Sabra and Shatila

by | Feb 4, 2020

Sabra and Shatila

by | Feb 4, 2020

Originally published at “The Massacre” in The Libertarian Forum, October 1982.

All other news, all other concerns, fade into insignificance beside the enormous horror of the massacre in Beirut. All humanity is outraged at the wanton slaughter of hundreds of men (mainly elderly), women, and children in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. The days of the massacre— September 16 to 18—shall truly live in infamy.

There is one ray of hope in this bloodbath: the world-wide outrage demonstrates that mankind’s sensibilities have not, as some have feared, been blunted by the butcheries of the twentieth century or by watching repeated carnage on television. Mankind is still capable of reacting to evident atrocities that are wreaked upon other human beings: be they thousands of miles away or members of a different or even alien religion, culture, or ethnic group. When hundreds of manifest innocents are brutally and systematically slaughtered, all of us who are still fully human cry out in profound protest.

The outrage and protest must be compounded of several elements. First, of course, we must mourn for the poor downtrodden people of Lebanon, especially the Palestinians, who were driven out in 1948 to a reluctant exile from their homes and land. We must mourn for the slaughtered and their remaining families. And for the hundreds of thousands in Lebanon and in Beirut who have been killed, wounded, bombed out, and rendered homeless wanderers by the aggression of the State of Israel.

But mourning and compassion are not enough. As in any mass murder, the responsibility and the guilt for the crime must be pinpointed. For the sake of justice and to try to make sure that such a holocaust—for holocaust it has been—may never happen again.

Who, then, is guilty? On the most immediate and direct level, of course, the uniformed thugs and murderers who committed the slaughter. They consist of two groups of Christian Lebanese, working their will on innocent Muslims: the Christian Lebanese Forces of Major Saad Haddad, and the Christian Phalange, headed by the Gemayel family, now installed in the presidency of Lebanon.

But equally responsible, equally guilty, are the aiders and abettors, the string-pullers, the masters of West Beirut where the slaughter took place: the State of Israel. When the PLO was evacuated from West Beirut, to the fanfare of an international accord and international armed force supervision, the State of Israel saw its way clear to the conquest of Muslim West Beirut. Its protectors gone, the international forces cleared out, the poor huddled people of West Beirut had to put up with the conquest of the Israeli aggressors, who marched in on September 16. It was the deliberate decision of the Israeli government to usher the Phalange and the Lebanese forces into camps, to have them, in Israel’s words, “purify” the camps and rid them of PLO members who might be lurking therein—masquerading, no doubt as babies and children. Israeli tanks guarded the perimeter of Sabra and Shatila to permit the Christians unlimited control of the camps, and Israeli army observation posts on rooftops supervised the scene less than 100 yards from the slaughter.

On Friday, on the scene, Reuters correspondent Paul Eedle spoke to an Israeli colonel who explained about the operation: it was designed to “purify” the area without the direct participation of the Israeli army. This policy is of course all too reminiscent of the Nazi policy on the Eastern front, when the German soldiers stood by and benignly allowed the Ukrainian and other non-German SS to massacre Jews and other natives of Russia.

Also on Friday, it is particularly edifying to know that the Phalangists came to Israeli positions on the perimeter of the camps to relax, eat and drink, read and listen to music, and in general “rest up” before returning to butcher the few people still remaining. A Phalangist officer, a gold crucifix dangling from his neck, later told a reporter that there was still shooting going on in the camps, “otherwise what would I be doing here?”

Writing from the scene of the crime in evident horror, New York Times reporter, Thomas L. Friedman (Sept. 20) wrote that from the Israeli observation posts “it would not have been difficult to ascertain the slaughter not only by sight but from the sounds of gunfire and the screams coining from the camp. In addition to providing some provisions for the Christian militiamen, the Israelis had tanks stationed on the hilltop, apparently to provide cover for them if the militiamen encountered fiercer resistance than had been anticipated.”

