreds of Sephardim chased Tel Aviv’s Likud mayor, whom most had voted for, out of the district. To fully comprehend the “Oriental” political phenomena it is necessary to appreciate that almost 12% of Israeli women, most of these born in Africa and Asia, are completely illiterate; that, in 1978, a Hebrew University survey revealed that 40% of the Jewish masses could not follow the news on their televisions because they were unable to understand terms such as “inflation” and “energy crisis” [10]; that the army estimates that between 30,000 and 40,000 draft-age Jewish youths are not truly literate at a 3rd grade (primary school) level; and that 100,000 potential soldiers have, in effect, received no more than four years’ education [11]; and that only 2% of Israel-born children of Afro-Asian parents have graduated from a university (as compared to 17.5% of the children of Europeans). [12]

Given their cultural level, their persecution at the hands of mobs in their historic homelands, and their more recent exploitation at the hands of the Alignment bureaucracy, it would require a determined effort to mobilize them on any grounds for a principled break with the Herut, short of a considerable deepening of unemployment or a still more severe drop in their standard of living. This the Alignment can never do and, although the PLO is officially for a democratic secular state, and it frequently points to the exploitation of the Orientals in its propaganda, it does not recruit Jews. It therefore has no strategy for breaking the Orientals from Zionism, leaving that task to Jewish leftists, primarily the local Communists of Rakah. While Rakah has had a minimal success in forming an alliance with some remnants of the Black Pantherim, given the obvious reality that the central conflict in the country is between the Zionists and the PLO, the Jewish leftists who support the Palestinians cannot possibly overcome the Orientals’ intense distrust of the Arabs until they see, in practice, that the Palestinians have no wish to kill them, and welcome them into the struggle as full comrades within the same organization. Until then, until the PLO speaks to them in Hebrew, which is what the younger generation now speaks, until it works out strategies to win them over, until they see Jews in the PLO, the Oriental neighbourhoods and development towns will remain the Shankill Roads of the loyal Jewish Ulster.

Religious Bigotry Under Begin

It has been said that if patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, religion is surely the first. If chauvinism was Begin’s prime crowd-pleaser, pandering to ultra-Orthodoxy was an integral component of his parliamentary strategy. The Likud as such has never been strong enough to rule on its own and has had to turn to the religious parties, the Mizrachi National Religious Party, the Agudat Yisrael and, later, Tami, for coalition partners. While the Mizrachi allied itself to the Revisionists in the early 1930s, it never thought of following them out of the WZO. And when the state was established, it entered into a coalition with the Labour party, and was part of every cabinet for the next 29 years, concerning itself with the spoils of politics and imposing the strictures of Orthodoxy on the state. The Aguda had opposed Zionism until the Holocaust, counselling passivity to the Jews of the Diaspora. That having proved a disaster, they have ideologically collapsed, accepting the state, though not Zionism. However, until Begin’s victory, they never entered into the wheeling and dealing of coalition building. Both groupings are extremely conservative socially, and Begin’s domestic programme presented no difficulties for them. His willingness to go beyond the already formidable religious concessions granted by the Alignment proved alluring, and the NRP immediately entered into Begin’s first cabinet, with the Aguda supporting him with their Knesset votes.

It was not easy for Begin to push Israel even further down the road to sectarian bigotry. There are many irreligious Zionists, not merely Alignment supporters, but in the Likud and even within the Herut itself. While Revisionism’s turn towards the Orthodox began in Jabotinsky’s time, he was not Orthodox, and it is difficult to conceive of him letting religion make as many encroachments on the state as even the Labour Party conceded, to say nothing of what Begin was prepared to allow. For the most part, he had to permit Likud MKs to vote on their own conscience on these matters and, as a result, it took him many years to push through what was, after all, not his Party’s fundamental programme.

Israel drafts women (only Jewish women) into its army: however, the Orthodox have always insisted that their women could never serve as they must always be under the guardianship of first their fathers and then their husbands. They were granted exemption by the labourites, but basically it was up to the woman to prove that she was in fact Orthodox. Begin changed that, and now the authorities take her at her word.

Because of the long history of Christian persecution of Jews, most Jews hold Jewish converts to Christianity in contempt. Thus Begin had no difficulty in getting the Knesset to pass a law, in December 1977, making it a crime punishable by five years in prison to offer a material inducement to convert. These concessions did not significantly interfere with the status quo and were relatively easy to push through, but Begin was unable to get Likud-dominated Tel Aviv to ban theatrical performances on Friday nights until January 1980. The most controversial “reform” was his amendment to the Termination of Pregnancy Law, which permitted abortions for social reasons. When he tried, in November 1979, to push through an amendment, he failed, though he personally voted for the restriction. It was not until December 1980, when he imposed party discipline, that he was able to get it through.

In March 1980 a law was passed clearly establishing that only the Orthodox rabbinate had the authority to say who may register Jewish marriages, thereby effectively affirming the total denial of legal status for the Reform and Conservative Jewish sects which, between them, include the vast majority of world Jewry that it still religiously affiliated. Despite the fact that they far outnumber the Orthodox in the Diaspora, in Israel they are both quite insignificant and not eager to assert themselves. The Alignment and Likud alike have been able to get away with denying them legal equality with Orthodoxy because their co-thinkers abroad are thoroughly bourgeois and non-demonstrative. It embarrasses the Diaspora Conservatives and Reformed that Israel discriminates against their faiths, but essentially their loyalty to Israel is racist – it is a Jewish state, therefore it is allowed to trample on their rights in a manner that would produce an outcry, even from those timid souls, if any other state were to duplicate Israel’s approach.

Begin had promised to stop El-Al flights on Saturdays, but that, it was understood, would provoke the Histadrut, concerned about the loss of jobs, as well as cost the state $50 million, much of that foreign currency. However, El-Al went broke and had to be reorganized. The Histadrut, concerned only with getting the company going again, and now willing to permit some lay-offs, went along with its reorganization and its new policy of not flying on the sabbath.

In many respects the most scandalous aspect of Begin’s religious policy involved his Religious Minister, Aharon Abuhatzeira, who, in 1981, was tried for financial malpractice while a minister. Abuhatzeira was found not guilty at the trial when one of his co-conspirators, who had turned state’s witness, did poorly on the stand. However, two judges made it quite clear that “heavy suspicion” lay on the minister on one of the counts. Abuhatzeira himself had to admit that funds were allocated to religious organizations on the basis of political considerations. The Attorney General soon brought new charges based on Abuhatzeira’s previous mayorial administration in Ramlah. The minister was a Moroccan and, sure enough, his followers saw the charges against him as an Ashkenazi plot to get rid of a Sephardi. Abuhatzeira broke with the NRP to set up his own party, Tami (Movement for Jewish Tradition), which swiftly gained the support of Nessim Gaon, the wealthy head of the World Sephardi Federation, and two other Oriental MKs. In the 1981 election the new party only polled 2.3% of the vote, but Begin needed its three Knesset votes for his post-election coalition, and Abuhatzeira, indictments and all, was duly appointed Labour and Immigration Minister in the new cabinet. He has since been found guilty of corruption and served a three month sentence, doing chores in a police station.

