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Israel's Beirut-Area Allies

The Lebanese border irregulars were Israeli creations, but the militias based in Beirut and Mount Lebanon were major political actors in their own right. The Lebanese Forces, armed wing of the Maronite Christian Phalange party, were led by the Jemayels, a prominent Lebanese family, while the Tigers, another militia, were run by the Chamouns. In the 1970s and early 1980s, both militias strongly opposed the PLO's presence in Lebanon, largely because of the group's support for the Maronites' Muslim rivals. In 1975, Phalange representatives contacted Israeli diplomats in Europe, requesting arms and munitions, and Israel's foreign intelligence agency, along with military intelligence, initiated an increasingly robust supply-and-coordination effort.

Fighting between PLO and Maronite forces grew particularly bitter during 1975 and 1976, and civilians were prime targets on both sides. A 1976 Lebanese Forces massacre of Palestinians in Beirut's Karantina refugee camp triggered a PLO massacre in Damour two days later, [110] and in response, a coalition of Lebanese Forces and Tigers besieged the Palestinian refugee camp at Tel al-Zatar, calling on their Israeli contacts to lend a helping hand. In July 1976, Israeli officers, including Adal commander Fuad Ben-Eliezer, met with Lebanese Force commanders in a position overlooking Tel al-Zatar. "Seated in the upper command post," Israeli correspondents Schiff and Ya'ari recount, "Ben-Eliezer watched as the Phalangist gunners fired quantities of shells into the camps," many of which "had come in Israeli aid shipments."[111] Later that month, Israel delivered armored vehicles to the Christians, helping them penetrate the camp's perimeter. On July 24, according to Palestinian historian Yezid Sayigh, shells from one such armored vehicle destroyed a building and killed 250 refugees hiding in its basement.[112] On August 9, Lebanese Forces and Tigers overran the camp, massacring 1,000–2,000 persons. Thousands more died during the siege, and the camp was razed to the ground.[113] Israel's supporting role in these events, however, was rarely discussed. Like Serbia, Israel was covertly involved in supplying paramilitary forces operating just beyond its borders. As was true for the ethnic Serb militias in Bosnia, the Lebanese paramilitaries were involved in severe human rights abuses. Israel's global alliances were very different

from those of Serbia, however, and its cross-border paramilitary ties generated less international criticism.

After the Likud government was reelected in 1981, Israel intelligence agencies developed even closer ties to their Lebanese Forces allies. The militias initially held back during Israel's 1982 invasion, but they moved to consolidate power over Beirut once the PLO agreed to withdraw in mid-August. With Israeli forces ringing the Lebanese capital, the Phalangists arranged for their leader, Bashir Jemayel, to assume the Lebanese presidency. Jemayel was assassinated by unknown killers on September 14, however, throwing the Christian militias, and their Israeli allies, into disarray. In an effort to reassert its control over Beirut events, Israel sent its forces into West Beirut, violating its United States-brokered deal with the PLO. One of its first operations was to encircle the Palestinian camps in Sabra and Shatila, where, according to Israeli leaders, Palestinian militiamen were still holed up.[114] Acting upon Israel's request, the Lebanese Forces entered the camps, killing 700–3,000 Palestinian civilians.[115] As Israeli journalist Amnon Kapeliouk writes, "Terrorized refugees … reported witnessing barbaric acts. They described the relentless manhunt through the streets of the camps conducted by small groups of militiamen … entire families were taken from shelters and murdered on the spot … women were repeatedly violated and physically mutilated."[116] Israeli officials denied responsibility for the atrocities, but an Israeli commission of inquiry castigated senior commanders and politicians, including defense minister Ariel Sharon, saying they bore substantial but indirect responsibility for the killings.[117] The officers had ordered Israeli forces to besiege the camps, sent the militias in, provided illumination and perimeter security, blocked any escape, and then permitted the killings to continue when reports of mass killings first emerged.

