Sabra and Shatila Refugee Camps 1982 Massacre

What happened at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in 1982?

Sabra and Shatila are two Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut, Lebanon where nearly two thousand Palestinian refugees were massacred during three days from September 16 to September 17, 1982. The massacre was carried out by hundreds of Christian Lebanese Phalangists with the aid of Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) surrounding the camp.

The Israeli invasion in Lebanon and the siege of Beirut during 1982 witnessed a written agreement between the U.S Envoy and Palestine according to which Palestinian fighters would depart Lebanon, leaving the Palestinian refugees under the U.S. guarantee of safety. The Israeli army sealed off the refugee camps after the Palestinian fighters left and established a command post where primary members of the atrocity were Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, along with other Israeli army officials and Chief of Lebanese Forces Intelligence Elie Hobeika.


Some people assert that the massacre was carried out by Lebanese Forces and some assert the act to be carried out by Phalangists because Lebanese Forces were established by Bachir Gemayel and Lebanese Phalanges by his father, Pierre. Bachir Gemayel was assassinated on September 14 and sources regard this massacre as an immediate retaliation as the LF entered the camps right that afternoon and carried out a heinous massacre which lasted for 62 hours. They assume that Gemayel was killed by the hands of PLO; however, other sources reveal that the assassination was carried out by some Syrians who objected Gemayel’s alliance with Israel.


The IDF invaded Lebanon on June 5, 1982 and reached the outskirts of Beirut within a few days. It didn’t take long to understand that IDF’s mission, which started as removing the threat of any PLO attacks, had more to it. Bringing power in Beirut so that they sign a peace agreement with Israel was one such far-reaching aim. The LF units entered the camps on the order of security and intelligence officer Elie Hobeika. LF unit started killing the Palestinians refugees brutally upon entering the camps. Apart from the reason of taking a revenge on the Palestinians, another compelling reason was the belief held between the Maronite communities that the best way of dealing with Palestinians is by taking drastic measures so that they flee the country. Massacre which occurred at Sabra and Shatila is one of the many attacks that took place during the civil war in Lebanon. Other similar incidents include Massacre of Christians in 1976 and the massacre of the Palestinian refugee camp in Tal al-ZaDtar in August 1976.


Throughout the evening of September 16 and all next day, IDF surrounding the camps received reports of sporadic killing inside the camp; however, they responded with indifference and took no serious notice until the reports could no longer be ignored and ordered LF to pull out of the camps only then. LF raped and murdered men, women and children, cutting them open and throwing them on piles of rubbish.


The casualties occurred in the massacre are all reported different by Lebanese investigation committee (460), the Kahan Committee (700 to 800) and the Palestinian Red Cross (2000). Kahan commission was established by the Israeli government to investigate and found out that Israeli military personnel were involved and were aware that a massacre was in progress without taking steps to put a stop to it. And so it regarded Israel to be indirectly responsible for the massacre and held Ariel Sharon responsible for disregarding the act of massive bloodshed and not taking preventive measures. However, this did not cause any lasting damage to his image as Sharon was elected the Prime Minister of Israel in 2001.

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