When the WZO was established, many early Zionists saw their movement as reforming and secularizing Jewish life. In reality it was doing no such thing, to the contrary, it was merely an internal Jewish brake on the secularization of the Jews. Nevertheless, in the early days, the majority of the movement’s thinkers were personally not Orthodox and many were frank freethinkers. However, since the establishment of the state, the majority of immigrants have been Orthodox, and this continues to this day; inevitably, the movement has taken on an ever-increasing religious quality. Many of the more or less secular Zionists of the earlier period eventually made their “peace with God”. Not only did Jabotinsky pander to the Orthodox, but Ben-Gurion, who did not himself observe the Orthodox dietary laws, made it mandatory that all military kitchens in the new army were Kosher. While the world, quite correctly, has focused its criticism on Zionism’s racist hostility towards the Palestinians, its latter- day role as the defender of religious bigotry within the Jewish world must not be minimized. To Begin, the chief danger to Zionism within Diaspora Jewry was the ever-increasing tide of cultural assimilation and mixed marriage amongst the youth. To counter this, his prescription was that parents must see to it that children are taught the Hebrew language and the Biblical scriptures. Yet, although under the Law of Return, any Jew who converts to any other religion is no longer considered a Jew, modern Zionism, and this was so particularly under Begin, sees its closest allies in the US as the Christian Evangelical fundamentalist (and racist) ultra right, who are determined to destroy the separation of church and state in the US. Begin had close contacts with Jerry Falwell of the Moral Majority, who believes that the “ingathering” of the Jews into the “Promised Land” is a prerequisite for the Second Coming.

Ploughshares Into Swords: Israeli Arms Exports

Israel is now the world’s seventh largest arms exporter and its customers form a Who’s Who of the world’s right wing. According to the SIPRI Yearbook 1980, published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (whose statistics are for the late 1970s), Israel’s leading customer was South Africa, followed by Argentina and then El Salvador. [13] Additional customers now include Haiti, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, Chile, Zaire, Taiwan and the Philippines. A special case is Iran, which is officially intensely anti-Zionist, but which Israel has armed so that it could continue its war against Iraq. [14] It must be fully understood that Israel began its role as an arsenal for world reaction under the Labour Alignment, and will continue as such under any succeeding administration. Indeed, it can be said with certainty, that only the defeat of Zionism will end its arms traffic. However, under Begin all concern about world opinion vanished and, in fact, under the Likud, Israeli politicians openly talk of Israel’s role as an American proxy. Minister Yaakov Meridor, Begin’s predecessor as the Irgun’s commander, said in Ha’aretz (25 August 1981):

We will say to the Americans; don’t compete with us in Taiwan, don’t compete with us in South Africa, don’t compete with us in the Caribbean or in other places where you cannot sell arms directly. Let us do it. You will sell ammunition and equipment through an intermediary. Israel will be your intermediary. [15]

By all indications, South Africa is Israel’s second most important ally, after the US. Sometime after Begin came to power, South African Foreign Minister Reolof Botha paid a visit to Israel, which was reported in the Christian Science Monitor on 7 September 1977. Thence forward such visits have been quite public. In February 1978, Finance Minister Simcha Ehrlich visited Pretoria and Ha’aretz reported (7 February) that Israel would act as a way station for South African goods which would thereby enter the EEC and the US as Israeli made, thus beating the boycott against the apartheid regime. [16] On 14 December 1981, the New York Times reported that Defence Minister Ariel Sharon had just spent ten days with the South African army in Namibia:

Sharon ... said that South Africa is one of the few countries in Africa and southwestern Africa that is trying to resist Soviet military infiltration ... Sharon ... reported that South Africa needed more modern weapons if it was to fight successfully against Soviet-supplied troops. [17]

On 23 June 1981, the Rand Daily Mail reported that Israel was training Unita guerrillas in Namibia, against the Angolan regime; in September the Economist reported there were 200 Israelis training troops in South Africa. [18]

By its very nature, Israeli-South African nuclear weapons development is shrouded in secrecy, but that it exists can scarcely be doubted. Again, it began under the Alignment, but it seems to have gone into high gear under the Likud. In March 1980 the then Defence Minister, Ezer Weizman, paid what was supposed to be a secret trip to South Africa, but it got into the Israeli press amid reports that the expedition was connected with nuclear submarine development. On 11 December, Ha’aretz cited reports about co-operation between Taiwan, South Africa and Israel to produce an advanced cruise missile. On 17 May 1982, Ha’aretz quoted a new book, Two Minutes Over Baghdad, as claiming that the same trio have developed a neutron bomb and were working on a cruise missile with a 2,400 kilometre range, as well as a nuclear cannon. [19]

US Support for Israel

While the Carter administration made some sounds about human rights and, on occasion, criticized Israeli policy in the occupied territories, generally speaking Carter supported Begin. Reagan, again, on occasion, demonstrated his displeasure with Begin. After Begin bombed the Osirac nuclear reactor in Baghdad on 7 June 1981, he halted delivery of some fighters, only to send them in August. In December that year he suspended the newly-signed Memorandum of Understanding for Strategic Cooperation, after Begin extended Israeli civilian law to the Golan Heights, thereby virtually annexing it. The invasion of Lebanon in June 1982 compelled Washington to delay review of possible sale of 75 Ff6 aircraft, and stop shipments of cluster-bomb artillery shells. Eventually Reagan restores what he has denied; on 14 June 1983 Washington announced that it was willing to revive the Memorandum if Israel was willing. The excuse usually given for restoring some aspect of US patronage is that Israel must be “reassured” that America has no intention of putting its security into question. So reassured, it was always argued, Begin would prove to be more “flexible” towards the Palestinians. Of course this is absurd, the Herut will never give up an inch of “Eretz Yisrael”. For all his ideological fanaticism, Begin was extremely shrewd in practical matters and understood American politics far better than the American politicians understand Zionism. He knew that they need Israel as much as Israel needs the US.

To the American ruling class, the Persian Gulf is crucial: they know that if Saudi Arabia’s oil were to fall out of their orbit it would be the end of their world power and, therefore, they have armed that country to the hilt, as well as Egypt, Jordan, Oman, North Yemen and the Sudan. Yet they have no confidence in any of these regimes, which have notorious histories of coups and assassinations. Worse still, in all of them pan-Arab nationalism is the dominant ideology amongst the masses. Sympathy for the Palestinians runs deep, therefore Israel, and this was particularly so in an Israel under Begin, acts as an abiding goad to intense social discontent. The pro-US regimes naturally have no interest in rousing the masses against Israel, for to do so would unleash forces that would undoubtedly quickly turn on them as well. But their do-nothing posture during the Lebanon invasion has only served to make them yet more hated. The US knows that it cannot rely upon any Arab army to withstand an eruption of nationalist fervour, which could arise for multitudinous reasons, not the least of these being some gross Israeli provocation. In the end, though Israel generates mass antagonism that could imperil the old order, its army is the only local force that the Americans think they can rely on to help them crush any revolutionary outbreak. Reagan knows that the reactionary regimes will do nothing to try to stop such a strategic alliance with Israel. For many years, Begin tried to convince the US that Israel was integral to the defence of the “free world” against “Soviet aggression” and he knew that whatever concerns America had regarding his proclivity to war, he did not have to trouble himself.

If anything, the Democrats are far more pro-Israeli than the Republicans and the Israeli government is thus unconcerned by the possibility of Reagan being defeated for re-election. Traditionally, the Democrats get their large campaign donations from two sources: the trade union bureaucrats, with their ties to the Histadrut, both overt and covert; and rich Jews, who have been with them since the days of Jewish immigration into the country. These same contributors are major supporters of Israel and it is unthinkable that any significant element within the Democratic Party, except possibly the Blacks, will ever break with their meal ticket. [20] Already the Congressional Democrats have forced a reluctant Reagan to increase the outright grants to Israel in his 1984 aid package by $400 million. [21] Jabotinsky always insisted that Zionism’s fate was integrally connected to capitalism and imperialism; in today’s troubled Middle East, capitalism’s destiny is equally linked to Zionism. Therefore, although the American politicians piously wish to see the Likud replaced by the “responsible” Alignment, which would make some concessions to the Jordanians, if not directly to the Palestinians, as long as the Likud can hold its majority in the Knesset and among the Israeli public, and as long as there are no more complications like the Beirut massacre, it is assured of the support of the US, however grudgingly given.

