Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Sabra and Shatila: One of Israel's Darkest Hours

30 years ago this week, Lebanese Phalangists murdered hundreds of Palestinian civilians in Sabra and Shatila, two Palestinian camps near Beirut. The IDF had allowed the phalangists into the camps, and according to the Kahan Commission's investigation after the events, Israel bore indirect responsibility for the massacre because its troops controlled access to the camps, knew about the killings, and didn't stop them.

Morally, this was one of Israel's darkest moments.

Much of the military documentation of the 1982 war in Lebanon cannot yet be declassified. Some, however, can and has. The New York Times has an article by Seth Anziska, a researcher who spent time this summer in our reading room going through files, mostly of the Foreign Ministry, which show the tensions between American diplomats and Israeli leaders as the massacre was unfolding. It does not make for easy reading. Next to the article, the paper has put online almost 50 pages of the documents themselves, so that we can make up our own mind about their content. These are also not easy reading.

We're the national archive of a democracy. When we declassify sealed documents we must take into account the security implications, and we must also protect the privacy of regular citizens; but we aren't allowed to keep documents sealed because they make us look bad. On the contrary. It is our firm belief that by making clear the documents will eventually be made public, some officials will sometimes pause before doing the wrong thing, and having paused, they'll then restrain themselves.

And that's the spirit of this blog, too. We're here to tell the story, blemishes, warts and triumphs.

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