We know now that by Thursday night the Israeli army and government knew about the massacre, and that yet they did absolutely nothing for 36 hours, until Saturday morning, when, the bloodbath completed, they gently waved the Christian murderers out of the camps. All was secured.

As a grisly finale to Israel’s blood crime, even after the world outrage, the Israeli army turned over a huge number of captured weapons to the Lebanese Forces—the Haddad army which Israel has trained and armed for seven years, which has held and occupied the southern Lebanese border for many months on behalf of Israel, and who, as the New York Times put it, are “virtually integrated into the Israeli army and operate entirely under its command.”

One of the most heartening aspects of the response to the massacre has been the firestorm of protest within Israel itself, even from the ordinarily pro-Begin press. Thus, Eitan Haber, military correspondent of the ordinarily pro-Begin Yediot Ahronot, wrote in shock:

“Government ministers and senior commanders already knew during the hours of Thursday night and Friday morning that a terrible massacre was taking place in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, and despite the fact that they knew this for sure, they did not lift a finger and did nothing to prevent the massacre until Saturday morning. For 36 additional hours, the Phalangists continued to run rampant in the refugee camps and to kill anyone who fell in their path.”

An editor of the Beginite daily paper, Maariv, appearing on ABC-TV Nightline, was evidently shaken and pinned full responsibility for the holocaust on the Begin government, and clearly called for its resignation.

Unfortunately, the response of American Jews was not nearly as outraged as that from Israel itself. It is well known that the lockstep and knee-jerk support by American Jews for any and all acts of the State of Israel is scarcely replicated within Israel itself. But even here the ranks were broken or at the very least confused. Even William Safire, always ardent in support of Israel, attacked its “blunder”—a strong word coming from Safire. Only the “professional Jews,” head of the leading Jewish organizations in America, continued to alibi and excuse. For a few days, they fell back on the view that “we can’t judge until we know the facts,” but even this lame alibi fell apart when Begin arrogantly refused any impartial judicial inquiry and pushed his view through the Knesset. Among the American Jewish leaders only Rabbi Balfour Brickner and the highly intelligent Professor Arthur Hertzberg—who have always been unafraid to speak their mind—lashed into the responsibility of the state of Israel.

An illuminating scene occurred on ABC’s Nightline, when Rabbi Schindler and Howard Squadron, two top “professional” American Jews, were asked their views of the Israeli action. It was squirmsville. One particularly sharp question was asked by Nightline: How is it that American Jewish protest has been so muted compared to that within Israel itself? Rabbi Schindler’s response was one for the books. In essence he said: “Within Israel there are political parties which can be critical of the government’s action. But our role as American Jews is to support the State of Israel regardless of its specific actions.” A chilling admission indeed!

And so American Jewish leaders consider it their role to support the State of Israel come hell or high water. How many deaths would it take? How many murders? How much slaughter of the innocent? Are there any conceivable acts that would turn off the American Jewish leadership, that would cause these people to stop their eternal apologetics for the State of Israel? Any acts at all?

After this statement of his role, the rather startled Nightline interviewer asked Rabbi Schindler, “but what about support for right and wrong? Doesn’t that count?” Having marched to the edge of the abyss and perhaps revealed too much, Rabbi Schindler rallied, and muttered something about “of course, we’re interested in right and wrong; but we can only judge after we know the facts.” Since Begin had just vetoed a fact-finding board of inquiry, this line fell pretty flat.

In American politics, the magic attraction of the State of Israel has at last lost some of its power. Even Scoop Jackson, even Senator Alan Cranston (D., Calif.) have become critical of Israel. The leading all-out supporter of Israel in the Reagan Cabinet—Al Haig—has been booted out, perhaps partially on that issue. But these are only small, fitful steps toward de-Israelizing American foreign policy.

One bizarre aspect of this affair has been the American perception—at least until the massacre—of the Gemayel family and its Phalange. It has now been revealed that the Israeli intelligence services—notoriously savvy people—had warned Begin and Defense Minister Sharon in advance that the Phalangists were likely to commit a massacre if the camps were turned over to them. To say that these warnings were “ignored” by Begin, Sharon & Co. is putting matters very, very kindly.