The Chosen People Choose Again: the 1981 Election

The low point of Begin’s popularity was undoubtedly in January 1981, when he was compelled to call an early election for 30 June, four-and-a- half months in advance of the end of his statutory term. A quarrel had broken out between two ministers, the NRP Education Minister supporting an education commission’s recommendation for a 60% pay rise for teachers, and the Finance Minister opposing the increase as certain to incite other workers. When the cabinet backed the raise, the Finance Minister resigned and took his Rafi Party out of the Likud. The drop in real wages, the sharp rise in inflation, which was then the highest in the world, coupled with the previous resignations of Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan and then Ezar Weizman, his Defence Minister (both convinced that Begin’s unwillingness to negotiate anything like the autonomy for the West Bank and Gaza that even Jimmy Carter had insisted on in the Camp David accords could only alienate both the American public and government), had brought Begin’s popularity down to a mere 14% in the opinion polls. [22]

The Alignment’s Alternative

The Alignment’s programme was primarily focused on its terms for solving the Palestinian question within the framework of the accords. To Begin, Jewish sovereignty over Eretz Yisrael was a sacred principle and even agreeing not to formally insist on sovereignty for the five years required by the treaty was an immense compromise, but to actually withdraw from even an inch of the West Bank was always out of the question. To the Alignment, the territories were an attractive dowry, but not so the bride. According to the (preliminary) Labour Party programme:

Israel has always been designed and destined to be a Jewish, independent and democratic state, maintaining full equality of rights for all of her citizens without difference by faith or nationality. Out of fidelity to this historic aim, the policy of the Likud, aiming at annexation of the whole West Bank and Gaza and their inhabitants, must be rejected. This policy leads to turning Israel from a Jewish into a binational state. [23]

The labourites knew that, in the long run, Israel can only maintain itself if it is in tandem with Washington’s conceptions. What they offered was essentially the Camp David accords as interpreted by Carter: they favoured the “Jordanian solution”, i.e. turning over the densely populated areas to Hussein (but keeping the existing settlements under Israeli sovereignty, keeping the old city) and “only” building new “security settlements” in uninhabited areas – the Jordan Valley, near the Dead Sea, along the coast between Egypt and Gaza – they would also keep most of the Golan – for security reasons, of course, the army would have to stay in those regions – and the refugees would be resettled on the West Bank or even in Jordan.

Perceptive readers will have no difficulty understanding that this programme could never even begin to achieve peace – no self-respecting Palestinian would ever accept such a Bantustan – but to even get a chance to try to implement their colonialist programme they first had to beat Begin, who was down but not out. However, the labourites took to quarrelling over who would be minister of what in the cabinet they felt so certain of setting up. And all the while their lead in the opinion potts began to shrink, day by day. As stated, they had no real programme to bring the Orientals into equality with their Ashkenazi base, and Begin’s Finance Minister shrewdly announced a new economic policy, which all outside observers correctly saw as “election economics”, certain to increase the already massive foreign debt, and which could only be paid for by US taxpayers. There were tax cuts on consumer durables, notably colour televisions and new cars, both costly import items; and price freezes and increased subsidies to keep down the market cost of basics. Clearly all this was unprincipled for a coalition that had been lecturing the public on the virtues of old-fashioned frugal capitalism, but such “reforms” brought the Liberals’ Ashkenazi middle class falling back into line. And, while the Alignment’s line on the Palestinian question was the crudest chauvinism, they could never hope to compete with the gifted Begin on that score: he saw to it that, three weeks before the election, his pilots bombed the Osirac nuclear reactor in Baghdad.

Price cuts and a bombing together are heady stuff, and the Oriental masses vented their contempt for their Ashkenazi social superiors by their violence at Alignment rallies, so much so that Begin’s own Ashkenazi backers began to take alarm, and he was compelled to speak out against his over-exuberant supporters.

The Vote

In the end, the election was decided on communal lines. The Alignment’s vote shot up from 24.6% to 36.6%, but only because the Democratic Movement for Change had collapsed between the two elections, and its middle-class Ashkenazi following went back to the Alignment. The Likud gained as well, going from 33.4% to 37.1%, increasing its vote among those born in Africa and Asia from 46% to 66%; going up from 65% to 72% among their Israeli-born children, while even gaining slightly amongst the European-born, moving up from 19% to 24%, and going from 23% to 32% among Israelis born of European parentage. [24]

While the vote for the two main contenders was very close, the three religious parties, the NRP, Abuhatzeira’s breakaway Tami, and the Aguda, were at least as far to the right as Begin on essentials, and, despite Labour’s sharp rebound in terms of votes, there could be no doubt that the election gave Begin a mandate for a free hand to continue his essential policies, and bring the country even further down the road to theocracy.

The Increase in Racism

Although Begin’s West Bank policy attracted more attention, his policy towards Israel’s Arab minority, 17% of its population – technically its citizens, and promised equal rights in its Declaration of Independence – proves what the fundamental basis of Zionism really is: racism. In this regard, again, Begin only built upon the discriminatory foundation already set in place by the Alignment; nevertheless he made some innovations.

Because Israel is a client state of the US, which has a mass of laws guaranteeing equality before the law, and Zionists hesitate to provoke liberal antagonism there by formal legal discrimination, Israeli racism takes on a hypocritical aspect. But this began to break down under Begin. Thus, the slow cancellation of the subsidies on food made it obligatory for the government to “compensate” the very poorest Jews, who, as seen, were among Begin’s most partisan supporters. Meron Benvinisti, writing in Ha’aretz, described how Begin slyly discriminated against the Arab poor:

The Israeli government’s decision to limit this partial compensation to “ex-soldiers” only – i.e. to deliberately exclude all the Arab population went almost unnoticed among the demands and protests. [25]

The Israeli army is officially discriminatory: Jewish males are drafted, as are Druse males (they are Arabs, but their religion is extremely accommodating to any powers that be), but Christians are not drafted, though they may volunteer. Town-dwelling Muslims (the majority of the Arab population) are neither drafted nor permitted to volunteer (Bedouins are allowed to volunteer – traditionally they have been antagonistic to the town dwellers and indifferent to nationalism; the very small Circ~ssian minority, who are Muslims but not Arabs, are drafted). Benvinisti goes on:

Arabs have been discriminated against ever since the state of Israel has existed. Israeli Arabs live in the shadow of discrimination in almost every sphere of life. The present government only changed the style, not the context. Up till now discrimination was justified by “objective” and “practical” arguments, such as security ... Now it seems that the government doesn’t need these delicate explanations. [26]

These “ex-servicemen” laws have become all-pervasive, affecting employment as well, as when in 1978 the Minister of Transport changed the merchant marine regulations governing the appointment of officers so that promotions to the post of chief mechanic required prior service in the military. [27]

The “veterans” rationalisation for discrimination has likewise been extended into education. In 1982 discounts for tuition were granted to such veterans, but other forms of preference were extended as well, with special considerations for scholarships and loans being given to students from development towns (most frequently Orientals) but only one Arab town was designated as a development town. [28]

Some sociologists have noted that one of the best ways of judging a society is on the basis of how it treats its women. Here the Likud government is actually a small step ahead of its predecessor for, on 1 January 1982, an Equal Opportunity in Employment Law went into effect which outlawed discriminatory advertising or hiring. However, Nitza Shapira-Libal, then Begin’s adviser on women’s questions, candidly admitted that the act did not cover dismissals for pregnancy, promotion or retirement; and of course it did not protect Arab women. [29]

