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Beyond Questions


By Michael S. Terris

REGRETTABLY, the above opinion necessitates a dissent, not because of what it states, but because of what it refuses to state about the unconscionable massacre in West Beirut. By toeing a cautious line to appease a wide range of views, it avoids an appropriately harsh condemnation of the Israeli government, specifically Begin and Sharon.

A realistic view of the facts leaves me feeling that a portion of the moral responsibility inescapably rests on the shoulders of Begin and Sharon. Merely by retaking control of West Beirut, they appointed themselves as guardians of the well-being of the estimated 80,000 Palestinian refugees who remained.

Israeli army complicity in the massacre, however, goes beyond the role of naive bystander shocked at the crime. Whether the gunmen were Phalangists or members of Haddad's personal army, the Israeli army commanders' familiarity with the pent-up frustrations of both groups cannot be ignored. After years of training and supplying each group with weapons, nothing but stupidity could have prevented the Israeli army leaders from properly predicting the likelihood of bloody revenge if the opportunity was given them, especially after the recent Gemayel assassination. Surely Begin knows that allies do not always act as their benefactors would like, a lesson he has been foisting on the U.S. for years.

Furthermore, for three days after ushering the gunmen into West Beirut, the Israeli army took no action except firing flares to light up the area. One-sided gunshots were audible to the trained ear. Other than barring journalists' entry, Israeli soldiers stood by idly even after rumors of carnage began to circulate.

I have no doubt that Sharon, at least, must have been cognizant that something was awry in West Beirut. By all reports, he retains tight control over his army; nothing escapes his ear. How could he have not been in constant contact with his troops stationed in the most delicate position? Could they have reported nothing back to him?

An Israeli investigation may or may not judge Begin and Sharon culpable to some degree. Since the two officials initially wished to obstruct such a proceeding, it would come as no surprise if they should try to prevent the details from surfacing. If indeed, as seems unavoidable, it turns out that either or both are guilty of misconduct in a matter this serious, then resignation stands as the only credible conclusion to this unfortunate episode in Israeli history.

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