Time to Question


AS IT BECAME distressingly clear last week that some members of the Israeli military knew about the slaughter of innocent Palestinian refugees by the Christian militia. Jews the world over took to the streets to protest. In Tel Aviv alone, an estimated 400,000 people--about 10 percent of the country's population--turned out to demand accounts from their leaders. Never before in the Jewish state's 34-year history have so many Israelis voiced so much discontent with their government.

Some in the crowd wanted to express outrage at Prime Minister Menachem Begin's initial refusal to create an impartial board of inquiry to investigate the carnage. Others shared this concern but also wanted to register an objection to the more long-term problem of expansionism and the annexation of the occupied territories.

Closer to home, in Boston and Cambridge, Jewish organizations also protested. While clearly distinguishing themselves from the violently anti-Israel demonstrations organized by Arab groups in this area, these people nonetheless called on Begin to take responsibility for any Israeli involvement in the tragedy.

In the past, Jews in Israel and in the Diaspora have shared a natural tendency to rally round the flag in times of crisis. With few exceptions, this has been necessary because controversy makes Israel easy prey for anti-Semites and anti-Zionists. But now, in the aftermath of Shatila and Sabra, Jews are refusing to rubber stamp Israel's policies. Doubt that was once kept inside is now expressed openly.

Friends of Israel, be they Jews or Gentiles, must support the complete investigation of this affair. The danger for Israel is that any attempt at a cover up, or even hesitation to shed light on what happened in the camps, will have the effect of a self-inflicted poison. Jews now rightly feel the need to purify Israel. Only a thorough and impartial probe can begin to accomplish this.


But if Israel is to avoid trauma at home, it must also avert a debilitating guerrilla war abroad. Three months after the "Peace for Galilee" venture began, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) is still in Lebanon. After the assassination of Lebanese President-elect Bashir Gemayel two weeks ago, the IDF marched into West Beirut to "maintain order." There was logic to this move. The Lebanese army was in no shape to prevent anarchy, and the multinational peacekeeping force had already left Lebanon. But by taking control of West Beirut, the IDF implicitly shouldered responsibility for the area and hence, to some degree, for the ensuing slaughter. Should they stay in Lebanon, it is likely the Israclis will have to deal with more such disasters.

The IDF is reportedly in the process of leaving West Beirut. Once that positive step is completed, the United States should spare no effort to get all foreign forces out of Lebanon in accordance with the Habib plan. By sending U.S. troops back to Lebanon where they will be bolstered by French and Italian contingents, President Reagan has already made this goal more attainable.