The West Bank

The plight of the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza is well-known as conditions there have formed a staple of the world press for many years, and it is not necessary to further document their circumstances here, save to say that civil liberties as any American or Western European knows them simply do not exist there: there are no legal political parties or unions, and strikes are illegal. The press is completely censored, anyone may be arrested and imprisoned at the discretion of the authorities without trial, or at best a trial before a military court. In 1977 the London Sunday Times categorically insisted that the Israelis, in this case again the Alignment, were systematic torturers in the territories. Since then, Begin maintained that his government did not countenance torture. However, on 1 May 1979, the New York Times ran a photograph of Ismail Ajweh, publisher of the East Jerusalem paper Al Shaab, taking a lie detector test under the eyes of Mordechai Gazit, former director of the Police polygraphic laboratory: Ajweh had been held for 120 days without charges, and claimed that he was tortured for 18 days – and then was kept in solitary confinement for 60 days. Said Gazit:

On the basis of the findings of the polygraph examination, it seems to us that Mr Ajweh told the truth and in fact was tortured during his investigation. [30]

Brutality has never stopped. On 31 May 1983 the New York Times ran another story, based on an interview with Pvt Arthur Kutcher, an American-born Israeli reservist, who had just done his service on the West Bank. Among other things, he related that:

he was assigned to guard detention cells for those arrested by the Shin Beth [secret police], cells, he was told, were windowless and without toilets, where prisoners were kept for a day or two. Although he did not go inside them, he could see that the windows were bricked up, he said, and there was a terrible stench. “It had the smell of a very unclean lavatory.” [31]

There can be no illusions as to the purpose of the Zionist state terror on the West Bank. In 1982 Robert Friedman, an editor of Present Tense, a staunchly pro-Zionist magazine, interviewed Hagai Lev, who Begin sent to New York to head Herut-USA. Friedman explains that:

Neither Lev nor Begin ... advocates forcibly evicting the Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank ... But, pointing out that Israel has a particular problem in the occupied territories – for Judea and Samaria could hardly be Jewish with a population of nearly 1 million Arabs and only some 20,000 Jews – Lev suggested that the Arabs would eventually get fed up with life under Israeli rule and leave “voluntarily”. In fact, in a way that is already happening, Lev noted with some enthusiasm, for the number of Arabs in the West Bank has remained constant since 1967, even though the area has the highest birthrate in the world. [32]

The Holocaust in Beirut

Begin shall surely go into the history books primarily identified with the Dir Yassin and Beirut massacres. Even if it can be maintained that the invasion of Lebanon was a military success – after all the PLO was driven away from the border and out of Beirut, and effectively eliminated as an independent military force – the Beirut massacre was a political disaster so severe that it will be seen as the decisive turning point in the history of the Israeli state. This is so in spite of the fact that Begin himself was able to remain in power after the massacre and his American patrons actually increased their material support for him. For, in the end, von Clausewitz’s celebrated maxim is true: war is the continuation of politics by other means. Neither Begin nor anyone else could perpetually overcome domestic alienation and global isolation through war. In the modern world it is active public sentiment expressed through demonstrations and movements that is decisive, not weaponry. If America’s capitalists still embrace the Likud, for all their reservations about it, millions of ordinary Americans, most of them pro-Israeli when the invasion began, soon looked at Begin in the way they once saw Richard Nixon, the very incarnation of evil. Even more important, the massacre brought 400,000 Israelis, at least 300,000 of them Jews, into the streets for one of the largest anti-war demonstrations of the modern age. That these, in their vast majority, still see themselves as Zionists is no small thing, but when broad masses begin to radicalize they usually bring with them the ideology instilled in them by the institutions of their society; they want an idealized version of what they have been taught. Only through attempting to attain their impossible hopes do they grasp that revolution is the only possible solution to their predicament. The growing anti-war movement among the military will learn, soon enough, that the Alignment and Peace Now leaders will not support a conscientious objector movement in the Israeli army, no matter how much they may oppose the Likud’s policies. Eventually those soldiers will realize that they must go beyond them, and beyond Zionism, to unite with its prime victim, the Palestinians, in a new and democratic secular movement for a democratic secular Palestine.

The Invasion-in-the-Making

There can be no doubt that the attempted assassination of Shlomo Argov, the Israeli Ambassador to Britain, on 3 June 1982, was only the pretext for the assault on Lebanon. The PLO had nothing to do with the Argov affair and, a few days later, Prime Minister Thatcher declared that the would-be assassins were from Abu Nidal’s anti-PLO faction, and that the PLO’s London representative was on the terrorists’ “hit list”. [33] The extremely well-informed New York Times correspondent in Israel, David Shipler, wrote after the massacre that the initial plan for an incursion was developed in the spring of 1981, primarily motivated by a desire to head off what appeared then as an imminent defeat for Israel’s Lebanese rightist clients. The scheme had to be shelved when the Americans got the PLO to agree to a cease-fire in July 1981, but Sharon was determined go ahead with it and frequently discussed it with diplomats (presumably American). He was concerned to have it happen before the September 1982 Lebanese Presidential elections. [34] For months beforehand, the Israeli press carried stories on the invasion-in-the-making. [35] In fact the plan was actually leaked and the left-Zionist Parisian magazine, Israel and Palestine, carried an extremely accurate description of it in March 1982:

This extraordinarily dense strategic plan, now being tested as war games in various computerized war-rooms around the world, also envisages as just one act what is the whole play-scenario of the “minimalist” strategy in Jerusalem: the destabilization of the PLO, conquest of southern Lebanon up to the Litani river and creation of a Bashir Gemayel dynasty of right-wing Phalangists in what will remain of Lebanon; with some areas either going to Syria or remaining as rump enclaves, governed by tame Moslems ... most of the Palestinians now in Lebanon are scheduled to be deported – or driven out by warfare and a wave of assassinations – into neighbouring Jordan ... The plans also include a takeover of the Lebanese capital in order to assassinate or otherwise destroy the whole present PLO leadership. Beirut’s takeover would be followed by an “internationalization” of Lebanese occupation and end in an Israeli withdrawal (after the first wave of massive killings is over) to be replaced by an international force under American control. [36]

The Crisis of Arab Society

War, like its parent, politics, is a dialectical event, an interrelationship between extremes. Israel could not have romped through Lebanon but for the failings of the Arab political establishment, including the PLO. Saddam Hussein in Iraq had invaded Iran and had been driven back to the border. Desperate to get out of the war he had started, he called upon Khomeini to grant him a cease-fire, allegedly so that both could then go to the aid of the Palestinians. The Iranians hoped to deal a mortal blow to the Iraqis, and the war there ground on, to the detriment of the Palestinian cause. The avowedly capitalist states, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Emirates, had no interest in fighting for the Palestinians and instead threw their wealth behind Iraq, out of fear that a Khomeinite victory in that conflict would trigger off popular explosions in their own societies. Hosni Mubarak, Sadat’s political heir, remained the apostle of the late ruler’s pro-imperialist orientation, and the Maghreb states did nothing. Libya, for all its wealth and arms, has only two million people and, with a hostile and vastly numerically superior Egypt between him and Israel, Qadaffi could only offer the PLO the advice that, instead of withdrawing from Beirut, it should commit “revolutionary suicide”. Syria’s army is a good one but its air force has been pitiful against the Israelis, who promptly savaged the Soviet-Syrian missile defence. The Syrians soon realized that if they continued to fight on the ground the Israelis would simply destroy their army, and they had to, in effect, drop out of the war.

The PLO’s troops fought bravely, but without an air force or a tank corps, its situation in a positional war was hopeless. Later, many Palestinians faulted their leaders because, amongst other things, the factional militias were separate from the broad mass of the people, who were not armed. Beyond doubt, the Israelis would have hesitated to attack if they knew that they would have to face an armed people, or if they did attack, they would have suffered far greater casualties, but that severe omission was but one aspect of the PLO leadership’s inadequacies in the pre-war period. For years prior to the July 1981 “truce”, the factions within the PLO had competed with each other in impotent bravado, featuring avowedly suicidal fedayeen raids, concluding, in March and April 1981 with pathetic raids across the border using hang gliders and balloons. [37] Within Palestine, terror bombs took the place of mobilizations of the Arab majority in the Galilee and in the occupied territories. While there were always spontaneous demonstrations, and some were organized, these were never the central concern of the Beirut-based exile militarist leadership. After their rout from Jordan in 1970, the leaders began to lose faith in their concept of a democratic secular state for all of Palestine. After 1974, when they adopted a utopian reformist interim programme looking for a mini-state on the West Bank, their militarist efforts became little more than violent “temper tantrums”, designed to make the world take notice of their plight, in the hope that the West would put pressure on the Israelis to compel them to withdraw from the West Bank.

