How did Menachem Begin’s Cabinet handle the truth about the Sabra and Shatila massacre? Here are the transcripts.
A year and a half ago, I took over as Israel’s state archivist—and thus came to administer hundreds of millions of documents that tell the story of the Jewish state’s history and the actions of its governments. Our primary goal has been to digitize and bring to light as many of these documents as possible. Putting entire warehouses of documents online will take years. But in the meantime, we’ve begun to upload specific documents of great interest so as to enliven Israel’s public discourse and strengthen its democracy.
What follows is one such example: the transcripts of the top-secret Cabinet deliberations of February 1983, in which Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s Cabinet grappled with the truth about the massacre at Sabra and Shatila—and the tragic death of a left-wing protester at the hands of another Jewish Israeli outside the prime minister’s office during the deliberations. Now that the government-mandated 30-year cooling period has passed, we are able to share this fascinating, troubling, historical document with the public and know, at last, what the ministers said. (The full 250-page trove can be found here, and we’ll be posting translated segments of the documents here over the next few days.)
First, a bit of historical background. In June 1982 Israel invaded Lebanon, determined to end a campaign of terrorist attacks carried out by the Palestine Liberation Organization, which was, for all intents and purposes, controlling the south of that country. The PLO decision to recognize Israel’s existence still lay five years in the future, and the initial stages of the campaign enjoyed widespread support by Israelis. Yet as the hostilities drew out over the summer and the battles moved from the hills north of Galilee to the outskirts of Beirut, the national consensus weakened. As IDF troops poised to attack positions in the heart of West Beirut, it shattered: The goal of forcing the PLO away from the border had already been achieved, and many Israelis feared that Israel was overreaching.