Sunday, March 3, 2013

Sept. 28, 1982: The Cabinet Bows to the Inevitable

As we've seen in the previous posts on the Sabra and Shatila: The cabinet's first response was to vehemently reject any responsibility for the massacres. A few days later the ministers understood an investigation was inevitable, but they were still trying to limit its potential impact. Then another few days passed. The opposition launched what may have been the largest political demonstration since independence in 1948, and President Yitzhak Navon, whose position is defined as being above politics, announced that there had to be a full investigation. On September 28, the cabinet convened for the third time in less than two weeks; this time, the ministers all understood that they effectively had no choice but to bow before public pressure.

Menachem Begin, the Prime Minister:
Let there be no mistake: none of the members of the cabinet wanted a commission of inquiry. We sought an investigative team, not a commission of inquiry based on the Commission of Inquiry Law. We must admit this, as men [k'gvarim]. In the face of the changed circumstances, we're changing our position.
The meeting then dealt at length with two main subjects. Most of the time was spent defining what the commission was to investigate; the final wording was very simple:
All the facts and the elements concerning the atrocities committed by Lebanese forces against civilians in the camps of Shatila and Sabra.
A recurring theme of the meeting, however, was that the government was being wronged by the opposition and the world's media, and what might be done about this.

Yosef Burg:
I don't think the cabinet is getting the full picture from abroad. I'm receiving phone calls from Jewish communities abroad. We've heard about London, but it's also other communities such as France and Switzerland, where the Jews are debating intensely among themselves. We don't have any better allies than the Jewish communities, and they're in an uproar over the events, and not only because of some Lefty activists and some professors.
Simcha Ehrlich:
If we think the situation is bad here, it's far worse in Europe and the US. The anger about the genocide in Biafra was nothing compared to the hatred and incitement against us. We're facing a deep crisis in our relationship with the world and with the Jews.
Ehrlich and others felt it was of crucial importance that Begin go on television to explain that Israel wasn't to blame, but was setting up this commission of inquiry to show it had nothing to fear from the truth.

Mordechai Ben Porat:
The [giant] demonstration the other night was a serious blow by the opposition against the nation's unity, and a boon for our enemies abroad. I even heard two respectable professors there who begged for forgiveness from the world for what we did.
Menachem Begin:
I take upon myself all the responsibility for what happened. But let's see someone prove there's any guilt. Responsibility? I'm the prime minster, of course I'm responsible, as is the entire cabinet as a collective. But guilt? Did we spill this blood? Did we wish or intend this blood to be spilled? Did we ever imagine the blood would be spilled? I ask this rhetorically. Can anyone blame us for this?

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