Parallel to their hollow reliance on diplomacy, the PLO – here most notably its dominant organization, Arafat’s Fatah – took a position of non-intervention in the internal affairs of the Arab states, even though it was well understood that most of the regimes were either the open or secret enemies of the Palestinian cause. They took the line of least resistance, seeking to wheedle what they could from them, and they ended up taking subsidies from two of the most despotic, Saudi Arabia and Morocco, knowing that the grants were nothing more than hush money, given so that the regimes could retain credibility in the eyes of their own people. Arafat saw the Palestinians in a position of weakness vis-à-vis both the Israelis and the Arab states and he could not grasp that only revolutionary organization and audacity could get them out of their impasse. Instead the PLO temporized and evaded its nationalist duty to mobilize the masses, everywhere, throughout the Arab world, for elementary democracy. The Fatah leadership had a choice: get what it could from the Arab states, or try to act as a democratic yeast within Arab society. They were conscientious, they were trying to do the right thing, but they were bourgeois nationalists, they made the wrong choice, and they paid a bloody price for it.

Their local ally, the Lebanese National Movement, was in even worse shape, and was hopelessly divided into rival, frequently warring, militias. The more conscious of the groupings, as with the Communist Party, saw themselves as hopelessly overwhelmed by the intervention of the Arab states, particularly the Libyans, Syrians and Iraqis, who subsidized various armed factions. But, even with Saudi money coming in, the Lebanese state had effectively ceased to exist many years before the invasion, its army being more frequently seen on the television screen than in the streets. However, the LNM had not boldly convened a constitutional convention to replace the confessional state, nor had it made any serious effort to administer the areas within its military control. The LNM was certified bankrupt long before the invasion. While some of its components, notably in Beirut, fought valiantly, its more conservative elements, notably the Druse-based Progressive Socialist Party, did not, lying still in its mountain fastness. Politically, the LNM blew apart in the crunch.

Israeli Military Success in Lebanon

Once the Israelis knocked out the Syrian missiles in the Bekaa valley on 9 June, and the Syrians agreed to a truce on 13 June, the issue was no longer in doubt. The PLO militias fought well enough but were no match for the massive arsenal they faced, and the Israelis rolled up to Beirut and linked up to their Phalangist clients, who had been holed up in East Beirut. West Beirut was subjected to a merciless siege. In the US, on 12 June, 750,000 rallied for a multilateral nuclear freeze. But, while the more left-wing speakers did denounce the invasion, the bulk of the orators stayed away from the war, and both Begin and Reagan now knew that they had nothing to fear from the US peace movement. On 13 June, King Khalid of Saudi Arabia died and one of the mourners at his funeral was Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, marking the first time that Egypt had been able to break out of its isolation in inter-Arab politics since the Camp David accords. Rather than being a sign of the closing of Arab ranks, Mubarak’s presence meant that the other reactionary states were also capitulating to the Americans, and were certain to do nothing for the Palestinians. On 18 June Begin had the audacity to appear at the UN to discuss disarmament. While 100 delegations, two-thirds of the membership, boycotted his speech, the anti-Israeli majority there permitted the US to veto Security Council resolutions against the invasion, thus again assuring Begin that he could continue with impunity.

But on 25 June, the reality of world opposition broke through, obliquely, with the forced resignation of Alexander Haig as US Secretary of State. General Haig had become obsessional in his militarism and was too obvious in his support for Begin’s blitzkrieg. His replacement, George Shultz, the President of the Bechtel Group Inc., deeply involved to the tune of billions in construction in Saudi Arabia, was widely thought to be “pro-Arab”, and indeed he did make some sounds about Palestinian rights on the West Bank at his confirmation hearings. However, Business Week quickly set the world straight as to what really could be expected from him:

the new realities created by the invasion of Lebanon ... require dramatic changes in the tone and implementation, though not necessarily in the fundamentals, of US foreign policy. [38]

On 26 June the first important anti-war demonstration took place within Israel as 15,000 attended a rally called by the Committee Against the War in Lebanon, a coalition of Zionists to the left of the Alignment and anti-Zionists. The Committee had grown out of the previous Committee to Defend Bir Zeit University, organized to protest against the suppression of academic freedom there. The Bir Zeit Committee had never been able to bring out more than 5,000 people, and the Alignment oriented Peace Now grouping – which had originally decided that their Zionist loyalism would not allow them to demonstrate against the war – realized that they were in danger of being swept aside if they did not move, and they called a demonstration for 3 July. Between 70,000 and 100,000 rallied against the invasion, although the organizers of the gathering prohibited any signs in support of the PLO. The Likud, however, was still able to bring out an equal number for a counter- demonstration on 17 July. By 19 July even the not overly squeamish Reagan was compelled to suspend further deliveries of cluster-bombs. The television coverage of the brutal siege began to bring out increasing numbers of demonstrators, particularly in Western Europe, but also in America, which previously had been Zionism’s second citadel. Washington understood that a bloody conquest of Beirut would provoke too much of a world outcry, and Reagan organized an international expedition made up of US, French and Italian troops to stand between the Israelis and the PLO’s soldiery as they withdrew from the city; this they did, between 21 August and 1 September.

On 23 August, the Lebanese parliament elected a new President for the country. Under any circumstances, a Lebanese election is a caricature of democracy, as the parliament is elected along confessional lines, with the seats allocated to the sundry sects on the basis of their proportions in the out-of-date 1932 census (Christians were 55% of the population in 1932, and have 54 of the 99 seats in the present parliament, despite the fact that the Muslims and Druse are now approximately 60-66% of the people). The President has to be a Maronite (Catholics, but following their own traditional rites and customs, at considerable variance with the “Latin” norms of the world-wide church); the members of this particular parliament had been elected ten years before and had arbitrarily extended their six-year terms, using the circumstances of the civil war as their excuse to stay on. The election took place in a military barracks, guarded by the invader’s troops, and there was only one candidate, Bashir Gemayel, the leader of the Lebanese Forces – the militia dominated by the Phalangist Party, at least 96% Christian.

Washington saw the PLO as defeated, militarily and politically, and thought it time to arrange a deal mutually satisfactory to the Israelis and the Arab reactionaries. On 1 September, Reagan came up with his “plan”, essentially warmed-up Camp D avid-cum-the-Alignment’s “Jordanian option” – the West Bank, excepting the old city, would become part of a confederation under the dictatorial Hussein. Begin’s response was contemptuous: on 5 September he announced three new settlements would be set up on the West Bank. On 10 September the US Marines withdrew, with the French and Italians following on the 11th and 13th, despite the protests of the Lebanese Prime Minister, a Muslim, who insisted that one of the principal objectives of bringing in the multinational force was to provide protection for Palestinian and Lebanese civilians, and that the Americans had pledged that the troops would stay for 30 days. Certainly this was the high point of Begin’s success. No doubt there was considerable erosion of Western public support for Israel, but that was a cheap enough price to pay for the defeat of the PLO and the establishment of a puppet state in Lebanon.

