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June 29, 2001
Thank you, BBC!
(Sharon should be grateful, too)

By Uri Avnery


(Published in Ha'ir newspaper on Friday, June 29, 2001)

Uri Avnery: Thank you, BBC! (Sharon should be grateful, too)

Thank you, BBC. You have done us a great service. Indeed, you may have helped in saving the lives of hundreds, even thousands.

Nobody can return to live the victims of Sabra and Shatilla. Even you can't do that. But the victims of future massacres can still be saved. You may have done that.

Ariel Sharon is deciding now the fate of our country and our region, for years and perhaps for dozens of years. He wants to escalate the confrontation, so as to prevent the dismantling of the settlements, his most cherished achievement. For that he needs a massive escalation. But, according to his way of thinking, it must not appear that Israel is responsible for the next bloody war. The onus must fall squarely on Arafat. Therefore, Sharon is waiting patiently for his chance, in the meantime wrapping himself in the cloak of "self-restraint".

That is reminiscent of the situation 19 years ago. Sharon, then Minister of Defense, wanted to invade Lebanon, in order to implement a plan that will be discussed below. It was very difficult to find a suitable pretext, because for 11 months not a single bullet had been fired across the northern border, following an American-brokered cease-fire between Israel and Lebanon (actually with the PLO).

Sharon flew to Washington in order to obtain the blessing of the American administration for the planned invasion. The Secretary of State, General (then, too, a general) Alexander Haig, told him that America was bound to oppose the invasion, unless (!!!) there was a clear Palestinian provocation. And hop, as if by invitation, the Abu-Nidal gang shot and wounded the Israeli ambassador in London, Shlomo Argov. The invasion went ahead and led to Sabra and Shatilla.

This can happen again, this time against the Palestinian Authority. And here you come, dear BBC, and remind us of the events. The right program at the right moment. It tells Sharon that the file is still open. The situation regarding the indictment of war criminals has changed substantially. There was the Pinochet affair. Milosevic, who was openly supported by Sharon, has been extradited to the international war crimes tribunal. When deciding on actions that may be considered war crimes, Sharon must now take into account that the same can happen to him. In such case, the Sabra and Shatilla events may come up.

That alone will not deter Sharon, but it may have some influence on his decisions.

In my opinion, Sharon, too, has good reasons to be grateful to the BBC, because the program did not go beyond the Cahan commission's findings. Like the Cahan commission, it leaves the main, decisive question unanswered.

The Cahan commission bent backwards to limit Israel's responsibility for the massacre. It interpreted the facts in as limited a way as possible without insulting the intelligence of the reader. It found Sharon & Co. (the Chief-of-Staff Rafael Eytan, the commander on the spot, Amos Yaron and others) guilty only of closing their eyes. Meaning: they should have known that letting the Phalangists into the camps would result in a massacre. Since they ignored this consideration and, furthermore, did not stop the massacre when they first heard about it, they bear "indirect" responsibility for the atrocities.

The question that went unanswered, both in the Cahan report and in the BBBC program, is: Why did they behave like that? What was the motive?

Perhaps the BBC program would have looked different if the file had contained a document that was published in Haolam Hazeh newsmagazine (whose editor-in-chief I was) on September 27, 1981. It was appended to a big article about Sharon, explaining why the magazine had chosen him as "Man of the (Jewish) Year", following his appointment as Minister of Defense.

Titled "The Political Map of Ariel Sharon", this document contained the complete plan of the war that started nine months later. No prophesy was involved, since it was written after a series of long conversation with Sharon himself, who was interested in the publication, although "not for quotation".

Here are some quotations: "The cornerstone of the whole political-military concept of Sharon is the idea that a Palestinian state should be set up on the E a s t Bank of the Jordan river…Logic dictates that this can only be achieved by war (in Lebanon)…a real war, aimed at solving all the problems in Lebanon…(including) the liquidation of the PLO camps…(the war) will move the PLO and its military forces from Lebanon to Syria…It is better that the PLO forces will be located in South Syria, on the Jordanian border…(therefore) a big war with Lebanon and Syria…with the aim of getting the Syrians out of Lebanon, turning Lebanon over to the Christians and to move the PLO to Amman."

The plan aimed at moving the Palestinians from the camps in Lebanon, through Syria to Jordan. This was possible only by the creation of a panic, which would induce the multitude of Palestinians to flee eastwards.

If the BBC had published this document, it would have arrived, perhaps, at far-reaching conclusions. Fortunately for Sharon, they have not.

He should be grateful to them.