On September 28, the Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported that the Sabra and Shatila killings appeared to have been part of a broader plan to expel Palestinians from Lebanon. The idea, the paper said, was to "create panic and provoke an exodus, en masse, of Palestinians towards Syria."[118] An Israeli official made a similar claim, saying Christian Lebanese militias hoped the massacres would provoke the "panicked flight of Palestinians from the Beirut refugee camps to northern or southern Lebanon, creating a new demographic and territorial balance in Lebanon's capital."[119] According to a Beirut newspaper, the Christian-led Lebanese government had hoped to reduce the Palestinian refugee population from 300,000 to 50,000. The Israeli commission of inquiry argued that Phalangist leaders "proposed removing a large portion of the

Palestinian refugees from Lebanese soil" and did "not conceal their opinion that it would be necessary to resort to acts of violence in order to cause the exodus of many Palestinian refugees from Lebanon."[120] None of these sources discussed Israeli involvement in the militia's expulsion schemes. Given the above-mentioned evidence for a possible Israelibacked deportation effort, however, it is possible that the Sabra and Shatila events were, at the very least, a Phalangist interpretation of their shared goals with Israel.

Israel, in sum, worked closely with paramilitary allies during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, chiefly as a way of fighting its enemies in Lebanon. The irregulars resorted to an array of despotic measures, including massacres and attempted ethnic cleansing. Israel's links to these groups suggest that institutional conditions permitting, it was capable of building the type of cross-border links that Serbia developed in 1992 with the Bosnian militias. Like Serbia, Israel could work with irregulars if the relationship was discrete, and if their victims were located beyond Israel's zone of overt and empirical control. The Israeli state's ties to the Lebanese irregulars were thus very different from its links to Jewish militias in Palestine, who acted as military auxiliaries and vigilantes. In Palestine, the Israeli military placed an effective cap on Jewish militia violence, much as Serbia did in the Sandžak and Vojvodina.

This chapter has suggested there were tangible alternatives to Israel's ethnic policing repertoire in the West Bank and Gaza, where Jewish militias discussed—but did not even come close to launching—a real ethnic cleansing effort. Although the irregulars had the requisite ideology, weapons, administrative capacities, and official allies, they were constrained by the Israeli state, which refused to tolerate Lebanon-style violence in Palestinian lands under its direct control.

Differences in Israel's treatment of Lebanon and Palestine are striking. Although Lebanon was exposed to more intense Israeli methods, it also enjoyed greater freedom from direct Israeli control. Israeli forces wrought occasional havoc in the country but then disappeared, returning at irregular intervals to punish wrongdoers. The Israeli army in Lebanon was distant but ferocious, striking with great intensity but then withdrawing, making little effort to penetrate, embrace, or dominate Lebanese society. In the West Bank and Gaza, by contrast, Israel worked much harder to create a smooth system of control, devising a more allencompassing grid of state power. As a result, Palestine ghetto residents were spared Lebanon-style destruction, but found their lives managed to

a far greater extent by Israeli policies and desires. Israel, in other words, punished Lebanon through acts of despotism, but comprehensively disciplined Palestine through techniques of infrastructural power.

Imagine: what if the international community had ordered Israel to withdraw from Palestinian lands? It is conceivable that Jewish militias would have launched an ethnic cleansing effort with the tacit support of at least some members of the Israeli army and bureaucracy. For those doubtful of Israel's capacity to participate in such a campaign, events in Lebanon should give them pause. There, Israel relied on methods far more despotic than those used in Palestine; its shelling killed or displaced large numbers of civilians, and its militia allies were involved in severe human rights abuses. None of this, of course, proves that Israel or its allies would have ethnically cleansed Palestine given the chance. The Lebanon experience is suggestive, however, especially when substantial pro-transfer sentiment within certain Israeli constituencies is taken into account. At the very least, it provides cause for concern when Israeli-Palestinian fighting in the West Bank and Gaza escalates.

Conventional wisdom in North America argues that Israel, like other strong Western allies, is inherently incapable of the type of awful violence wielded by Serbian forces in Bosnia. Given Israel's democratic political regime, its cultural sensitivities, and tragic experiences in the Holocaust, the Jewish state is simply incapable of unleashing ethnic cleansing, either directly or through paramilitary proxies. Israel's Lebanon experiences, by contrast, suggest that under appropriate institutional conditions, Israel—like many other states—is capable of extreme despotism. The cases explored in this and other chapters suggest that state violence is dramatically shaped by the institutional setting in which it takes place, and that in thinly institutionalized arenas, ethnic cleansing is a very real possibility.

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