The Massacre and the Commission of Enquiry

On 14 September, an enormous explosion rocked the Phalangist headquarters and Gemayel was dead. Soon after, Begin told the US Ambassador that:

our troops moved into the direction of West Beirut ... We did it to make sure that certain possible events be prevented. We are afraid lest there be bloodshed ... The Phalange commander escaped and is keeping control over the troops. He is a good man. We rely on him not to provoke incidents. But about the others, who knows? [39]

Sharon moved his army into West Beirut on 15 September and immediately asked these very same Phalangists to enter the Sabra and Shatila camps on the 16th. No one really knows how many were butchered there in the next two days, later Sharon was to admit to seven to eight hundred, and the PLO was to claim 2,000, but with one deft manoeuvre Begin and Sharon had nimbly snatched political defeat from the jaws of military victory.

What had happened? If we were to listen to Begin, the world, once again, was picking on the Jews: “Goyim kill Goyim, and they come to hang the Jews.” [40] Accordingly, on 22 September, the Likud beat back a Knesset call for an inquiry, 48 to 42. But that same day the entire Arab population of Israel and the Occupied Territories went on general strike. On 25 September at least 400,000 people, mostly Jews – approximately 10% of the entire population of the country – poured into Tel Aviv for a rally organized by the Alignment and Peace Now. They demanded an inquiry and the resignation of both Begin and Sharon, but did not call for the withdrawal of the army from Lebanon. The demonstration was one of the largest anti-war rallies in modern times and official Washington, including some of the worst pro-Israeli demagogues in the Democratic Party, with the experience of both the Vietnam anti-war movement and Watergate behind them, pressured Begin to concede. On 28 September, he unwillingly appointed a Commission of Inquiry.

The next few months were a propaganda debacle for Zionism as the world press carried the testimony at the hearings. Finally, on 8 February 1983, the Commission, Chief Justice Kahan, Justice Barak and General (Reserves) Efrat, issued its findings:

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.

The Commissioners decided that Begin had not been directly told of the plan to send the Phalangists into the camps, and that he had only heard of it after they had already gone in, at a cabinet meeting on the evening of the 16th. But he had raised no objection to the idea, even after hearing “the remarks of Deputy Prime Minister Levy, which contained a warning of the danger to be expected from the Phalangists’ entry”.

The Commission refused to accept his defence of his unconcern: “We are unable to accept the Prime Minister’s remarks that he was absolutely unaware of such a danger.” The Commission concluded that: “The Prime Minister’s lack of involvement in the entire matter casts on him a certain degree of responsibility.”

Sharon became the scapegoat:

In his testimony ... the Minister of Defense also adopted the position that no one had imagined the Phalangists would carry out a massacre ... But ... it is impossible to justify the Minister of Defense’s disregard of the danger. We will not repeat here what we ... said above about the widespread knowledge regarding the Phalangists’ combat ethics, their feelings of hatred toward the Palestinians and their leaders’ plans for the future of the Palestinians when said leaders would assume power ... no prophetic powers were required to know that concrete danger of acts of slaughter existed ... From the Defense Minister himself we know that this consideration did not concern him in the least.

The Commission declared that:

the Minister of Defense bears personal responsibility ... it is fitting that the Minister ... draw the appropriate personal conclusions ... and if necessary ... the Prime Minister consider whether he should exercise his authority ... according to which “the Prime Minister may ... remove a minister from office”. [41]

Several others were censured: the then Foreign Minister, Yitzhak Shamir, did not pass on information given him that a massacre was going on, but the Commission did not call for his resignation. The Commission was very harsh on the Chief of Staff, Lt-General Rafael Eytan, but did not call for his resignation as he was about to retire. They called for the immediate dismissal of Yehoshua Saguy, the Director of Military Intelligence; they criticized Amir Drori, the head of the Northern Command for his “absolutely passive role”; General Amos Yaron, the Beirut commander was condemned for failing to act immediately when he first heard of the atrocity reports on the first night of the carnage and they insisted on his being relieved of field duty for three years. The head of civilian intelligence, the Mossad, was criticized for not emphasizing his awareness of the unreliability of the Phalangists, but no action was recommended. [42]

Begin, of course, always personally rejected the Report in its entirety and, within the confines of the cabinet, threatened to resign if his ministers insisted on getting rid of Sharon. [43] But other ministers, and Washington, knew that some action had to be taken and Sharon became Minister without Portfolio. Begin remained still unrepentant: on 16 May 1983, he overruled his new Defence Minister, Moshe Arens, who, after legal advice, had turned down the proposed appointment of Yaron to be new head of manpower, with the promotion to Major General. Begin restored Yaron’s appointment, but after Arens’ action not even he dared to approve the promotion. [44]

The Commission could go no further than it did. To have said that the two leading figures in Israel’s government wanted and expected a massacre – even if not of the full magnitude of the one that did in fact occur – would have been tantamount to their declaring that Zionism had degenerated into a monstrosity, and members of such establishments never willingly admit that. But the evidence is there: even though they insisted that Begin had no prior knowledge of the murderers’ entry into the camps, Begin, simultaneously denied prior knowledge and seemed quite willing to concede that he knew that they were going in:

Barak: “Did (Sharon) say anything about the role of the Phalangists?”
Begin: “Their role was clear: to fight terrorists ...”
Barak: “According to what you are saying now, you knew on the Wednesday morning that the Phalangists were to fight?”
Begin: “If the Defense Minister told me – then I definitely knew.”
Barak: “No, he doesn’t say he told you.”
Begin: “Well, if he didn’t tell me, then I didn’t know.” [45]

He let slip another reference to his guilty prior knowledge:

Kahan: “When was it first discussed with you, the question of what the Phalangist role would be ...”
Begin: “This we learned of at the cabinet meeting ...”
Barak: “You held a number of discussions with the Chief of Staff and the Defense Minister as well. You did not ask ... what the role of the Phalangists was?”
Begin: “What, which day?”
Barak: “Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.”
Begin: “No, the question was not raised at all before us. Therefore I did not ask.”
Barak: “Did the assassination of Bashir Gemayel not bring you to think that maybe at this stage the Phalangists should not be called into action?”
Begin: “It did not even occur to me, Honored Judge, to think that the Phalangists, if they were to enter the camps to fight the terrorists, would commit such atrocities or massacre.” [46] (Author’s emphasis.)

He told the Commissioners that he did not know that the Phalangists had been sent in until the cabinet meeting, an hour-and-a-half after they went in. But plainly, in this exchange, he was referring to his thoughts on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, prior to their entry, and prior to the cabinet meeting. Two highly competent journalists, David Landau, of the Zionist Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s Daily News Bulletin, and David Shipler, the New York Times correspondent, both noted Begin’s statements, but the Commission, ideologically predetermined to absolve any and all Israelis of wanting the Phalangists to kill Palestinians, chose to overlook the implications of his testimony on this score. [47]

Begin and Sharon were well aware of the history of the Phalange: they had to expect an atrocity. On 15 September, the day before the massacre, the New York Times ran a dossier on the late Bashir and his movement:

A trip to the 1936 Berlin Olympics impressed on his father (Pierre) the discipline of Hitler’s Germany. The nationalistic and fascist movements of Francisco Franco and Benito Mussolini inspired the new party’s ideology ... During the (civil) war, he (Bashir) commanded the siege of the Palestinian refugee camp of Tel Zaatar ... At the siege’s end, the camp’s survivors were killed by the Phalangist troops ... In 1979, after Suleiman Franjieh, the former Maronite President of Lebanon, broke from the Christian alliance, Mr Gemayel’s soldiers attacked Mr Franjieh’s son and political heir, Tony. The raid left Tony and 32 supporters dead ... In 1980, his Phalangist forces assaulted the beach resort of a Christian rival, Dany Chamoun. Bathers at Mr Chamoun’s resort house were machine gunned in a swimming pool. Doctors later said that many bodies had been mutilated. [48]

There cannot be the slightest doubt that Sharon knew who he was dealing with. On 22 September, four days after the massacre, Sharon rose up to defend himself in the Knesset:

