Sabra and Shatila Massacre: Evidence from the Kahan Papers
September 17 2021

Editor's Note: Almost four decades after these tragic events, the Institute for Palestine Studies hopes that by making public these documents, it can help those who wish to shed light on them, and thereby honor the memory of those who lost their lives in Sabra and Shatila. This blogpost was originally published on September 25, 2018. 

Source Note: The Institute for Palestine Studies has made public documents from the secret appendix to the report of the Commission of Inquiry, headed by former Israeli Supreme Court president Yitzhak Kahan, which was created to investigate the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre.[1] William Quandt, Professor Emeritus at the University of Virginia and a senior staff member of the National Security Council during the administration of President Jimmy Carter, provided IPS with scanned copies of these documents, which have been reproduced in the form in which they were received. In the course of a libel suit brought against Time magazine by Ariel Sharon, Quandt served as a consultant to the defense lawyers for Time. He received these documents, as translated selections from the original Hebrew, from the magazine’s law firm after the lawsuit had been resolved. Experts familiar with such documents have attested that they constitute large sections of the secret, unpublished appendix of the Kahan Commission report. The New York Review of Books has posted the same documents, together with an article by Seth Anziska,[2] who separately received them from Quandt.


There are many accounts of the massacre of Lebanese and Palestinian civilians carried out by men of the Lebanese Forces [LF] from September 16-18, 1982 in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, following the assassination of Lebanese President-elect Bashir Gemayel and the Israeli occupation of West Beirut. The most definitive recounting of the massacre is by the eminent historian of Palestine Bayan Nuwayhid al-Hout, who collected the eyewitness testimonies of the survivors to determine exactly what happened in the camps.[3] Using these testimonies, al-Hout established the names of nearly 1400 victims, and determined that because the LF abducted many people who were never found, the total number of victims was undoubtedly much higher.

Several journalists and historians have also provided valuable accounts.[4] Nevertheless, uncertainty has surrounded the exact nature of the interaction between the LF, which perpetrated the massacre, the Israeli military, which was in control of the camps and introduced the LF into them, and the US government, which provided guarantees for the safety of Palestinian civilians to the PLO as a condition for the evacuation of its forces from Beirut.[5]

The documents that IPS is now making public provide an ample basis for a better understanding of all these relationships. The evidence they provide about several crucial points could not be clearer. This includes transcripts of meetings between senior Israeli officials and LF leaders starting in January 1982 that include discussions about “cleaning out of the [Palestinian] refugee camps,” and the need for “several D[e]ir Yassins.” They include as well several explicit references to the decimation and expulsion of the camps’ population from Lebanon, such that “Sabra would become a zoo and Shatilah [sic] Beirut’s parking place.”

These documents show that Israeli defense minister Ariel Sharon, Chief of Staff Lt. General Rafael Eitan, Chief of Military Intelligence Maj. General Yehoshua Saguy, the head of the Mossad, Yitzhak Hofi, and his deputy and successor, Nahum Admoni, were fully informed of the murderous proclivities of the LF long before they decided to introduce them into Sabra and Shatila. They had detailed knowledge of the massacre the LF had perpetrated in August 1976 at Tal al-Za‘tar camp (the documents show that Israel had liaison officers on the spot), and elsewhere during previous phases of the Lebanese civil war. They were fully aware of LF atrocities against Palestinians and Lebanese in the areas of South Lebanon, the Shouf and ‘Aley that the Israeli army occupied during June 1982, and where it allowed the LF to operate freely. They knew perfectly well the lethal intentions of the LF towards the Palestinians. While these documents show that Sharon and others sought to evade their responsibility for the massacre before the Kahan commission, no reader of them can have the slightest doubt about what Sharon and his generals intended in deciding to introduce their LF allies into the camps.