Well, what are the Gemayels and the Phalange like? Perhaps it is best to contrast reality with the Alice-in-Wonderland comments of the Reagan Administration upon the assassination of Phalangist leader and near-president of Lebanon Bashir Gemayel on September 15. “A tragedy for Lebanese democracy,” opined the Reagan Administration, while Ronnie himself spoke of Bashir as a brilliant, rising young democratic politician. The U.S. and Israel both spoke of their hope that Bashir could impose a “strong, centralized government” to unify anarchic Lebanon.

Since the Massacre, we should now have a better idea of the sort of “unity” that the Gemayels propose to bring to Lebanon: the “unity” of the charnel house and the cemetery. Perhaps the name of the political and military organization known as the Phalange should give a clue. For Bashir’s father, Pierre, founded the Phalange after an enthusiastic visit to Hitler’s Germany. The Phalange (named after Franco’s Falange) are fascists, pure and simple, in goals and in method.

But let us concentrate on the rising young politician and see if we should shed any tears for Bashir. Bashir is distinguished from other leading Lebanese politicians in that he is himself a mass murderer. I mean personally. The Gemayels had two sets of powerful rivals among the fascistic Maronite Christian community. “Pro-Western” and “Pro-Israeli” a little less fanatically than the Phalange, these were the followers of elderly ex-Presidents Camille Chamoun and Suleiman Franjieh.

Here is the way that young democrat, Begin and Reagan’s Man in Beirut, dealt with dissent within the Maronite community. Five years ago, the then 29-year-old Bashir Gemayel led a commando raid on Franjieh’s mountain stronghold in northern Lebanon. Bashir made Franjieh’s oldest son Tony watch while he and his gang tortured and killed Tony’s wife and two-year-old daughter. Bashir then murdered Tony and 29 followers, calling the massacre a “social revolt against feudalism.” Two years later, Bashir took care of the Chamouns. In May, 1980, Bashir and his men, in a lightning strike, massacred 450 of Chamoun’s followers at a beach resort near the city of Junei. Over 250 were murdered on the beach or while swimming. The wife and daughter of Camille Chamoun’s son Dany were both raped. Less than a month later, Bashir and his men invaded Chamoun’s headquarters in east Beirut, and savagely killed over 500 of Chamoun’s followers as well as bystanders. Many of the victims were castrated by Bashir’s thugs, and one captured Chamounite was blown apart with a stick of dynamite shoved down his throat.

Who assassinated Bashir? It could almost have been anyone in Lebanon.

The fascist savagery and the willingness to be a catspaw of Israel may be partly explained by demographic factors. Lebanese political rule is set by quota system, in which dominance— including the Presidency—is assured the Maronite Christian community. Unfortunately, the census on which the quotas are based is that of the early 1930’s, when the Christians were a majority in Lebanon. The early 1930’s census still rules, even though it is now conceded by everyone that Muslims are about 55% of the Lebanese population, to the Christian 45%. This means that freezing Maronite Christian rule over a majority of Muslims—the Begin-and-Reagan solution to the Lebanese problem—in addition to being profoundly immoral, in the long run will not work. The Muslims are out-producing the Christians in future population, no matter how many Muslim babies the Phalangists are proposing to kill.

Unfortunately, no matter the anguish and the outcry within Israel, there is little hope that the Israeli opposition will be able to do much to correct the fundamental problem. For while individual voices are raised on the massacre, politically there is almost no opposition to the fundamental Zionist axiom within Israel. The chief opposition Labor Party, the Founding Fathers and Mothers of Israel, paved the way for Begin in their commitment to the Zionist ideal and to the consequent expulsion of 1 million Palestinian Arabs from their homes and their lands. Only a few minor parties in Israel, such as those of Uri Davis and Shulamith Aloni, can be considered to have broken with the Zionist paradigm, and these are only on the fringe of Israeli politics.