I want to ask you, Shimon Peres ... there was another affair ... in Tel Zaatar [another camp, taken by the Phalangists in August 1976]. When you were Defense Minister. I will not go into details here. How come your conscience does not bother you? Thousands of people were slaughtered. And Parliament Member Peres, where were the officers of the IDF on that day, and that was an affair that occurred with foreknowledge. [49]

Begin and Sharon always wanted a bloodbath in Beirut: Begin told the Commission why Sharon did not have to tell him that the Phalangists were going into the camps:

I would only like to say that back in a cabinet meeting on the 15th of June, there was a special discussion concerning the participation of the Lebanese Army and the Lebanese Forces ... that they would occupy southwestern Beirut. We told them that the IDF was fighting, was sacrificing many lives, we have an interest in liquidating the terrorists. [50]

On 19 September, the day after the Phalangists left the camps, Shipler revealed the motivation behind the decision:

The calculation was that the Phalangists, with old scores to settle and detailed information on the Palestinian fighters, would be more ruthless than the Israelis and probably more effective. [51]

On 4 October, Time magazine reported that “On several occasions, [Bashir] Gemayel told Israeli officials he would like to raze the camps and flatten them into tennis courts.” [52]

Readers will recall, even if Zionism’s in-house Commission would not, that Begin had previously denied that a similar atrocity had been committed by his own Irgun at Dir Yassin in 1948. He had insisted that the charge was lying propaganda, but had taken solace in the fact that the net effect of the “propaganda” was to drive hundreds of thousands of Palestinians out from what became Israel. The purpose of the invasion, as uncovered by Israel and Palestine, was to destroy the PLO’s armed state-within-the-state and, as at Dir Yassin, to drive out the Palestinian civilian population. As both Time and the New York Times reported, Begin and Sharon knew in June, when they had already decided that the Phalange would be used to mop up the Palestinians, exactly what their leaders had in mind to do to the entire population of the camps. Begin wanted to drive out the Palestinians, exactly as his Irgun had driven these modern Canaanites before them in 1948.

The Commissioners, both in their examination of Begin and Sharon and in their final report, kept emphasizing that they should have known that Bashir’s assassination would inspire the Phalange to seek revenge. While Begin and Sharon anticipated a massacre even as far back as June, there can not be the slightest doubt that the assassination reaffirmed their hopes in this regard. Kahan asked Sharon if,

“In contacts ... with the leadership of the Phalangists, did you hear from them any plans about what would happen to the Palestinian population ...”
Sharon: “In general my evaluation was that their aim was to create conditions that in the end the Palestinians would leave Lebanon ... Amin [Gemayel] himself, to the best of my memory, at the funeral on September 15. used the word revenge. The word revenge also appeared, I would say, in discussions that we had. The word revenge appeared there.” [53]

Kahan: “Was an apprehension raised of acts of revenge or massacre of the civilian population by the Phalangists?”
Sharon: “No, no. But I would like to say ... Whoever thinks that in fighting in built-up areas ... civilians are not killed, then he is mistaken ...”
Kahan: “What is meant, of course, is ... rather their intentional killing.”
Sharon: “Yes ... I don’t think that anyone thought that the Lebanese Forces would act as we would. I didn’t think that the Lebanese Forces would act as we would.” [54]

The Commission took much secret testimony, and when they issued their report they annexed to it a secret appendix for the cabinet’s eyes only. On 21 February, Time reported that:

it has learned that it [Appendix B] also contains further details about Sharon’s visit to the Gemayel family on the day after Bashir Gemayel’s assassination. Sharon reportedly told the Gemayels that Israel’s army would be moving into West Beirut and that he expected the Christian forces to go into the Palestinian refugee camps. Sharon also discussed with the Gemayels the need for the Phalangists to take revenge for the assassination of Bashir, but the details of the conversation are not known. [55]

Subsequently Sharon has sued Time for libel, denying that the report said any such thing. Naturally the present writer is not privy to the secret appendix, but it is quite apparent, from the public evidence, that, whether or not he told Amin Gemayel to kill Palestinian civilians, it is evident from his testimony about Amin’s call for revenge at Bashir’s funeral that he realized the slaughter of Palestinian males was likely to take place:

I would like to say a word with the permission of the members of the committee on the subject of revenge, as I know it among the Arabs. Revenge as acceptable among Arabs does not include children, women and the elderly. There are certainly Arabists who are more expert than myself, yes, I say this even in light of my experience. Revenge exists, without any doubt. Without any doubt, revenge does exist. [56]

Others in the upper echelons of the Israeli army were also aware that the Phalangists would commit an atrocity. The Chief of Staff, General Rafael Eytan, told the cabinet on the evening of 16 September that: “I see it in their eyes ... what they’re waiting for ... Amin [Gemayel] has already spoken of revenge and all of them are sharpening their blades.” [57]

Begin treated the Commission to the same kind of doubletalk as Sharon. They wanted to know why, given his own remarks to Ambassador Draper, he did not think that the Phalangists would commit murder:

Begin: “Honored Judge, I can only repeat my previous statement, that in those days, it did not occur to any of us that the Phalangists that were brought into these two camps would not fight the terrorists. They entered in order to fight the terrorists and the terrorists only.” (Author’s emphasis.)
Efrat: “Was the problem not discussed, were there no doubts raised, concerning their intentions of solving the Palestinian problem in the area of Beirut, in a certain way, of their heavy feelings towards this group, and the attempt to get rid of them?”
Begin: “No, sir. It did not even occur to us.” [58]

Kahan pressed him as to the discussion of potential atrocities at the cabinet meeting on the 16th, i.e. while the massacre was already underway. The Deputy Prime Minister, David Levy, had warned that atrocities were liable to occur, and then the Israelis would be blamed for not taking precautions:

Begin: “He expressed very serious misgivings but even Minister Levy did not request a discussion or decision not to have the Phalangists enter or to take them out ...”
Barak: “But should not the words of Minister Levy have at that stage brought you to think: One moment, the Phalangists are inside, vengeance, murder, bloodshed, let’s stop them?”
Begin: “Honored Judge, the fact is that it did not occur to anyone, that they would commit atrocities~Just as I have already claimed. Simply none of us presumed this, no Minister, no other participant. Minister Levy, as I pointed out, did mention hypothetically what was liable to happen, but neither did he request, let’s say, to deal with this question in a discussion or to decision or vote, he did not demand this.”
Efrat: “The Chief of Staff, at this meeting, he also referred to this topic. lam of course not quoting him exactly, but he referred to the matter, and he said ... Already today Druse have been killed there, it will be an outburst the likes of which have not been seen, I already see in their eyes what they are waiting for, etc. ...”
Begin: “I can only determine the fact that none of the ministers [said this], the way it was said here, in none of the meetings, no red light was lit on the basis of these things.” [59]

Before issuing their report, the Commissioners decided that they would give all those who might be “harmed” by an adverse verdict a chance to testify again or cross-examine witnesses. Begin refused to appear, but sent in a detailed defence of himself and the decision to send in the murderers:

According to the authoritative information that was in our possession ... the terrorists ... left behind them some 2,000 armed, equipped and organized terrorists, who were concentrated mainly in the “camps” of Sabra, Shatila and Fakhani. The task of the Lebanese Forces was to fight these terrorists. [60]

However, it was immediately pointed out by David Shipler in the 10 December New York Times, that Sharon had testified that the Phalangist force numbered no more than 100 to 200 men. [61] Clearly, even 200 would have been far too few if they were really expected to fight 2,000 desperate and well-armed terrorists. What is more, if the Israelis genuinely anticipated the Phalangists encountering substantial enemy forces, they would have sent along an IDF liaison team, to communicate in Hebrew with the Israeli army in the event of any difficulty. The Commissioners said that a decision to send the Phalangists in might have been justified if the IDF had taken all possible steps to prevent harm to the civilian population. Again and again they commented that they could not understand why none of the generals involved had anticipated an atrocity. In reality Sharon was careful to be sure that no Israeli entered the camps, precisely because they knew that civilians were going to be killed, and they were preparing their alibi: they saw nothing and they thought the Phalangists were only battling terrorists.