The documents from the annexes to the Kahan commission report also clarify the interactions between the US and Israeli governments at the time of the massacres. They include transcripts and accounts by Israeli officials recording meetings with American diplomats. Other documents recently discovered in the Israel State Archives make it clear that American officials, who knew perfectly well that all of the PLO’s military forces had been withdrawn from Beirut before the massacre, failed to push back when bullied by Sharon, who falsely claimed that “2000 terrorists” had been secretly left behind by the PLO.[6] This spurious claim was the pretext Sharon and his colleagues concocted for the occupation of West Beirut, and for sending the LF into the camps.

There is an enormous gulf between what Israeli officials, in particular Sharon, were saying to the Americans, and what the documents from the Kahan commission report annex presented below show that they had been discussing over a period of several months with LF leaders, culminating in the massacres carried out from September 16th to 18th. Thus Sharon’s report to the Israeli cabinet of a meeting with Ambassador Morris Draper on September 16, the day he ordered the LF into the camps, is surreal. Like all other senior Israeli officials who dealt with Lebanon, Sharon knew from ample experience with the LF precisely what is about to happen there. Nevertheless, he described to his cabinet colleagues how he bluffed Draper, and refused the American demand to withdraw Israeli forces, even as he was at the same time deceiving the cabinet about his real intentions in ordering this LF operation.

In the years since 1982, it has been shown conclusively that the United States government was responsible for giving Sharon the green light for the invasion of Lebanon; for providing the weapons that killed over 19,000 Palestinians and Lebanese; and for failing to abide by its guarantees to the PLO for the safety of the civilian population of the camps.[7] Beyond all of this, the documents from the secret annexes to the Kahan commission report show a high degree of US culpability for failing to halt or reverse both the advance of Israel’s forces into West Beirut, and Sharon’s introduction of LF forces into Sabra and Shatila. Like Israel’s intelligence services, the US government knew perfectly well that all the PLO’s combat units had left Beirut by the beginning of September 1982, and that the camps were defenseless without them. And just as senior Israeli officials knew exactly what the LF would do if allowed to attack these camps after the PLO military forces protecting them had been evacuated, so did senior American officials.

Almost four decades after these tragic events, the Institute for Palestine Studies hopes that by making public these documents, it can help those who wish to shed light on them, and thereby honor the memory of those who lost their lives in Sabra and Shatila.








[1] The full text of the report can be found through the following link.


[3] Bayan Nuwayhid al-Hout, Sabra wa Shatila, Ayloul 1982, Beirut: IPS, 2003. Translated as Sabra and Shatila: September 1982, Ann Arbor: Zed Books, 2004.

[4] Recent accounts can be found in Seth Anziska, Preventing Palestine: A Political History from Camp David to Oslo, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018 and Rashid Khalidi, The Hundred Years' War on Palestine: A History of Settler-Colonialism and Resistance, 1917-2017, New York: Metropolitan, 2020. See also Rashid Khalidi, Under Siege: PLO Decisionmaking during the 1982 War, New York: Columbia University Press, rev. ed., 2014, Jonathan Randal, Going All the Way: Christian Warlords, Israeli Adventurers and the War in Lebanon, New York: Viking, 1983, and Ze'ev Schiff and Ehud Ya'ari, Israel's Lebanon War, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983.

[5] R. Khalidi, Under Siege, pp. 168-171.

[6] As detailed in his book, Preventing Palestine, the historian Seth Anziska discovered records of these exchanges between American and Israeli officials in the Israel State Archives. In 2012, he published an op-ed on this topic in the New York Times, together with a selection of original documents about them.

[7] S. Anziska, Preventing Palestine, R. Khalidi, Under Siege, J. Randal, Going All the Way, Z. Schiff and E. Ya’ari, Israel’s Lebanon War.

About The Author: 

Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University, is co-editor of the Journal of Palestine Studies. He is the author of several books, most recently The Hundred Years' War on Palestine: A History of Settler-Colonialism and Resistance, 1917-2017.

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