The fundamental problem, the Zionist paradigm, is simply this: The establishment of the State of Israel was accomplished by the expropriation of the Palestinians from the overwhelming bulk of the land of the “original” 1948 Israel. Over a million Palestinian Arabs fled outside the borders of Israel, and the remaining Arabs have been systematically treated as second-class citizens, kept down by the fact that only Jews are allowed to own land within Israel that once falls into Jewish hands. (And more is doing so all the time.) In 1967, Israel aggressed against and conquered the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights of Syria, which it is in the process of annexing. Palestinian Arabs in the occupied territories are, again, treated as second-class citizens, and Zionist settlements are planted amongst them.

Israel and its American apologists are wont to blame everything on the dread bogeyman, the PLO, and to excuse all Israeli crimes as necessary to defend the security of the Israeli state from PLO “terrorism.” And yet it is conveniently forgotten that there was no PLO at all until after the shame of the 1967 war, when the Palestinians realized that they had to stop relying on the faithless Arab states and could only try themselves to win back their homes and their possessions. Since there was no “PLO terror” until 1968, how come that Israel aggressed against and terrorized the Palestinian Arabs for two decades previously?

The answer lies in the Zionist paradigm. Zionism was a nineteenth-century creation of European (not Middle Eastern) Jews, and was sold to Great Britain as a conscious colonial settlerstate, a junior partner to British imperialism in the Middle East. After World War I, when the British and French dismembered the Ottoman Empire, they betrayed their promises to give the Arabs their independence, and they established mandates or puppet states across the Middle East. We are still living with the legacy of that final outcropping of British imperialism.

How did the early Zionists sell their scheme to Western public opinion? The favorite Zionist slogan of the day rings peculiarly hollow now: “A land without people [Palestine] for a people without land [the Jews].” A land without people; there are no Palestinian Arabs, the Zionists assured everyone, and so a million and a half people, many of them productive farmers, citrus growers, businessmen,—people “who made the desert bloom” first—were at a stroke written out of existence. And before the PLO launched its fight-back, Israeli leaders stoutly continued to deny reality, Golda Meir repeatedly maintaining that “there are no Palestinians.” Say it often enough and maybe they go away. Maybe.

Libertarians are opposed to every State. But the State of Israel is uniquely pernicious, because its entire existence rests and continues to rest on a massive expropriation of property and expulsion from the land. Libertarians in the United States often complain about the radical libertarian adherence to “land reform,” i.e. the giving back of stolen land to the victims. In the case of expropriations centuries ago, who gets what is often fuzzy, and conservative libertarians can raise an important point. But in the case of Palestine, the victims and their children—the true owners of the land—are right there, beyond the borders, in refugee camps, in hovels, dreaming about a return to their own. There is nothing fuzzy here. Justice will only be served, and true peace in the devastated area will only come, when a miracle happens and Israel allows the Palestinians to stream back in and repossess their rightful property. Until then, so long as the Palestinians continue to live and no matter how far back they are pushed, they will always be there, and they will continue to press for their dream of justice. No matter how many square miles and how many cities Israel conquers (shall it be Damascus next?), the Palestinians will be there, in addition to all the other Arab refugees newly created by the Israeli policy of blood and iron. But allowing justice, allowing the return of the expropriated, would mean that Israel would have to give up its exclusivist Zionist ideal. For recognizing Palestinians as human beings with full human rights is the negation of Zionism; it is the recognition that the land was never “empty.”

A just Israeli state (insofar as any state can be just), then, would necessarily be a de-Zionized state, and this no Israeli political party in the foreseeable future would have the slightest desire to do. And so the slaughter and the horror will go on.

Reprinted from

About Murray N. Rothbard

Murray N. Rothbard made major contributions to economics, history, political philosophy, and legal theory. He combined Austrian economics with a fervent commitment to individual liberty.

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