“Whom the Gods would destroy, they first make mad.” The Commission could not grasp that the logic of war criminals is not the logic of rational beings. Rational beings do not tell the US Ambassador that they are going to introject their army between the enraged Phalangists and their enemies, and then let them loose, unobserved, upon those very enemies, knowing that they lusted for revenge. But likewise fanatically committed to terror, Begin and Sharon had become adepts at inventing lying excuses and alibis. They wanted to drive the “two-legged animals” out of West Beirut, but world opinion had compelled them to stay out of the sector. Bashir s assassination, and the need to “protect” the Muslims and Palestinians, suddenly provided them with the pretext to go in. But they had always understood that their own army could not be counted on to be sufficiently ruthless to do the necessary job – there were too many Peace Now elements in the military. But, plainly, anyone could understand that “2,000 terrorists” justified bringing in the Phalange. Fighting in “built-up areas” was going to do for an excuse for the killing of civilians. Here they made their egregious miscalculation: they wanted a slaughter, but not as many as were in fact butchered. Just enough – “the punishment to the few, the fear to the many” – to drive out the rest.

Levy had warned them that, if a massacre took place, it was they who would be blamed for not anticipating it. But both of these profound democrats had a ready answer to that: he had not asked for a vote on the question, so how could they have possibly been at fault? Presumably modesty prevented them from nominating each other for the Nobel Peace Prize.

That the Commission did not find the two guilty of premeditated murder tells us more about the general level of Zionist morality than about Begin and Sharon or Sabra and Shatila. For the world to go with the Commission, we must all believe that Israel was guided by not one but two incompetents who lacked the wits given to Israeli journalists and others who, as the Commission said,

warned – as soon as they learned of the Phalangists’ entry into the camps, and on earlier occasions when the Phalangists’ role in the war was discussed – that the danger of a massacre was great. [62]


1. Thomas Stauffer, US Aid to Israel – The Vital Link, p.11.

2. Ibid., p.3.

3. Avi Temkin, Economy declines, living standards up, Jerusalem Post, 2 January 1983, p.3.

4. Nathaniel Nash, The Bulls of Tel Aviv, New York Times, 16 January 1983, p.8f.

5. Yael Yishai, Israel’s Right-Wing Jewish Proletariat, Jewish Journal of Sociology, December 1982, p.91.

6. Charles Hoffman, Survey says rich-poor gap has widened, Jerusalem Post, 16 January 1983, p.6.

7. Yishai, pp.89-90.

8. Ibid., p.88.

9. David Landau, COL Rose by 13.3 Percent in April, JTA Daily News Bulletin, 17 May 1983, p.3.

10. It Happened in Israel, Jewish Currents, March 1978, p.10.

11. People of the Book?, Jerusalem Post, 10 January 1982.

12. Yishai, p.88.

13. SIPRI Yearbook 1980, table 3.4.

14. Leslie Gelb, Iran Said to Get Large-Scale Arms from Israel, Soviet and Europeans, New York Times, 8 March 1982, pp.1, 10.

15. Binyamin Beit-Hallahmi (interview), Let Us Do It, Israel & Palestine, (Paris), March 1983, p.6.

16. Beit-Hallahmi, Israel and South Africa 1977-1982: Business as Usual – And More, New Outlook, (Tel Aviv), March 1983, pp.31-5.

17. Drew Middleton, South Africa Needs More Arms, Israeli Says, New York Times, 14 December 1981, p.9.

18. Beit-Hallahmi.

19. Ibid.

20. Stephen Isaacs, Jews and American Politics, pp.120-4.

21. Reagan Now Backs Increase in Aid for Israel, New York Times, 29 May 1983.

22. Abraham Diskin, The 1981 Elections: Public Opinion Polls, Jerusalem Quarterly, Winter 1982, p.103.

23. John Richardson and Uri Davis, Israeli Elections, The Middle East, March 1981, p.13.

24. Diskin, p.104.

25. Meron Benvinisti, Open Discrimination, Ha’aretz, 15 August 1979.

26. Ibid.

27. Union of Naval Officers demands the appointment of an Arab to the rank of Captain, Ha’aretz, 20 April 1982.

28. Arab Students charge bias, Jerusalem Post, 8 May 1983, p.9.

29. It Happened in Israel, Jewish Currents, April 1982, p.11.

30. Jonathan Randell, Hospitalized Arab Says Israeli Police Beat Him in Jail, New York Times, 1 May 1979, p.3.

31. David Shipler, In West Bank, Humiliation as an Israeli Weapon, New York Times, 31 May 1983, p.10.

32. Robert Friedman, Hagai Lev – Revisionist, Present Tense, Autumn 1982, p.20.

33. Mrs Thatcher Says “Hit List” Included Name of PLO Aide, New York Times, 7 June 1982, p.13.

34. Shipler, Israeli Inquiry Into Beirut Massacre to Focus on 2 Key Questions, New York Times, 10 October 1982, p.14.

35. Why Begin has not gone to war again – yet, Middle East International, 26 February 1982, pp.13-14.

36. Into the Funnel, Israel & Palestine, March 1982, pp.2-3.

37. Pranye Gupte, Israelis Down a Guerrilla Balloon at Border, New York Times, 16 April 1981.

38. Can Shultz make Reagan’s Foreign Policy Work?, Business Week, 12 July 1982 p.70.

39. Excerpts from Begin’s Testimony Before Panel on West Beirut Massacre, New York Times, 9 November 1982, p.12.

40. The Verdict is Guilty, Time, 21 February 1983, p.28.

41. Excerpts of Report on Officials’ Responsibility in Beirut Killings, New York Times, 9 February 1983, pp.18-19.

42. Ibid.

43. Israel Coalition in Disarray, With Parties Split on Sharon, New York Times, 9 February 1983, p.21.

44. Begin Said to Insist on Post for General Criticized on Massacre, New York Times, 17 May 1983, p.10.

45. David Landau, Begin Tells Inquiry Panel That “None of Us Ever Imagined” the Phalangists Would Massacre People, JTA Daily News Bulletin, 9 November 1982, p.2.

46. Excerpts from Begin’s Testimony, p.2.

47. Landau, and Shipler, Begin Tells Panel He Wasn’t Aware of Phalange Drive’, New York Times, 9 November 1982, p.13.

48. Edward Gargan, Bashir Gemayel Lived by the Sword, New York Times, 15 September 1982, p.8.

49. Excerpts from Sharon’s Address to Parliament in Defense of Army’s Role, New York Times, 23 September 1982, p.18.

50. Excerpts from Begin’s Testimony, p.12.

51. Shipler, Israel Asserts Its Troops Intervened To Minimize the Beirut Massacre, New York Times, 19 September 1982, pp.1, 14.

52. William Smith, Robert Slater, William Stewart, Crisis of Conscience, Time, 4 October 1982, p.16.

53. Excerpts From Testimony at Inquiry on Massacre, New York Times, 26 October 1982, p.14.

54. Ibid.

55. The Verdict is Guilty, Time, 21 February 1983, p.29.

56. Excerpts From Testimony at Inquiry, p.14.

57. Landau, p.1.

58. Excerpts From Begin’s Testimony, p.12.

59. Ibid.

60. Text of the Israeli Prime Minister’s Letter to the Commission, New York Times, 10 December 1982, p.12.

61. Shipler, Begin Declines to Reappear at Massacre Panel, New York Times, 10 December 1982, p.12.

62. Excerpts of Report, p.19.

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